Preview: NCAA DI Regional Championships Friday

Regional Championships Friday is here!

You can feel the excitement in the air.

From The USTFCCCA InfoZone: Meets & Results | USTFCCCA Scoreboard

Let’s find out which teams and individuals are headed to the 2021 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships NEXT SATURDAY at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee, Florida. Don’t forget that you can watch the commercial-free action on ESPNU, beginning at 10 am ET.

Remember that the top-2 teams per gender in each region automatically qualify for the NCAA Championships, while the other teams will be at-large selections during an NCAA Selection Show on Saturday at 5 pm ET. Then, after teams have been determined, 40 additional individuals per gender are selected to compete based on finish at their respective regional championships (38 are automatic selections; two are at-large).

Here are four of the nine meets that offer the most intrigue.

Mountain Region Championships

Date: Friday, November 12 | Location: Provo, Utah

How could we start anywhere but the Mountain Region?

There will be 14 nationally-ranked between the two races.

Mountain Region – Ranked Teams

Men’s Teams
Women’s Teams
No. 1 Northern Arizona
No. 2 New Mexico
No. 2 Colorado
No. 3 Colorado
No. 8 BYU
No. 4 BYU
No. 11 Air Force

No. 7 Utah

No. 21 Utah State
No. 18 Northern Arizona
No. 22 Colorado State
No. 19 Colorado State
No. 26 Southern Utah
No. 22 Utah State

Which race do we preview first, though? How about the one with four top-10 teams.

The Women’s 6k Championship is first on the course at 11 am MT, headlined by a matchup between No. 2 New Mexico, No. 3 Colorado, No. 4 BYU and No. 7 Utah. Don’t gloss over No. 18 Northern Arizona, No. 19 Colorado State or No. 22 Utah State, either. Each of those top-5 teams have stated their case to be ranked No. 1 nationally: the Cougars were No. 1 from the preseason to Week 3; the Lobos topped the nation in Week 5; and the Buffs are undefeated this season. A different program won the regional title in each of the past three iterations with BYU taking top honors in 2019, New Mexico doing so in 2018 and Colorado winning its fifth in a row in 2017. The Utes aren’t to be overlooked, most recently posting a clear runner-up finish at the Pac-12 Championships behind the Buffs and now sitting at a program-high rank.

The Men’s 10k Championship toes the starting line at 12 pm MT with a scintillating No. 1 vs No. 2 duel between No. 1 Northern Arizona and No. 2 Colorado. You must go all the way back to 2011 to find the last time a team not named the Lumberjacks of the Buffs won the regional title (That would be BYU, which comes into the meet ranked No. 8 this year). Four-time defending champion Northern Arizona has been increasingly dominant at this meet over the years: the Lumberjacks dropped its winning point total from 60 in 2016 to just 21 in 2019 (second fewest since 1997) and have won by an average of 23 points. Colorado has come on strong as of late with a decisive victory at the Pac-12 Championships, while you can never count out BYU. Other ranked teams in the mix include rapid-riser No. 11 Air Force, No. 21 Utah State, No. 22 Colorado State and No. 26 Southern Utah.

Midwest Region Championships

Date: Friday, November 12 | Location: Iowa City, Iowa

Can you name the only two regions with five or more top-10 teams?

Well, you’re looking at one of them and probably already read about the other.

Midwest Region – Ranked Teams

Men’s Teams
Women’s Teams
No. 3 Oklahoma State
No. 5 Minnesota
No. 4 Iowa State
No. 6 Oklahoma State
No. 10 Tulsa
No. 13 Iowa State
No. 23 Minnesota

The Men’s 10k Championship, second on the course at 12 pm CT, has the three of the five top-10 teams with No. 3 Oklahoma State, No. 4 Iowa State and No. 10 Tulsa. Since winning the regional title in 2016, the Cowboys have slid in the standings in each of the past three iterations: OSU was runner-up in 2017, fourth in 2018 and then fifth in 2019. That 2019 result ultimately broke the Cowboys’ 16-year streak of reaching the NCAA Championships. OSU is back in a big way in 2021, most recently winning the team title at the Big 12 Championships in emphatic fashion over Iowa State. The Cyclones, last champions here in 2018, have impressed all season long, highlighted by a victory at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational. The Golden Hurricane won the team title the last time this meet was held and return three top-10 athletes from 2019. No. 23 Minnesota is the other ranked team in the field and could shake up the proceedings.

The Women’s 6k Championship, first on the course at 11 am CT, has an exciting No. 5 vs. No. 6 matchup with Minnesota and Oklahoma State. Don’t forget about No. 13 Iowa State, either. All three of those teams squared off at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational in mid-October and finished in that order: the Golden Gophers were fourth, followed by the Cowgirls in fifth and the Cyclones ended up ninth. All three of those programs posted favorable results at their respective conference championships, too: Minnesota won its first Big Ten crown since 2009, which was also the last year it topped the podium here; OSU edged Iowa State by just one point for the Big 12 title (35-36), yet the Cyclones had better overall depth from runners Nos. 1-5 (It was a 3-4-6-7-15 finish for the Cowgirls, compared to a 2-5-8-9-12 result for the Cyclones). Iowa State won back-to-back regional titles in 2017 and 2018, while OSU hopes to win its first since 2015.

