Division II XC Championships Preview – Individual Races
LOUISVILLE, KY – Fans of college cross country who have been longing for some XC since the NCAA Divisions I and III championships two weekends ago, fret not: Division II has you covered with its championships on Saturday.
Without a unanimous No. 1 team from the USTFCCCA National Coaches’ Poll present in either the men’s or women’s team title races, plus a host of runners for both genders who could claim the individual crown, Saturday’s action at the E.P. "Tom Sawyer" State Park in Louisville, Kentucky, is sure to be exciting.
The weather may not fully cooperate – it has rained for most of the week and will continue to do so through Saturday, leading to soft and muddy conditions on the course – but at least the temperature has improved from the freezing range it had been for most of the week to the 50s by race time.
Either way, everyone has to deal with the same conditions (except for those at home watching LIVE on NCAA.com). Here’s a look at those team battles.
(Once you’re done here, check out the team previews for both the men’s and women’s races here.)
Men’s Individual Preview
Tabor Stevens, Adams State
Any discussion of the potential winners of the 2014 men’s individual crown has to begin with the man who won it all in 2013: Tabor Stevens of Adams State. After a somewhat disappointing 13th-place race at the Paul Short Run in October, Stevens seems to have been firing on all cylinders since. He and teammate Kevin Batt (more on him in a moment) ran away from the fields at the RMAC and South Central championships in each of their past two races, with Stevens taking the RMAC and Batt the Regional.
A four-time NCAA champion between track and XC who is originally from Canon City, Colorado (5,300+ feet of elevation) and currently attending school in Alamosa, Colorado (7,500+ feet), Stevens is no stranger to historically or geographically rarified air. A win or strong performance on Saturday, however, would elevate him into another stratosphere historically.
The sum total of his past three NCAA Championships finishes (sixth in 2011, third in 2012, winner in 2011) is a paltry 10 points. Abilene Christian’s Nicodemus Naimadu won four titles in a row for a sum total of four, but the next-best is two-time NCAA champ Michael Aish of Western State with a total of 13. A second consecutive win or a runner-up performance would slot Stevens in at No. 2 on the list of four-time NCAA finishers with the lowest sum totals. See the full list here.
As of late, you can’t talk about Adams State without mentioning would-be usurper Colorado Mines, which very nearly upset ASU both in the RMAC and at the South Central regional. They have a man of their own in Phil Schneider who is going for his fourth All-America honor, while Derek Alcorn is going for his third.
Mike Biwott, American International. (Photo: Mike Scott)
To get there, among those Stevens will have to defeat are teammates Batt and Matt Daniels (more on him in a moment, too) and the two other DII men who beat him at Paul Short: 2013 NCAAs fourth-place finisher Mike Biwott of American International and 2013 fifth-place finisher Aaron Dinzeo of California (Pa.), who went 1-2 in that race at Lehigh.
Biwott’s win at Paul Short is just one in a long list of convincing victories in 2014, five in total. The Yelloyjacket was seven seconds clear of runner-up Dinzeo at Paul Short, and was able to drop Batt, Daniels and Stevens even earlier in the race. That’s the closest anyone has finished to Biwott, who has won his other races by 1:35 (Northeast-10 Conference), 1:20 (Franklin Pierce), 45 seconds (East Region) and 24 seconds (NEICAAA).
As prolific as his 2014 season was, it was just the slightest bit more tame than his 2013 season, which saw him enter with five wins and a runner-up Paul Short effort (a win over Maksim Korolev, among others) en route to a fourth-place finish.
Aaron Dinzeo of California (Pa.) leading a pack featuring other 2014 XC contenders at the 2014 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Coincidentally, that’s exactly how Dinzeo’s TFRRS profile reads for the 2014 season: five wins and a runner-up finish at Paul Short to Biwott. Despite numerous showdowns with No. 8 Lock Haven, the closest anyone came to Dinzeo (outside of Paul Short) was a single one-second win over Shippensburg’s Brayden Burleigh in the Atlantic Regional. He defeated Burleigh – the reigning indoor NCAA mile champion – twice earlier by margins of 24 seconds at PSACs and 41 seconds at Slippery Rock.
