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October 17, 2017

BYU vs. NAU Looking Like One Of The Best NCAA XC Match-Ups In A Long Time

Editor’s note: Cross country needs a Peter King-type figure who just gathers all of the weekend’s action and then dishes out some analysis, insight and takes on the hot topics within the sport. We’ve decided to let Isaac run wild with a column. Grab some coffee or seltzer and nerd out on the latest from the jam-packed cross country weekend.

Always down to answer any cross country questions on Twitter: @Wood_Report. Before you keep reading, click that link and hit that follow button. You can also email us at [email protected]to send in any questions that you think would want answered in a future column. If you have bad things to say about what I wrote about your team, give me a chance to defend my opinion. If you like what you’re reading, I don’t mind hearing about that too.

There’s no more avoiding any BYU questions on this column or in the rankings because ladies and gentlemen, we’re headed for a collision course between NAU and BYU. It’s a pretty dead-heat. You could probably say that the Wisconsin Invitational was a better meet overall so their win was better from that perspective. On the other hand, BYU’s spread was closer and their deeper. It’s really hard to say where BYU’s top four would’ve been in relation to NAU’s top three. I have a hard time imagining Rory Linkletter not being with them at the finish but if that’s the case then so is Connor McMillan, Casey Clinger and Clayton Young because they’ve been with each other all year in that same fashion. I can’t imagine the race at NCAAs not coming down to the final two runners for both teams.

The one thing that was different from Wisconsin that happened at Pre-Nationals and could be a factor is that the pace was hot from the start. At Wisconsin, it wasn’t as fast early on. Who does that favor? I don’t know if I can really make a call on that because I don’t think NAU has shown whether or not they can do that yet. Greater Louisville was a little faster earlier but the course conditions weren’t as nice. The thing is NAU’s best guys are all 10K guys and that’s the case for BYU as well. It’s not like we have anyone on these squads that’s a middle distance stud trying to hang on. They both have super freshmen. Casey Clinger can do whatever he wants because I don’t think he understands how good he is yet. (A quick note on Clinger: He has his mission call already and will be going to Sapporo, Japan on January 2018. The next cross country season that he will be racing for BYU will be in 2020.) Luis Grijalva has been a stud for the Lumberjacks all year.

This is going to be one of the better showdowns that we’ve had at NCAAs in a while. I don’t think there has been two teams of this level and running this consistently headed for a duel at nationals in a long time.

Don’t forget the Crimson Tri

While this weekend provided an excellent battle between Justyn Knight and Grant Fisher, there are many already licking their chops for the next one. It’s hard to count out the three Kenyan runners at Alabama: Vincent Kiprop, Gilbert Kigen and Alfred Chelanga. I think there will be a good combination of those five along with Jacob Choge. I’m never going to count out Linkletter from that mix as well.

In addition to them, that’s when we’ll start to see some of the BYU and NAU men crossing the finish. That’s my idea of what the top 20 will be comprised of.

Portland Wowza

I like to think that I know this sport pretty well but then there was someone up in front and I didn’t know who he was. Who would have thought that they signed a 29:08 guy from France who was ready to go. Major props to Emmanuel Roudolff-Levisse who ran like a beast in his first major competition. I thought it was also a pretty impressive run between Theis and Hauger. They have a shot to not only be in the mix for the podium but who knows: maybe a team title for Rob Connor? To be able to keep their heads down in a fast and competitive field like that is something they would need to bring again at nationals.

What’s scary about them is that Noah Schutte is a pretty big talent that still hasn’t come around yet. I thought that he would be their best guy in 2017. Reuben Kiprono is also a dark horse in what he can bring to the table. All of a sudden, they have five. Logan Orndorf and Caleb Webb are here now and they’ve been solid. Not only are they a podium team but if they hit everything on the right day, they could be in the mix for the title. Yes, you are reading that correctly, our faithful Portland alum Citwits.

Enter Minnesota

Minnesota entered the meet unranked in the coaches’ polls but finished 12th overall. I think they’ve put themselves in a position to be a more relevant team. I initially had them in my top 31 for NCAAs so they’re making me look good. From what they did at Wisconsin, I think they’re going to be fine. They’re the top team in their region since they beat Iowa State. They’re landing a lot of good runners that are just now starting to develop like Evan Ferlic (brother of Mason Ferlic) and Hamza Ali (brother of Obsa Ali). Derek Wiebke is a senior year now and he’s been solid for them throughout his career there. As long as they have a decent day at their region, they’ll get in.

Major Props to Ryan Cole

Ryan Cole is in his fourth season at Air Force and he’s proven that he can get his guys ready and developed to where they need to be every year. These were guys who were average or just looking for an NCAA qualifying performance to outdoors and look at them now finishing 11th at Wisconsin. Cole does just a really good job of helping them peak when it’s right. It’s the same for the men and the women.

