NCAA Cross Country Preview Part 1: Men’s Top 10 Teams

Led by Luis Grijalva (559), favored Northern Arizona returns 4 from last year’s winning team. (MIKE SCOTT)

THERE IS NEVER a lot of fresh data to go on when making XC predictions for the slow-in-September-slam-bang-in-October/November NCAA harrier season. Inevitably the wretched pick-’em person runs on roster checks and gut feeling. It’s worth noting that the ’18 men’s Nationals field had 38 seniors in the top 100. That’s on the high side of average and compounds the guesswork. Here’s what we came up with for men’s team picks as, come November 23, the big dance returns to the familiar venue of Indiana State’s course for the first time since ’16.

1. Northern Arizona

Team champions the last 3 years, Michael Smith’s Lumberjacks return 4 who ran the ’18 title race: juniors Luis Grijalva (19) and Blaise Ferro (22), senior NCAA Indoor mile winner Geordie Beamish (33) and soph Ryan Raff (122). New additions look promising. Redshirt frosh Brodey Hasty was ’18’s prep No. 1 mile All-America and No. 2 at 2M. Frosh Abdihamid Nur has run 14:06.81 for 5000 and tied with Grijalva for No. 2 man behind Raff at the team’s home Kyte opener. Just 3 seconds behind came Hasty with another 19.2 back to frosh Theo Quax, son of ’76 Olympic 5000 silver medalist Dick Quax. Another to watch is frosh Drew Bosley—7th at both Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) & Foot Locker (FL) last year, he would have been No. 2 man at Kyte were he not racing unattached.

2. BYU

Ed Eyestone’s Cougars, with 4 back from ’18, project to repeat at No. 2 but could easily contend for the win. Soph Conner Mantz (8 in ’18), Clayson Shumway (27), Jacob Heslington (43) and Brayden McLelland (51) will get help from senior Danny Carney (42 in ’17; track bests of 13:41.32 & 27:49.87) and 8:32.59 steeplechaser Matt Owens. Also keep an eye on frosh siblings Jacob & Garrett Stanford, 37 & 54 at NXN in ’18.

3. Colorado

Mark Wetmore’s Buffs are perennially formidable, having placed 4th in ’18 and 2nd in ’15 preceded by wins in ’13 & ’14. Returning seniors Joe Klecker (6) and John Dressel (7) are key low-stick types. Junior Eduardo Herrera (37) placed well last year and a total of 5 are back from ’18. Hunter Appleton (9:01.49), Austin Vancil (NXN 6) and Noah Hibbard (FL 26) lead the frosh reload.

4. Stanford

The Cardinal squad finished 5th last time. A coaching change after Chris Miltenberg decamped to North Carolina adds a wildcard, but Ricardo Santos, the new XC mentor on J.J. Clark’s staff, guided Iona to 2nd in ’08, 5th in ’15 and 10th 3 years ago. Team depth speaks for itself; five back led by senior Alex Ostberg (10), Alek Parsons (26) and D.J. Principe (62). Senior Steven Fahy won the NCAA steeple last spring and placed 17th in cross 2 years ago. Thomas Ratcliffe has limited collegiate harrier experience but was 3rd in the NCAA 5000 in June. Junior Connor Lane was the ’18 USATF Junior champ. Two fast frosh 2-milers, Devin Hart & Charles Hicks, are also on board among others.

5. Iowa State

Not only does Martin Smith’s Cyclones team have ’18’s 3rd-placer Edwin Kurgat up front, there’s a significant pickup in senior Addison DeHaven’s transfer from Boise State; the son of marathon Olympian Rod DeHaven was 40th last year. Soph Chad Johnson (50) and junior Milo Greder (66) are among 4 returners. And there’s also senior David Too, 2nd in the Big 12’s 5000 and 4th in the 10K and steeple.

6. NC State

A returning solid core from ’18 puts Rollie Geiger’s Wolfpack (11 last time) in the hunt. The team placed 4 in the top 80 last time, all juniors: Ian Shanklin (45), Joe Bistritz (70), Gavin Gaynor (71) and Edwin Rutto (79). Senior William Anderson placed 127th for Bradley last year and another transfer, German soph Hannes Burger, won the Sun Belt steeple for Louisiana–Lafayette last spring.

7. Washington

This rating may be too low. Andy & Maurica Powell’s Husky team finished 6th last year with 3 returners in the top 100: juniors Tibebu Proctor (32), Talon Hull (64) and Gavin Parpart (98). As germane are the names who did not race the cross nationals for Washington in ’18. Senior transfer from USF Jack Rowe placed 83rd last time. Then there are 5 new frosh with mile skills: Sam Tanner (a New Zealand Junior champ who has run 3:38.74 for 1500), plus sub-4:10 Americans Sam Affolder, Luke Houser, Daniel Maton and Joe Waskom. Sam Ritz, a senior transfer from Columbia, is a sub-4:00 miler (3:59.36).

8. Oklahoma State

With 3 team titles in the last decade (’09, ’10 & ’12), Dave Smith’s Cowboys are a harrier force seeking a return to the top 10 for the first time since ’14. Soph Isai Rodriguez (4) and senior Ashenafi Hatte (23) head the list of 6 returners from ’18’s 13th-place finish. Junior Ryan Smeeton was 2nd in the NCAA steeple last spring. Soph Adam Dayani placed 2nd in the USATF Junior 5000.

9. Notre Dame

Matt Sparks’ Fighting Irish bring experienced returners from the ’18 team that placed 14th with 6 back, 4 in the top 120: soph Danny Kilrea (28), NCAA 1500 titlist junior Yared Nuguse (49), senior Anthony Williams (78) and senior Tyler Keslin (117). Add to that returning juniors Andrew Alexander (129) and Kevin Salvano (136). A frosh contribution could come from 8:53.45 2-miler Carter Cheeseman, who placed 10th at Foot Locker in ’18.

10. Portland

Third in the last go-round, Rob Conner’s Pilots lost firepower to graduation but bring back 3 who can keep their score low at the front end: seniors Emmanuel Roudolff-Levisse (17), Stuart McCallum (41) and Caleb Webb (55). A source close to the program has identified Kenyan redshirt soph Reuben Kiprono as a man who may step up. He raced 29:36.62 for 10,000 in ’17.

Others To Watch:

Oregon, Michigan, Mississippi, Syracuse, Wisconsin.