Between Dinzeo and Stevens on the 2014 Paul Short leaderboard was the Adams State duo of Kevin Batt and Matt Daniels. After finishing as the national runner-up in 2012, Batt had what he described on our QA2Max Podcast as a bad day in a 12th-place finish at 2013 NCAAs. This year, he was eighth in that Paul Short race more than 20 seconds back of Dinzeo. Ever since, he has been on a roll, finishing runner-up to Stevens in the RMAC and as the winner in the very difficult South Central Region. For what it’s worth, Batt had arguably the strongest track season of any runner in the field with a sub-4 indoor mile and national titles at 5000 meters both indoors and out.
Daniels was the national fourth-place finisher in 2012, but did not compete in 2013. A 10th-place finish at Paul Short seemed to indicate his rounding into form, but 12th-place and 10th-place finishes in the RMAC and South Central Region meets may suggest otherwise. Then again, he was 17th in the RMAC in 2012 before finishing fourth in the country. That’s why they run the races.
In addition to Stevens, Biwott and Dinzeo, there’s another top-10 finisher from a year ago back in Southern Indiana’s Johnnie Guy. The NCAA DII 10k champ in the spring, Guy had picked up in XC right where he left off with track from the beginning of the season through the first weekend of November with a GLVC title.
However, a fifth-place finish at the Midwest Regional 17 seconds behind winner Tyler Pence – his Southern Indiana teammate with whom he had been racing all year long – is of some concern, but then GLIAC champion Nick Hall of Ashland also had an off day in sixth. Either way, Guy and Hall are still individual contenders for the title based on their resumes, along with (and perhaps especially, if his regionals performance is any indicator) Pence.
Also from the Midwest Regional, newly minted No. 1 Grand Valley State will be going for its first-ever men’s team title with Alan Peterson as its leader. The GLIAC and Midwest Region runner-up has only lost to Nick Hall and Briam Baum of Ashland, and Pence of USI from the DII ranks. He will be racing for as low of a stick as possible as the GVSU counterpart to two-time team champion Adams State’s Stevens and Batt.
Alaska Anchorage produced a national individual champion as recently as 2012 in Micah Chelimo, and the Seawolves have a group of potential top contenders led by West Region and GNAC champ freshman Henry Cheseto. He’s joined by the runner-up in both of those meets, Dominik Notz and last year’s 25th-place finisher at NCAAs in senior Dylan Anthony. This could be the second year in a row Alaska Anchorage has the top frosh, as Victor Samoei took the honor a year ago in 32nd.
Alex McGuirk (Chico State) and Harald Karbo (Augustana (S.D.)) in the steeplechase final at the 2014 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
No. 4 Chico State used the West Regional as an opportunity to pack up and run together, meaning the fourth- and seventh-place regional finishes by Johnny Sanchez and Alex McGuirk, respectively, are likely not indicative of their full potential. Sanchez was 23rd in this NCAA meet a year ago, while McGuirk has been the Wildcats’ No. 1 for much of the season.
While all the guys mentioned have a significant number of races in their legs, that’s not the case for Harald Karbo of Augustana (S.D.). Since taking third in the NCAA steeplechase in May, Karbo – last year’s 19th-place finisher – has run in two XC races for a runner-up NSIC showing and a win in the Central Region meet.
More region winners who will be in the mix: Dessie Demlew of Benedict from the South and Ahmad Nesbitt of North Greenville from the Southeast.
WOMEN’S INDIVIDUAL PREVIEW
As in the men’s race for the individual title, the women’s chase is wide open and features a handful of returning top-10 runners (five in the women’s race, four for the men’s). That’s about where the similarities end.
There will be no defending national champion to chase in the women’s race, and the field of top contenders is young. U-Mary’s Jennifer Agnew has since rode off into the sunset with a national title in her final collegiate race in 2013, and beyond a pair of vets in Grand Valley State’s Allyson Winchester and Adams State’s Lauren Martin, the field behind them is very youthful. Six of the top 10 returners from a year ago just sophomores in 2014.
