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Northern Arizona Looking For A Repeat

by Sieg Lindstrom

northern arizona xc preview

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Many questions are raised and begging to receive the outlines of iluminating answers as the season charges up. The full final exam, of course—with the Regionals the entry gate—will come on November 18 in Louisville.

While meets have theoretically counted for credit toward team at-large berths since the September 8 weekend, and 13 teams will travel to Kentucky through earning one of them, power squads tend to train and keep fans guessing until the final 6 weeks. Other teams are dissuaded from taking a chance on inter-regional travel early because wins against opponents later deemed to have fielded B-teams at a given meet don't count.

Last weekend the Griak Invitational and Battle in Beantown offered some helpful data.

You’ll find the details of at-large qualifying here.

Rather than try to second-guess the NCAA Coaches Poll, we’ll run down the teams rated highest in the poll's third week, presented here courtesy of the USTCCCA.

1. Northern Arizona—Winner last year with a score of 125 to runner-up Stanford’s 158, there's not yet enough contradictory data from fall ’17 to drive down assessments of the Lumberjacks. Coach Michael Smith’s crew returns three top-40 finishers in Matthew Baxter (11th unadjusted, the No. 4 returner), junior Tyler Day (11th) and Andy Trouard (37th), plus two more from the top 100, Cory Glines (84th) and soph Geordie Beamish (97th).

In the team's 15-point win over UCLA at home at the start of September, junior Peter Lomong—brother of elite pro and Lumberjack alum Lopez Lomong—led his mates in a cruising blanket finish.

If you like fuzzy stats with some measure of meaning, you should know that if you pull seniors from the ’16 NCAA results and raw-adjust the scores, Northern Arizona's five that are back tally 134, 46 fewer points than the next-best squad by that measure, Syracuse.

2. Stanford—Chris Miltenberg’s Cardinal team rates as they finished last year and return three from the ’16 top 50 in NCAA 5000 champion now-junior Grant Fisher (5th), Sam Wharton (41st) and junior Steven Fahy (59th). The fourth returner from the Farm, junior Jack Keelan (86th) has shown range on the track (3:59.62i, 13:40.72, 29:13.92).

There is depth behind that group and a formidable frosh class, including Callum Bolger (8:48.15+), who won his California State XC race by 31 seconds; Connor Lane (8:53.59, 8th at Foot Locker), DJ Principe (4:00.73, 8:47.40), Michael Vernau (10th at ’15 Foot Locker, 8:49.36).

3. Syracuse—With individual favorite Justyn Knight leading the charge, coach Chris Fox's ’Cuse Orange team brings a history of winning in ’15 backed by 3rd last year.

Five runners return: Colin Bennie (17th and 8th in ’15 on the Louisville course), Philo Germano (49th), soph Kevin James (116th) and junior Iliass Aouani (128th). Add soph Aidan Tooker with his 8:39.34 steeple PR and potentially Noah Affolder, an 8:46.08 2-miler last winter who traveled across the pond to win the Great Edinburgh Junior harrier title in January.

4. Colorado—’16 first man Ben Saarel is the only name missing from Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs’ 6th-place team, most recent in a line of Buffalo units that have made the meet each year since ’92 and won 5 team crowns since ’01 (’14 the latest). The six with ’16 experience are soph Joe Klecker (28th), junior John Dressel (33rd), junior Ryan Forsyth (74th), Christian Martin (192nd) and soph Reilly Friedman (217th).

Among several who could raise their games into the mix are junior Ethan Gonzales (49th at the ’16 Mountain Regional), redshirt frosh Eduardo Herrera (4:04.99, 8:54.62+ in high school) and grad student/fifth-year senior Mark Tedder, the ’17 Heps 10,000 champ for Cornell.

5. Arkansas—Is it possible the Razorbacks are underrated? Chris Bucknam has 5 charges returning from his ’16 5th-place group—Jack Bruce (19th), junior Cameron Griffith (48th), junior Andrew Ronoh (67th), Austen Dalquist (196th)—and will have ’15 SEC 2nd-placer Christian Heymsfield back as a fifth-year senior. Soph Carter Persyn, top-finishing frosh at the SEC, placed 37th at the South Central Regional; Junior Kyle Levermore placed 47th. Junior Ethan Moehn was 27th at the Regional in ’15.

