2021 NCAA DIII Men’s Cross Country National Coaches’ Poll – Preseason
NEW ORLEANS – If the first installment of the 2021 NCAA Division III Men’s Cross Country National Coaches’ Poll is any indication, Wartburg and Williams are the odds-on favorites to contend for the national title come Saturday, November 13, when the NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships are held in Louisville, Kentucky.
The top-ranked Knights and the second-ranked Ephs headline the National Coaches’ Poll, which was released on Wednesday by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA). Defending champion and third-ranked Pomona-Pitzer, fourth-ranked John Carroll and fifth-ranked Washington (Mo.) round out the preseason top-5.
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Wartburg is No. 1 for the first time since at least 2006, which is as far as our full archives go back. As a program, the Knights hope to build on a successful spring, where they captured their first team title at the NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Distance athletes played a major role in that title, as they scored 22 of the team’s 54 points. All eyes are on Joe Freiburger this year after a breakout junior year that saw him go undefeated in cross country and earn two top-5 finishes in distance events at the NCAA meet. Freiburger is one of nine Wartburg athletes who posted sub-15:00 marks over 5000 meters during the 2021 outdoor season.
Williams begins the season at No. 2, the same place it started in 2019. The Ephs, who are seeking their first national title since going back-to-back in 1994 and 1995, bring a hungry and loaded team with them into the 2021 season. Many of Williams’ athletes didn’t compete in a collegiate meet for 14 months (February 2020 until May 2021) after the COVID-19 pandemic struck. The Ephs do return two athletes from their 2019 squad that finished a close third at the NCAA DIII Cross Country Championships – Elias Lindgren and Aidan Ryan. Look out for Ryan this year, as he finished 10th two years ago and was well on his way to a sensational junior year before the pandemic shut things down before the NCAA Indoor Championships.
You might not remember this, but the Sagehens are the defending champions. Pomona-Pitzer won the 2019 crown and returns four athletes from that team, notably Dante Paszkeicz and Ethan Widlansky, who both finished among the top-20 athletes as sophomores. Paszkeic played a big role in that victory, moving up 21 spots from 3k to 4k, 16 spots from 4k to 6.4k and then 14 more spots from 6.4k to the finish. You better believe the Sagehens will be hungry to compete, after not doing so since March 7, 2020, according to TFRRS (SCIAC 4-Way Track & Field Meet).
Expectations are high for the Blue Streaks, who received their best billing in program history. Come to think of it, John Carroll hadn’t been ranked in the top-10 before this year – let alone the top-5. The Blue Streaks return four of their top-5 runners from a squad that took 19th place at the 2019 NCAA Division III Cross Country Championships. Jamie Dailey, Ian Pierson and Alex Phillip will provide John Carroll with strong front-end depth. Both Dailey and Phillip earned top-10 finishes in both the 5000 and 10,000 meters at the 2021 NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field Championships (Phillip was second and fifth; Dailey was ninth and seventh, respectively). Phillip is a strong contender for the individual title this year.
The Bears have been truly successful at the national level over the past nine years, posting six podium finishes – and two other fifth-place finishes – in that span. Many see WashU continuing that excellence in 2021, as it has a senior-laden squad. Tucker Cera, Patrick Norrick and Jacob Ridderhoff all return from a team that placed fourth in 2019. Riderhoff has shown tremendous improvement over the past few years, capped by a runner-up finish in the 1500 at the 2021 NCAA Division III Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
Here are the rest of the top-10 teams in the preseason: No. 6 MIT, No. 7 SUNY Geneseo, No. 8 UW-La Crosse, No. 9 Lynchburg and No. 10 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. This is the best ranking in program history for the Hornets, who previously topped out at 34th back in 2011.
Two teams outside of the top-10 earned all-time high marks: No. 23 Washington and Lee and No. 27 George Fox.