Great Lakes Region Championships

Date: Friday, November 12 | Location: Evansville, Indiana

You never know what to expect at the Great Lakes Region Championships.

That’s why we’re prepared for ANYTHING at Angel Mounds in Evansville, Indiana.

Great Lakes Region – Ranked Teams

Men’s Teams
Women’s Teams
No. 6 Notre Dame
No. 12 Michigan
No. 9 Wisconsin
No. 13 Wisconsin
No. 12 Michigan
No. 16 Michigan State
No. 28 Butler

No. 25 Notre Dame

The Women’s 6k Championship, first on the course at 11 am CT, features No. 12 Michigan, No. 13 Wisconsin, No. 16 Michigan State and No. 25 Notre Dame. History smiles favorably upon the Spartans and the Wolverines, as they’ve split each of the past 10 regional titles (Michigan State is the defending champion; Michigan won four in a row from 2015 to 2018). Those top-3 teams have familiarity with each other, most recently competing at the Big Ten Championships. It was an incredible meet as the top-4 teams were separated by just 13 points: Minnesota 72, Wisconsin 78, Michigan State 82, Michigan 85. If you take those 11 other teams out and leave the Badgers, Spartans and Wolverines: Wisconsin 42, Michigan 44, Michigan State 44. It’s safe to say you can expect fireworks on the course between those three teams. Don’t forget about the Irish, either.

The Men’s 10k Championship, next on the course at 12 pm CT, has quite the top-10 matchup with No. 6 Notre Dame squaring off against No. 9 Wisconsin. Don’t count out No. 12 Michigan or No. 28 Butler, though. Questions surrounded the Irish until they debuted a full roster at the ACC Championships and steamrolled the field. Now, Notre Dame looks like the team that was ranked No. 2 nationally for most of the season. The Badgers ran roughshod over the competition at the Big Ten Championships, too, notching a 52-point win over the Wolverines. The Bulldogs aren’t to be discounted – having found their bark at the right time, decisively knocking off three programs that were included in the Week 5 edition of the National Coaches’ Poll at the BIG EAST Championships. Upsets haven’t been foreign in the men’s race over the years, as No. 17 Purdue won the team title in 2019 and No. 15 Michigan State topped the podium in 2017.

West Region Championships

Date: Friday, November 12 | Location: Sacramento, California

The West Region might not be as wild as before, but it’s still strong.

Double-digit nationally-ranked programs will descend on the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex, but only one of them is in the top-10 (Stanford’s men sit No. 3) and fans won’t see a savory top-10 matchup like years past (e.g., No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Boise State vs. No. 6 Stanford from three years ago in the women’s race).

West Region – Ranked Teams

Men’s Teams
Women’s Teams
No. 5 Stanford
No. 20 Oregon
No. 13 Washington
No. 21 Washington
No. 15 Gonzaga
No. 26 Stanford
No. 16 Oregon
No. 29 Gonzaga
No. 20 Boise State
No. 30 Portland

The Men’s 10k Championship, second on the course at 11 am PT, features six of those nationally-ranked programs with the third-ranked Cardinal as the headliner and consensus favorite. Along with Stanford, come Pac-12 foes No. 13 Washington and No. 16 Oregon, WCC opponents No. 15 Gonzaga and No. 30 Portland, as well as Mountain West runner-up No. 20 Boise State. The Cardinal, which last won this meet in 2016, has been steady all season, posting a dominant win at the FSU XC Open back in September and then finishing a game runner-up at both the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational and the Pac-12 Championships. The Huskies have been a wild card this year, but proved their mettle with a third-place effort at the Pac-12 meet. The Bulldogs could pull a surprise, while the Ducks, Broncos and Pilots need to shore up depth.

The Women’s 6k Championship, first on the course at 10 am PT, won’t have any top-15 teams. No. 20 Oregon is the top-ranked squad in the field with No. 21 Washington, No. 26 Stanford and No. 29 Gonzaga in the mix as well. A third-place finish at the Pac-12 Championships has the Ducks trending in the right direction – as does a runner-up finish by the Bulldogs at the WCC Championships – but the Cardinal and Huskies are trending downward. Stanford was ranked No. 3 in both the Preseason and Week 1, then went to No. 7 in Week 2, No. 9 in Week 4, No. 23 in Week 5 and now No. 26. Washington was in the top-10 as recent as Week 4, but dropped to No. 18 in Week 5 and No. 21 in Week 6. Rule out Stanford or Washington at your own peril. If Oregon does live up to its regional standing, it would be its fifth regional title since 2010.