NCAA Cross Country Preview Part 3: Men’s Top 10 Individuals

Matt Baxter (l) and Tyler Day went 2-3 for Northern Arizona last year and look like podium choices again this time. (MIKE SCOTT)

They’ve been there before. This fall’s NCAA men’s individual race will feature plenty of top-end experience. Last year only 2 seniors were in the top 10, which means that this compilation will feature plenty of familiar names. Breaking into the senior-heavy top bunch will be a daunting feat for any newcomer.

With three Northern Arizona runners tagged in the top 7, it’s easy to see why the Lumberjack squad is the men’s team favorite.

1. Matt Baxter (Northern Arizona senior)

(NAU Athletics)

Together with Lumberjack teammate Tyler Day, Baxter broke out early last year and created the big gap in the field, running at the front until Justyn Knight of Syracuse (now a graduated pro) tagged him at the end. The Kiwi star has run in two NCAAs (11 in ’16, 2 in ’17). He PRed across the board in track last year: 7:53.37, 13:31.00, 28:10.05 and finished 5th in the track 10,000.

2. Grant Fisher (Stanford senior)

The Cardinal’s team leader has been to the big dance every year, finishing in 17th as a frosh and 5th the last two years. He won the track 5000 crown in ’17 but hasn’t yet broken through at a higher level (his PR 13:30.13 dates back to ’16). Still, it’s hard to find a savvier racer at the collegiate level, and he has always been a dangerous kicker. Last fall he won the Pac-12 title on the kick. At Nationals, he fought his way back from 33rd at the 2K mark but came up short near the end. Should he finish near the top again, it will be Stanford’s sixth straight year with a top-6 finisher.

3. Tyler Day (Northern Arizona senior)

(NAU Athletics)

Day, a native Arizonan, has come a long way under the tutelage of Michael Smith. He has been to two NCAAs (23 in ’16, 3 in ’17). His track times last spring showed his improvement curve is still happening: 7:54.59, 13:40.22, 28:04.44. He capped the season with a 4th-place finish in the track 10K.

4. Edwin Kurgat (Iowa State junior)

The Kenyan standout transferred to the Cyclones mid-year after winning the Ohio Valley title and finishing 21st last fall for Tennessee–Martin. On the track he ran 13:41.94 and later finished 7th in the NCAA 5000 after winning a 5/10 double at the Big 12.

5. Morgan McDonald (Wisconsin senior)

As the harrier season got off to its usual sub rosa start, with many teams not racing their top dogs, we initially failed to notice the Aussie star, who hasn’t competed collegiately since the ’17 Big Ten track champs, is back for the Badgers. He was off putting up big perfomances. After placing 7th in NCAA Cross in ’16,  he PRed in the 5000 at 13:15.83 in ’17 and nearly made the Worlds final. In April he raced the Commonwealth Games 5K, placing 8th. Auspiciously, the big dance will be on his home course in Madison.

6. Gilbert Kigen (Alabama senior)

Another Kenyan, he placed 4th at Nationals last year as a JUCO transfer. That wasn’t a huge surprise, as Kigen holds the record for the most JUCO titles ever at 9. On the track, the 13:40.99/28:27.31 performer competed in both NCAA finals, finishing 13th and 7th.

7. Vincent Kiprop (Alabama senior)

The 2-time Div. II 10K champ for Missouri Southern wasted no time in his first season for the Crimson Tide, taking 7th in the NCAA XC and grabbing runner-up honors outdoors in the 10,000. Two days later he made 9th in the 5000. He set PRs of 7:55.79, 13:37.92 and 28:19.07 last year.

8. Peter Lomong (Northern Arizona senior)

(Victoria Kaschl/NAU Athletics)

The younger brother of Olympian Lopez Lomong has come into his own in Flagstaff. He didn’t make it to the NCAA XC final until last year, when his 8th helped spark the Lumberjack victory. He has run 14:10.33/30:01.55 on the track. He’s started out the ’18 season well, winning the opening meet with a 22:59 (8K) performance.

9. Amon Kemboi (Campbell soph)

Although he finished only 26th in last year’s championship, Kemboi went on to a sparkling track season that showed great range. Before placing 5th in the NCAA 5000, he won the Big South 1500 in 3:39.72. He also hit PRs of 13:37.48 and 28:55.46. In his season opener, he finished just ahead of teammate Lawrence Kipkoech—who finished 9th last year at Nationals—over 6K (18:15-18:19) in a race where coach Michael Kelly had the squad focus on pack running.

10. Emmanuel Roudolff-Lévisse (Portland junior)

The French import crossed the line in 11th last year after earlier winning the West Regional. On the track, he notched decent PRs (13:57.97/28:55.50) but only placed 17th in the NCAA 10,000.

Others to watch: And by “watch,” we mean watch very carefully, as our top XC programs expose themselves to top competition so sparingly that the eventual top 10 will be littered with surprises. Alabama’s Alfred Chelanga (28:32.66 PR), for instance, is probably just as dangerous as his ranked teammates. And his frosh compatriot, steepler Noel Rotich, is an unknown quantity.

Still others: Robert Brandt (UCLA), Kigen Chemadi (Middle Tennessee), Mickey Davey (Air Force), Brent Demarest (Virginia), Steven Fahy (Stanford), Jonathan Green (Georgetown), Andrew Jordan (Iowa State), Rory Linkletter (BYU), Connor McMillan (BYU), Alex Ostberg (Stanford), Aidan Tooker (Syracuse).