NCAA Cross Country Preview — Men’s Top 10 Teams

Oklahoma State earned a runner-up trophy last year after a tie-breaker had to be applied. Can they reverse the result versus Northern Arizona this time? (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

AS WE ALL KNOW, crystal balls are all-too fallible, so we don’t place too much stock in them this long before the NCAA Championships. We’ve only seen a few major clashes so far, and to this point, almost everyone is holding out some of their horses.

The big show will come on November 18 at Virginia’s Panorama Farms course. The Cavaliers will host the Pre-Nationals race on October 14, a critical event that will yield a much better picture of the contenders. The Panorama course is hilly but has produced fast performances in recent years. Running the tangents is crucial, as will be negotiating what might be a crowded start area.

The numbers don’t do justice to how tight the race for the top is between Oklahoma State and defender Northern Arizona. Last year both squads scored 83, and the trophy was decided on the NCAA’s tiebreaker. That meant despite the Cowboys having the faster sixth runner, the win went to Northern Arizona on the basis of more head-to-head wins in the top 5 for each team (3-2). Both teams are loaded, but in September came news that Dave Smith’s Cowboy squad had picked up some very strong foreign talent, which may prove decisive.

1. Oklahoma State

Last year’s runner-up, the Cowboys are once again led by Alex Maier, 5th last year. The graduation loss of Isai Rodriguez (8th) will hurt, as will the departure of Britain’s Rory Leonard (32nd) to the pro ranks but Fouad Messaoudi (12th), Victor Shitsama (31st) and Ryan Schoppe (53rd) are back. A few roster surprises at the Cowboy Jamboree may tilt the scales: Kenyan frosh Denis Kipngetich and Brian Musau ran 1–2. Another big contributor may well be Israeli Adisu Goadie, who ran 28:17.12 in May.

2. Northern Arizona

The defending champions return a powerful top 2 in Nico Young and Drew Bosley, who placed 2nd and 3rd last year. Also back from that ’22 squad are Santiago Gomez-Prosser (19th), Brodey Hasty (25th) and Colin Sahlman. Bosley led the field in the team’s commanding early-season win at Virginia, with 13:29.35 man Theo Quax coming in as No. 2 and Aussie Kang Nyoak and Corey Gorgas also making the Lumberjack top 5. Coach Mike Smith appears to have plenty of top-shelf depth to work with. A big addition is transfer Aaron Las Heras, 26th last year for Wake Forest and with track bests of 13:38.02 and 28:13.82.

3. BYU

Third in last year’s race, Ed Eyestone’s crew returns NCAA indoor 5K runner-up Casey Clinger (7th), Davin Thompson (30th), Creed Thompson (35th), Aidan Troutner (48th) and Joey Nokes (53rd), but lost Brandon Garnica (21st) and Christian Allen (47th). A big potential plus is Kenneth Rooks, the NCAA and USATF steeple champ, who has only run one collegiate cross season so far, placing 22nd in the Mountain Region last year before sitting out Nationals. He won’t be racing until late in the season, he told us. Jacob and Garrett Stanford joined the top 5 in their runner-up finish at Virginia. Said Eyestone, “Suddenly after today, we have 5 really good guys altogether and that’s amazing for the rest of the season.”

4. Wisconsin

Sixth last year, the Badgers are led by Australian senior Jackson Sharp, 16th in ’22. Other key returnees for coach Mick Byrne include Bob Liking (34th), Rowen Ellenberg (45th), Evan Bishop (83rd) and Adam Spencer. Kiwi frosh Christian De Vaal has run 14:03.07 for 5K, while Israeli recruit Matan Ivr has run 13:57.70. Another top 5 contender is soph Josh Truchon, who won the early-season Badger Classic.

5. North Carolina

Only 10th last year, coach Chris Miltenberg’s Tar Heels are led by Parker Wolfe (9th), with Ethan Strand (62nd), Will Coogan (106th) and Patrick Anderson (113th) returning. The team picked up grad transfer Alex Phillips, a 2-time Div. III champ who has already raced to the team’s No. 2 spot at Virginia. Another grad transfer is Jake Gebhardt, who was 16th in the Big 10 last year.

6. Stanford

The Cardinal placed 4th in ’22 with some top-end power, but since last year’s winner, Charles Hicks, has graduated and gone pro, that burden up front falls on the able Aussie Ky Robinson, who won the Outdoor 5000 and 10,000 in June. Robinson, 10th last year, leads the other returnees from last year’s squad: Devin Hart (51st), Thomas Boyden (75th), Cole Sprout and Evan Burke. Frosh twins Leo and Lex Young may also contribute for head coach JJ Clark and assistant Ricardo Santos.

7. Notre Dame

Just 15th last year, the Irish will be led by sub-4:00 miler Carter Solomon (18th). Jake Renfree (103rd) and Quinn Gallagher (142nd) are also back from the Nationals squad. Josh Methner led the team at its season opener, followed by Renfree. Izaiah Steury has gone to Oregon, so coach Matt Sparks will be looking to new additions such as Arizona State transfer Vincent Mauri (87th last year) and Cornell transfer Rishabh Prakash (13:51.38 PR).

8. Virginia

Coach Vin Lananna has continued building up his program, and it appears to be much better than last year’s version that placed 22nd. Gary Martin led the team at its big home invitational at Panorama Farms, with New Zealander Will Anthony, Nate Mountain, Jacob Hunter and Wes Porter filling out the top 5. “It was a good start,” says Lananna.

9. Syracuse

Longtime coach Chris Fox has returned after 5 years of pro coaching to assist Brien Bell. Last year, the team placed 12th at Nationals. Paul O’Donnell looks to be a major key, leading the team at Virginia. All-American Nathan Lawler should also contribute, along with Cornell transfer Perry Mackinnon and the tight pack of Sam Lawler, Assaf Harari, and Alex Comerford. Frosh Benne Andersen, an 8:43.93+ two-miler, might also help if he doesn’t redshirt.

10. Villanova

Coach Marcus O’Sullivan’s squad returns 4 from its NCAA unit last year that placed 19th. Included is senior Haftu Strintzos, who had a rough go last year in 185th, but was Top 10 as a soph. The team placed 5th at the Virginia Invitational, led by junior Liam Murphy, Strintzos and soph Marco Langon. Two grad transfers should help the Wildcats this season: Xian Shively from Cal Poly and Ryan Kredell from Div. III Haverford.

Others To Watch:

Air Force, Butler, Colorado, Harvard, Oregon, Texas.