With just a couple days to go until the 2018 NCAA Cross Country National Championships get underway in Madison, Wis., so I’ve decided to open up the mailbag again and field some questions. A few of the CITIUS MAG colleagues lit up our Slack channel to discuss this weekend’s races so we’ve decided to bring you some of the most pressing questions ahead of the race.
If you want more of my thoughts and want to get the full breakdown of the men’s and women’s races on Saturday, check me out on the latest episode of the CITIUS MAG Podcast below. My predictions for the race are also on the podcast.
It’s going to be cold. How excited are you for some real cross country weather and does this favor any teams in particular?
I’m not excited about the weather for myself personally (beyond the fact that I’m chubbier than the average person at the competition so I’ll be a little warmer). I think the conditions will certainly favor those who are from chillier climates just because it probably gets them more excited to race in it. As opposed to those who train in much warmer conditions. But, you’re kidding yourself if the real studs are bothered by any weather.
There are 10 teams that made NCAAs this year that didn’t make it last year. Who finishes the highest and why?
This is a fairly easy question. Wisconsin. It’s at home. They’ve got the favorite to win it all with Morgan McDonald as their ace. They’ve got 2-3 other guys that are All-American quality (Oliver Hoare, Olin Hacker, Benjamin Eidenschink). They are looking at a possible podium bid and who knows maybe national title? Never discount Mick Byrne.
Is Morgan McDonald still the men’s individual favorite?
Yeah. On paper he’s the favorite. He’s looked like the favorite all year. He’s on his home course. Sharpie.
Who has the strongest case to try and take that title away from him?
Any of the NAU duo of Tyler Day and Matthew Baxter. I also think Edwin Kurgat and James Sugira are capable of an upset.
Kirby Puckett once played baseball at Bradley. Timothy Treadwell from Animal Planet’s Grizzly Man Diaries also went there. But for real, who is on Bradley’s team and how did they get here?
I spoke to Darren Gauson this summer about how good his team was going to be because he knew they were going to be very good. I really like the Hoffert twins (Jake and Luke) – those guys are going to be good for a few more years. Michael Ward is their best guy on paper as a sub-14 5,000 meter guy and Haran Dunderdale (8:04/8:50 steeplechase) is very solid. They got there because they have the talent to do it and the confidence of running on their home course. With bad weather, and their home course and the guys believing they could make it happen, it went down. That’s a little insider scoop for you all.
Oregon was pretty much on the cusp of not making it. But they’re in. Can we expect them to do anything noteworthy?
I actually believe that Oregon is better than being seen as the “last team in.” Cooper Teare, James West, Charlie Hunter, Jackson Mestler and Blake Haney are all guys that are talented, hungry and with new coach Ben Thomas they are ready to prove they’re better than the last team in.
We have a lot of Portland guys on the CITIUS MAG staff. They want to know how well they’re going to do this year?
Honestly, I think Portland is good enough to win. The problem is that NAU and BYU on paper are stronger (not by much), but I thought the same thing last year and was dead wrong so I’ll never not think a Rob Conner coached team isn’t capable of winning it. I’m not sure if this is “the year” for them, that could be next year, but I won’t be surprised if they finish second or better.
What’s the deal with Nick Hauger?
I think he’s got a strong case to be a top 5-10 guy. He looked really good in person at West Coast Conference at altitude. He’s interesting because his track PRs aren’t close to the people that he’s been beating/running around, I would expect that to change this year. I would also, though, categorize him as a true XC guy and he will be good in whatever weather comes our way in Madison.
Who was your biggest surprise that didn’t make it to NCAAs?
Virginia. It’s a big bummer. They returned some 6 of 7 from the team that finished 16th overall last year.
Is the women’s team race as wide open as we think?
I do think it is wide open. It’s hard not to pick New Mexico because they look like they are going to go 1-2 with Weini Kelati and Edna Kurgat. Throw Charlotte Prouse in the top 10 to 15 range and if their No. 5 is top-80 raw score they should be the winner. On the other hand, I really like Arkansas. Not a lot of people are talking about them. They haven’t lost a race all year. Their 1 to 5 spread is really good and if they keep their spread to 35 to 40 seconds at NCAAs with Katrina Robinson in the top 5 to 10 individually, they could have five All-Americans. Has a team ever had five All-Americans and not won? That’s a good question for Jesse Squire.
Who is the individual favorite on the women’s side?
Weini Kelati. Sharpie.
What’s special about this Arkansas women’s team? They scored 21 points at regionals, which seems wild.
I think they’re the best 1 to 5 group in the NCAA. Undefeated all year. Unheralded at this point. Only ranked 4th in the NCAA right now? Hmmm. Not sure about that. They’re really good.
Last year, the question for New Mexico was its No. 5 runner. Are they in a better situation now?
I think the situation is eerily similar. A lot will depend on what they get out of Alondra Negron or Emily Martin. I think Negron’s upside is bigger to be more of a top 60 girl, but Martin I think will be better in the bad weather. Like I mentioned before, if she’s top 80 they should win.
If this all feels like a lot of the same from the previous two years, what should we be looking out for?
I think Oregon, Boise State and Colorado will not go down without a fight. Remember, Colorado looked very very good at Nuttycombe. Dani Jones has the best wheels in the field. Boise State has probably the second best pack in the NCAA with a most likely better low-stick than Arkansas. Oregon is a sleeper because I’m not sure how the weather will impact their girls. If anything, it might play to their advantage. Jessica Hull, Brauer, Pyzik, Baez, Ejore are a nice group of five. Ejore is a wildcard for me. She has gotten better every race and she could be the difference between 1-2 or 4-5.
What should we know about Oregon State and Southern Utah?
Kudos to Louie Quintana for turning that team around in a quick period of time (also kudos to Kelly Sullivan’s recruits). Juliana Mount is an All-American candidate for sure for the Beavers. On SUU’s side, Eric Houle and Paul Limpf has done a great job putting this team together. Angie Nickerson is a for sure All-American and they have a lot of different girls that have been their various 2-5 this year.
Want more of my thoughts for the race, shoot me a question on Twitter: @Wood_Report