VERONA, WISCONSIN, October 13 — There are some things you know about cross country and there are many more things you just can’t know.
The Nuttycombe Invite is usually emblematic of that. While it may not be where favorites go to die, this first of the really big showdowns often separates the pretenders from the contenders.
And while it’s a given that pre-meet prognostications generally aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, you just knew that top-rated and three-time defending NCAA champ Northern Arizona was the prohibitive favorite.
Mike Smith’s guys lived up to the hype and then some, dominating utterly and thoroughly, with their 76 points far outdistancing Mountain Region rival and coaches poll No. 3 BYU (162), which ran sans Casey Clinger. Even further back in the top 5 of a stacked 36-team field were highly rated teams like Syracuse (251), Cal Baptist (272) and Texas (286).
The individual race, on the other hand, had a lot of unknowns. Would Stanford’s Ky Robinson become only the third man to win here twice? Would NAU’s Nico Young get the win that eluded him last year? Would his teammate Drew Bosley win the big race in his home state? Would Jackson Sharp lead his Wisconsin team with a win? Would New Mexico frosh Habtom Samuel become the newest emerging star?
Could Harvard’s Graham Blanks rebound from what he called his previous “failures” to win the race?
Yes, he would.
The proof is in the pudding, as the cliché goes, and Blanks was more than up to the task at hand, overtaking Robinson on the 500m climb to the line and then holding off a fast-closing Young for the victory in 23:23.3 over a wet, muddy and often slippery course.
Young finished in 23:26.1 with Samuel and Robinson in 3–4 just 0.1 back and Sharp another 0.2 behind them in a true blanket finish behind Blanks.
“I knew someone was going to break away at some point, but I wasn’t going to be the guy to make that move,” Blanks said in reviewing the race. “I was just trying to sit there and cover any moves that there were. With a K left, everyone started slowing down as we were going to come down that hill. To be honest, I don’t think I have the best leg speed compared to a lot of those guys, so I took it out a little at the bottom of the hill.
“It was bad, slippery and muddy, on the hills, on the first hill after the first turn and then on the final hill.”
The self-deprecating Blanks credited his success to “failure,” noting that “I failed two times here. It’s one of the hardest courses in America and coming back here after two tries at it felt a lot more experienced. So yeah, I credit that. I don’t know much about training, but I can listen to my coach.”
Truth is, Blanks was 6th in the NCAA meet last fall so he’s not much of a failure. But Harvard Coach Alex Gibby must have been runner-whispering the right things to Blanks today, because when the junior who prepped at Athens Academy (Georgia) needed his wheels, he had them, charging past the erstwhile leaders to the line. Even so, he was more proud of being Harvard’s captain and of his team’s 6th-place finish, just a point out of 5th.
Blanks said he learned from his past races on the Wisco course, going up the hills and getting broken by the 6K mark. But today, he didn’t break — from the start, where a pack of seemingly thousands (hundreds, for sure) was trying to lead until the final 500m when it was nitty-gritty time.
“One of the most difficult parts of the course is the final hill over there, especially today, very muddy,” Blanks said. “So it’s a slip-and-slide and it was like that a couple years ago, so it was nice to be a little bit prepared for that.”
To say NAU dominated would be understating dominance. The Lumberjacks placed 2–8–12–25–29 with their sixth and seventh men at 33 and 43. Smith could have pulled Young and Bosley and the Lumberjack squad still would have had a comfortable win.
Yet for all that apparent dominance, there’s a big caveat, and NAU Coach Mike Smith emphasized it in arguing that there are no cakewalks in cross country. BYU didn’t have Clinger, while Kenneth Rooks fell, got up and ran strongly to a fast-finishing 31st, so Northern Arizona’s margin of victory likely would have been considerably less. Creed Thompson placed 10th for BYU, leading an adjusted 10–13–31–44–64 finish for Ed Eyestone’s crew.
Smith said his team was well prepared for the weather conditions as well as the density of the field.
“We talk about scenarios, things to prepare for or to be thinking about, and our response in those situations,” he said. “We expected with those conditions that it would be more tactical, that it wouldn’t be strung out from the front. I think you saw that with 10 or 12 guys still there with 400-500 to go.