Not Worried About Arkansas

Chris hinted in his Monday Morning Rundown that maybe there would be a major change because of Arkansas’ struggles at Pre-Nats this weekend. I am not ready to push the panic button on them yet. Andrew Ronoh is getting fitter. He was at Pre-Nats and was doing a workout just the day before. Austen Dalquist was sick. Arkansas was really affected by the terrible start to the race. Not sure how many of you were able to watch the race but for those of you who didn’t see: The starter put his arm up in the air and starts to drop them before shooting the gun. People started jogging out because they weren’t sure if he was going to start or not. Others had their backs turned toward him. Then he shoots the gun. I’m not selling Arkansas yet. I’m buying. I still think that they have the pieces and the talent that could win it for sure. Maybe they’re not showing their cards. If you throw Ronoh in the mix, Bruce and George have shown they can run from the front, sprinkle in a healthy Dalquist and that’s a good team. I’m not down on them yet. I just think that the teams that beat them got some valuable points because Arkansas will certainly win its respective region.

Is it time to worry at Colorado?

Dressel was in a boot this weekend. If getting worried and pushing the panic button in Colorado means settling for a top four of five place finish in the country then you’re doing pretty well for yourself. Congrats to coach Wetmore. I think that they’ve still got guys that haven’t put together the best day yet. Zach Perrin in particular hasn’t had his moment yet. You’ll get as much as you can with Joe Klecker always being in the mix at the front. Eduardo Herrera is finally starting to come around and figure things out as a redshirt freshman. He could be an All-American. If Perrin can figure it out and they can find a no. 5 runner pretty quick, then they’re back in the podium picture. That’s a lot of ifs but if you’re a die-hard Colorado fan whose season is only a success if they win the national championship, then it’s looking like this one might be more difficult than others in a while.

Syracuse and Stanford Are Who We Thought They Were

Thank you, Dennis Green.

If Portland didn’t run, then they finish right where we thought they would have. Stanford not running Thomas Ratcliffe means that we learn a little bit more about who they’ll be this year. I think there’s seven teams that can make the podium and Stanford is still one of those teams. They’ve got Grant Fisher who will get first, second or third on a bad day. Alex Ostberg is looking like a secured All-American. They’ve got depth and they’ll be fine.

On the other hand, I thought Aidan Tooker ran really well. I thought would because of how well he ran the steeplechase as a freshman. I think people were selling Collin Bennie a little bit because of what he’s run recently but 14th at Wisconsin is very good. Syracuse is going to be a team that can possibly be win it. I like their 1-2-3.

Furman Remains

They’re a top 10 team and that might be a minimum. I love their guts in that they’re not afraid to put themselves in it. They’re getting it done on the men and women’s side. One thing that we learn in cross country is that wherever you are at about 3K or 4K in the race, it’s common that you don’t really fall more than 10 spots from that position. Furman’s figured that out. Get yourself in it, pack up and let the chips fall where they may.

The Morgan McDonald Decision

The decision to redshirt Morgan McDonald after a long summer of racing in Europe is a very good one for his development. Mick Byrne is a wise coach who cares about his athletes. I give him credit for being willing to take a blow now by not running his star and allowing him to focus on next year.

What happened to Illinois and Virginia?

This is a fair question especially after Jonathan Davis was sixth overall for the Illini. You’d assume with the talent that they have, they would finish in the top 10. Things happen like sicknesses and injuries but I’m not totally sure what the case was there. That’s the only race result that I’ve seen this year and scratched my head at.

Virginia had some guys get out toward the front early but just couldn’t hold it together. A lot of times in these big races that are loaded with so many good athletes, kids get lost out there if they don’t see their teammates out there. If your un well at Wisconsin, it proves that you’re ready to run at a really high level at the national meet. If you don’t run well, that doesn’t mean you can’t put it together in time for nationals. Instead it serves as a good learning experience.

The Texas, Campbell Surprise

Texas is in for nationals. The Longhorns had a great showing without their top guy and true freshman Connor O’Neill, who was their No. 1 at Notre Dame.

Campbell is very interesting You’ve got four guys who are very talented but then it’s all on their fifth guy. C’mon, man. He was 251st. It’s hard for me to imagine them moving onto nationals without them seeing a big improvement there. Their spread was two minutes and 49 seconds. That’s a huge gap. Even if you close that to a two-minute spread then that bumps him up 70 spots and they only move into like sixth at Pre-Nats. A lot will be riding on their fifth man.

In-State Love

Quick shout-out to the Utah State men. They’re good. Artie Gulden is doing a very underrated job with both the men and women. If things hold up, it looks like their men and women will be qualifying for nationals together for the first time in school history. Dillon Maggard is the real deal.

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