Allyson Winchester, Grand Valley State
Winchester is among a group of contenders from the Midwest/Central regions that have beat up on one another for the duration of the season to this point (Divisions II and III have far less inter-regional competition than does Division I, hence the geographic cluster).
None among Winchester or Minnesota Duluth’s Samantha Rivard (eighth in this meet a year ago) or Jessica Janecke of GVSU (ninth in 2013) or Kendra Foley of GVSU (11th in 2013) have gone through this regular season unscathed. Nor have any of the new challengers in Midwest Region champ Emily Oren of Hillsdale, NSIC champ Sasha Hovind of Northern State, Leah Seivert of Augustana (S.D.), Emily Short of SVSU or Emily Frith of host Bellarmine.
Winchester and Rivard split their season series, 1-1, with Winchester coming out on top at Notre Dame and Rivard at UW-Oshkosh. Rivard also split her season series with Hovind, 2-1, as Rivard was superior at Roy Griak and the Central Region, while Hovind took the NSIC. How far do you want to go down the rabbit hole? Hovind went 2-1 against frosh Seivert, who in turn went 0-3 against Rivard and lost to the GVSU women at UW-Oshkosh. Oh, and Hovind lost head-to-head at U-Mary in late October against MSU Moorhead’s Molly Montonye, who lost out to Rivard, Seivert and Hovind at Griak.
Speaking of those GVSU Laker women, Foley, Winchester, Janecke and Hannah Osborn all beat Hillsdale’s Oren at GLIACs, before all four lost to Oren at Regionals two weekends later. Oren also beat GLVC Champ Frith, who has only lost to three DII women all year long, both at Regionals and the Regional Preview meet earlier in the season. Oren is the only DII woman she has against whom she is winless in 2014.
The too-long-didn’t-read version: who knows how the final match-up between all these women will shake out.
Should it shake out very positively for Winchester, she could join a distinguished club. If you sum up her total finishes from the past three seasons (22nd 2011, 6th 2012, 3rd 2013), you come up with the number 31. Since NCAA Division II women started contesting the 6k in 1998, only four women have posted a four-year total below 40 points: two-time champions Marjo Venalainen of Kennesaw State with 11 and Jessica Pixler of Seattle Pacific with 13, Alisha Williams of Western State with 30, and 2012 champion Alicia Nelson of Adams State with 31. That full list and more historical stats can be found here.
There’s much more to the individual title race picture than the Midwest and Central regions, however.
Samantha Rivard (Minnesota Duluth) and Lauren Martin (Adams State).
Out in the South Central, Martin of Adams State may be the national No. 2 returner from a year ago, but she was just the region championship‘s third-place finisher behind teammates Maura O’Brien and Rachel Kresl, both sophomores. Martin and Kresl both finished alongside Heather Bates of UC Colorado Springs at Regionals.
Fans of Martin shouldn’t be too discouraged by a third-place showing at regionals. You don’t have to look too far away for an example of someone else who didn’t win their region but went on to win nationals: men’s teammate Tabor Stevens did it just last year. Besides, a more telling performance is probably the RMAC Championships, which she won by three seconds over Kresl.
Katelyn Steen of Western Washington in the steeplechase prelims at the 2014 NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Further west, the top runner to watch could very well be Western Washington’s Katelyn Steen, who ran away from the field at the GNAC Championships for a 19-second win over No. 6 Simon Fraser’s top runner Rebecca Bassett. In fact, Steen is undefeated against Division II competition this year with a West Region win and an eighth-place finish in the Division I invite section at the Washington’s Sundodger Invitational also on her list of 2014 accomplishments.
Other regional champs who will look to mix it up in the top pack include Atlantic champ Kasey Jones of Edinboro, East winner Rachel Prutsman of Roberts Wesleyan, South champ Kelley Bahn of West Florida and Southeast winner Catie Byrd of Queens (N.C.).