“The thing with the Wisconsin field is that it’s so big that you just can’t get too far back. We want our athletes in the top 40 or 50 so they have the ability to move.”
NUTTYCOMBE MEN’S RESULTS
Teams: 1. Northern Arizona 76; 2. BYU 162; 3. Syracuse 251; 4. Cal Baptist 272110; 5. Texas 286; 6. Harvard 287; 7. Colorado 312; 8. Villanova 373; 9. Furman 394; 10. North Carolina 399; 11. Notre Dame 399; 12. Princeton 417; 13. Iowa State 426; 14. New Mexico 427; 15. Michigan 427; 16. Wake Forest 430; 17. Eastern Kentucky 437; 18. Boise State 483; 19. Air Force 487; 20. Stanford 489.
Individuals (8K): 1. *Graham Blanks (Harv) 23:23.4; 2. *Nico Young (NnAz) 23:26.1; 3. ***Habtom Samuel’ (NM-Eri) 23:26.2; 4. *Ky Robinson’ (Stan-Aus) 23:26.2; 5. Jackson Sharp’ (Wi-Aus) 23:26.4; 6. ***Rocky Hansen (WF) 23:27.2; 7. *Parker Wolfe (NC) 23:29.0; 8. Drew Bosley (NnAz) 23:32.1; 9. *Wil Smith (Gonz) 23:32.5; 10. *Creed Thompson (BYU) 23:35.3;
11. Alex Phillip (NC) 23:38.5; 12. Aarón Las Heras’ (NnAz-Spa) 23:39.0; 13. *Joey Nokes (BYU) 23:42.7; 14. *David Mullarkey’ (FlSt-GB) 23:43.5; 15. *Said Mechaal’ (IaSt-Spa) 23:44.0; 16. *Luke Houser (Wa) 23:44.3; 17. Devin Hart (Tx) 23:45.0; 18. ***Evans Kiplagat’ (NM-Ken) 23:45.5; 19. Perry Mackinnon’ (Syr-Can) 23:46.1; 20. Paul O’Donnell’ (Syr-Ire) 23:48.9;
21. *Liam Murphy (Vill) 23:52.8; 22. Chris Devaney (Loyola) 23:53.3; 23. Arturs Medveds’ (CalBap-Lat) 23:53.8; 24. ***Isaiah Givens (Co) 23:54.5; 25. Theo Quax’ (NnAz-NZ) 23:55.3; 26. *Dylan Schubert (Furm) 23:55.3; 27. *Ethan Strand (NC) 23:55.3; 28. *Damien Dilcher (Iona) 23:55.6; 29. *Santiago Prosser (NnAz) 23:57.6; 30. *Jack Meijer (Ms) 23:57.9;
31. *Kenneth Rooks (BYU) 23:58.4; 32. *Andrew Nolan (MiSt) 23:59.4; 33. *Corey Gorgas (NnAz) 23:59.7; 34. **Sam Lawler (Syr) 23:59.8; 35. *Austin Vancil (Co) 24:00.7; 36. Acer Iverson (Harv) 24:01.0; 37. Tom Brady (Mi) 24:01.5; 38. Joshua DeSouza’ (Iona-Can) 24:02.1; 39. *Joshua Methner (NDm) 24:02.6; 40. **Mohammed Jouhari’ (EnKy-Mor) 24:02.8;
41. *Parker Stokes (Gtn) 24:03.2; 42. *Nicholas Bendtsen (Prin) 24:03.6; 43. Brodey Hasty (NnAz) 24:04.0; 44. ***James Corrigan (BYU) 24:04.3; 45. ***Lukas Kiprop’ (NM-Ken) 24:06.1; 46. *Isaac Alonzo (Tx) 24:06.2; 47. Florian LePallec’ (But-Fra) 24:06.6; 48. Giedrius Valincius’ (CalBap-Lit) 24:06.8; 49. Sean Maison (AF) 24:07.2; 50. *Rodger Rivera (Tx) 24:07.3; 51. *Toby Gualter (NCSt) 24:07.6; 52. Haftu Strintzos’ (Vill-Aus) 24:07.7.