NCAA Cross Country Preview Part 4 — Men’s Top 10 Teams

With Nico Young (second from right) leading the way, Northern Arizona looks for a successful team defense. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

CAVEATS, CAVEATS, CAVEATS. Our predictions are full of ’em from a mid-September vantage point. It’s hard to pick against two-in-a-row defender Northern Arizona though we see Stanford’s plethora of low-low sticks up front as a greater threat than the USTFCCCA coaches poll does. We’ll see.

Over the summer, coaching moves set up some intriguing possibilities for future seasons — though not likely this one. Joe Carlson left 9th-place school Notre Dame for Tennessee, brought NCAA 10,000 champ Dylan Jacobs with him and also added soph star transfer from Texas Yaseen Abdalla to the Vol roster. And then there’s Bowerman TC head Jerry Schumacher adding the Oregon hat to his wardrobe to consider as a development — for the future.

1. Northern Arizona

With 5 wins since ’17, including the “2020” and ’21 Nationals staged last year, coach Michael Smith brings his Lumberjack squad into the season minus two-time 7th-placer and double NCAA indoor champion Abdihamid Nur. But everyone else is back. That includes soph Nico Young, who placed 4th at his first XC Nats and 11th last fall, plus Drew Bosley (13th). Sub-4:00 miler prep Colin Sahlman and Aidan Puffer (8:49.54+) are adds from the high school ranks and the bench is deep through and through. Smith recently signed a 5-year contract extension; expect NAU to be a power for years to come.

2. Stanford

Charles Hicks (4th) and Ky Robinson (14th) fronted the J.J. Clark/Ricardo Santos-coached Cardinal group that placed 5th last fall. In all, 5 returners are in the picture, including Cole Sprout (4th in the ’22 NCAA track 10K and 9th in the 5K). Translation: a top 3 as good as you’ll find. Twin recruits Gavin and Callum Sherry out of Connecticut bring blue-chip credentials. They ran 1–2 in the New Balance Indoor 2M last winter. Gavin also raced to 3rd in the prestigious Eastbay prep harrier race and fellow recruit Zane Bergen (4:00.48) was just behind in 4th.

3. Oklahoma State

Dave Smith’s Cowboys placed 3rd last time and among its 6 returners, Isai Rodriguez (22), Shea Foster (27) and Victor Shitsama (29) all cruised home in the top 30. Talents on the team this fall who didn’t score in ’21 include Moroccan soph Fouad Messaoudi (3:38.02/13:46.28), grad student Juan Diego Castro (3:57.78), Briton Kian Davis (3:42.56) and junior Ale Stitt (8:10.00). An accomplished U20 harrier in his native Australia, Stitt won OSU’s season-opener Cowboy Preview race over 5K in early September.

4. BYU

While the loss to graduation of 2-time individual champion Conner Mantz will surely be felt by coach Ed Eyestone’s squad — winner of the team title in ’19 — Casey Clinger (8th) will provide veteran leadership for the Cougars. Six in all are back for the 7th-placer Cougars. Grad transfer from Weber State Christian Allen (16) was a top-20 finisher last year. New frosh Isaac Teeples has three Washington state harrier titles to his name and placed 10th in the high-quality RunningLane Champs in ’21.

5. Colorado

Mark Wetmore has coached 5 Buffalo men’s teams to team titles, a tally matched in this millennium only by Michael Smith at Northern Arizona. Colorado placed “only” 8th last time, featured no marquee names and returns a mere four scorers. But Wetmore so often finds a way. Grad student Andrew Kent (45th) placed highest among the returners in ’21. The cause will be aided by grad transfer from Wisconsin Seth Hirsch (84th), and probably by talent development, a hallmark of Colorado teams for many years.

6. Wake Forest

The team victor at last fall’s Southeast Regional — for the first time in 23 years and only the second time ever — John Hayes’ Demon Deacons nabbed 10th in the Nationals after a 15th the previous March. Clearly a squad on an upswing, its punch comes on the strength of 6 returners. Chief among these are Aussie grad student Zach Facioni (19th), Aaron las Heras (74th) and Belgian NCAA 1500 4th-placer Thomas Vanoppen. Facioni gave further evidence of his talent placing 11th in the NCAA 5000 in June.

7. Tulsa

The Golden Hurricane squad was 5th in ’19, 6th at the two most recent XC Nationals, and only ’21 senior Scott Beattie is not back among the scorers a year ago. In Tallahassee last autumn, Coach Scott Gulley’s 5 returners poured across the line within 72 seconds of Cormac Dalton (34th) crossing as first man, a tight-tight grouping, and the school has been represented at 12 of the 15 most recent harrier nationals.

8. Washington

Andy and Maurica Powell’s Husky squad came in 13th in ’21, perhaps a deceiving metric for assessing ’22 chances. Five return, with senior Brian Fay (38th) the highest placer. Note Fay, an Irishman, earned three noteworthy 5000 placings since: 6th NCAA Indoor, 7th NCAA, 8th Euro Champs. However Washington has picked up a pair of capable grad transfers from Princeton in Aussie Olympians Ed Trippas (67th plus NCAA steeple 5th in 8:20.29) and Sam Ellis, who placed 3rd in the NCAA 1500 in June. Add T&FN’s ’19 HS Indoor AOY Sam Affolder, plus USA Junior 1500 champ Nathan Green (7th in the ’22 NCAA metric mile as a frosh) and that’s a deep crowd of track-oriented talent with great harrier potential.

9. Wisconsin

Badger XC has won one team crown (’11) during coach Mick Byrne’s tenure and placed 8th in 2018 when star Morgan McDonald triumphed as an individual. The 11th-place squad from ’21 no longer has the service of ’22 track 5000 champ Olin Hacker. However, five returners appear on the roster, with soph Bob Liking (66th) the highest finisher, and a compact 51.4-second time spread. Runners not in Tallahassee last November who might contribute include Briton Charlie Wheeler, a grad student and 28:55 track 10K man, plus Adam Spencer, 8th-placer in the NCAA 1500 and a 3:37.40 metric miler.

10. Harvard

Twelfth at the last big dance, Jason Saretsky’s Crimson men should vie for a top 10 spot. Graham Blanks — a past winner at the big Great American XC fixture as a prep — ran up front for the team last year (23rd) with now-junior Acer Iverson next (40th). Iverson brings quality track credentials of 7:53.55, 13:28.52, 28:23.29, and reached the NCAA track 5K & 10K finals in June; he could easily improve his XC placing and Harvard’s prospects.

Others To Watch:

Air Force, Arkansas, Iowa State, Notre Dame, Texas. ◻︎

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