NCAA Division III XC Championships Preview

NCAA Division III XC Championships Preview

So it all has come down to this.

Twelve weeks of competition in NCAA Division III Cross Country boil down to two championship races at Lake Breeze Golf Club in Winneconne, Wisconsin.

Maybe not so much "boil," because prelimiary forecasts for Saturday call for a high temperature of 33 degrees and 1-3 inches of snow, but nonetheless the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships are finally here.

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This is the first time since 2011 that the championships will be held in Wisconsin. Four years ago, the North Central (Ill.) men and the Washington (Mo.) women captured the team titles.

What does this year have in store for those 64 teams and 112 individuals that qualified for Saturday’s races?

Here are a few storylines to keep in mind as you watch the meet.

Women’s Race – 11 a.m.

Is a Johns Hopkins four-peat inevitable?

No. 1 Johns Hopkins appears to be peaking at the right time – and that’s not good for the rest of the field.

Last weekend the Blue Jays won their eighth consecutive Mideast Region title and did so in resounding fashion. Johns Hopkins had the first three runners cross the finish line en route to a 33-point team score.

Earlier this season the Blue Jays were second to Wisconsin – yes, Wisconsin – at the Iona College Paddy Doyle Meet of Champions. That’s not a typo.

So what team can possibly keep Johns Hopkins from winning its fourth consecutive national championship?

There are three battle-tested teams from the New England Region – No. 2 Williams, No. 4 Tufts and No. 5 Middlebury – as well as last year’s runner-up No. 5 Washington (Mo.). All of those teams from the New England Region know how each other race and will push each other to the front of the pack, while the Bears have been in the thick of it all before.

Wide-open competition for the individual title

Take your pick from any of the Regional Athletes of the Year and there’s a strong chance she’ll be in the lead pack.

The top returning finisher from 2014 is Carleton’s Ruth Steinke, who recently won the Central Region title by two seconds. Steinke was fourth last year when the championships were held in Wilmington, Ohio.

Johns Hopkins senior Sophia Meehan, who nabbed the Mideast Region title, took sixth in 2014 and is poised to make a run at the championship. Meehan is well-rested, having sat out several weeks leading up to last week’s meet.

St. Lawrence sophomore Megan Kellogg, the Atlantic Region champion, might have put together the most impressive resume of the field. Kellogg is undefeated and topped an incredible field at the AAE Invitational (DIII Pre-Nats) back in October.

Here are some other runners who should make some noise: Lauren Strohbehn, Calvin; Lucy Ramquist, UW-Eau Claire; Maryann Gong, MIT; Maya Weigel, Pomona-Pitzer; Kimber Meyer, Macalester.

Men’s Race – 12:30 p.m.

Can UW-Eau Claire fend off a host of tough challengers?

Back on October 7, UW-Eau Claire rocketed up the National Coaches’ Poll. The Blugolds went from No. 6 to No. 1 following a huge win at the Blugold Invitational and supplanted previous-No. 1 North Central (Ill.).

Since then, UW-Eau Claire proved why the voting coaches held the team in such strong regard. The Blugolds went undefeated since then, winning the AAE Invitational (DIII Pre-Nats) by a comfortable margin, steamrolling the field at the WIAC Championships and then edging the Cardinals for the Midwest Region title.

In order to win its first NCAA XC title in program history, UW-Eau Claire must survive its toughest test yet.

Not only will No. 3 North Central (Ill.) be looking for revenge – and its fourth title in the past five years – but No. 2 Williams, No. 4 Amherst and No. 5 St. Olaf all want the crown to be theirs. Plus, there are 27 other teams in the mix as well.

No matter what team comes out on top, it will take pack running to do so – especially if the forecast holds true. With that being said, the Oles ran the tightest spread of the top-5 teams at their respective regional meet (38 seconds). The Blugolds were second (43), followed by the Cardinals (49), Amherst (50) and Williams (56).

Competition matters, however, as the Midwest Region and New England Region has far more ranked teams than that of the Central Region. Eight teams from the Midwest made NCAAs, as did six from New England and just four from the Central Region.

This has all the makings to be a battle to the finish line.

Hussein? LaMere? Plank? Thorson? Oh my!

There are four runners in the men’s race who are undefeated against Division III competition this fall – Amherst’s Mohamed Hussein, Haverford’s Charlie Marquardt, Oberlin’s Geno Arthur and Puget Sound’s Tyler Shipley. Out of those four, only Hussein has earned multiple National Athlete of the Week honors.

So we should go ahead and give the title to Hussein, right? Not so fast.

While some other runners like UW-Platteville’s Ian LaMere, North Central’s Zach Plank or UW-Eau Claire’s Josh Thorson aren’t undefeated, they’re legitimate contenders. LaMere recently crushed both Plank and Thorson for the Midwest Region title, while Thorson owns wins over both in earlier races.

Don’t forget about St. Olaf’s Jake Campbell either or Williams’ Bijan Mazaheri, who has been gaining ground on Hussein in recent races.

Some other names to consider: Cole Decker, Central College; Isaac Garcia-Cassani, Geneseo State.