6. BYU—Fourth in ’13, the Cougars have been inching back toward a return to the top 5 since—16th, 12th, 7th in the years since. Can blue chip frosh Casey Clinger, the first boy to win two Nike Cross Nationals titles back to back, contribute right away?

NCAA 10,000 runner-up junior Rory Linkletter (32nd in ’16) will lead returners junior Clayton Young (77th), Spencer Hanson (92nd), Jonathan Harper (101st) and soph Brayden McLelland (110th). McLelland, like Clinger, ran for Utah prep power American Fork, as did Couger senior Connor McMillan. Soph Alex Hedquist, returned from a Mormon mission, was 3rd at NXN in ’11 and 13th in ’12. Kramer Morton, also a soph who took time away for a mission, was twice a Foot Locker finalist.

7. Wisconsin—Morgan McDonald, pegged to be in the thick of the action near the front, Joe Hardy (65th) and soph Olin Hacker (66th), son of the Badgers‘ ’85 titlist Tim Hacker should cut at the leading edge for Mick Byrnes' squad. Soph Ben Eidenschink (157th), junior Tyson Miehe (216th) and soph Oliver Hoard (227th) fill out the list of returners.

Frosh Finn Gessner, a local from Madison’s Lafollette High, placed 2nd at Foot Locker last fall.

Wisconsin placed 9th in ’13, 10th in ’14, and missed the meet out of a red hot region in ’15 before rushing back to 8th last season.

8. Oregon—The picture changes when a team loses a low stick like three-time champion Edward Cheserek, but the ’16 9th-place Ducks have back junior Matthew Maton (29th last fall), junior Tanner Anderson (68th), Sam Prakel (104th), Travis Neuman (151st) and soph Levi Thomet (241st). Among returnees not in last year's Nationals top 7, redshirts, transfers and new recruits, a miler-leaning group could strengthen the attack: ’15 NCAA 1500 3rd-placer Blake Haney, transfer from Dartmouth Connor Clark (210th in ’16), ’17 prep sub-4:00 miler Reed Brown, soph Austin Tamagno (5th at Foot Locker in ’14), ’17 prep 2M leader Cooper Teare (8:44.49+) and James West, a British junior transfer who has miled 3:58.69.

9. Oklahoma State—Twelfth last season, Dave Smith-coached Cowboy squads placed 9th in ’14, 3rd in ’13 and won their third team crown in ’12. Fortunes may be rising as six ’16 runners are back: Hassan Abdi (16th), junior Christian Liddell (121st) and Sylvester Barus (139th and the ’15 JUCO XC runner-up), Anthoney Armstrong (142nd) and Luis Martinez (184th). There's a bonus: Ostensible ’16 senior Joshua Thompson (36th and a 3:38.21 man over 1500) is back for another season. Junior Cerake Geberkidane won a Big 12 5K/10K double and placed 11th in the ’16 NCAA 5000 after a 34th-place finish in the World Cross Junior race in ’15. Brit frosh Elliot Bowker also raced for his country in that same race (72nd).

10. Iona—A team that could be better than it looks on the paper of last year's results. Six return with three of those top-100 types: Chartt Miller (64th), Gilbert Kirui (87th) and Johannes Motschmann (93rd). However Kirui placed 20th in ’15 in Louisville and 10th in the NCAA track 10,000 last school year. Miller was the ’17 NCAA 5000 6th-placer. Senior Liam Dee is a 3:58.19 miler and placed 7th at the NCAA Indoor last March.

The Rest of the Top 25: Washington State, Furman, Southern Utah, Iowa State, Colorado State, Virginia, Georgetown, Portland, Illinois, Middle Tennessee, Michigan State, Tulsa, UCLA, Virginia Tech, Ole Miss.

September 27, 2017

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