The NCAA Cross Country Championships are upon us. 31 men’s and women’s teams will race. Two champions will emerge. Oklahoma State University is set to host the 2022 NCAA Cross Country Championships on Saturday, November 19th. The women’s race will begin at 10:20 a.m. ET with the men’s race slated to follow at 11:10 a.m. You’ll be able to watch the races uninterrupted on ESPNU starting at 10 a.m. where Kyle Merber will be on the broadcast and making his own ESPN debut.
To preview all of the main storylines and share some predictions, I called up cross country guru Isaac Wood of The Wood Report for an episode of The CITIUS MAG Podcast. You can catch the whole conversation here…
Or, if reading is more your thing, I’ve transcribed a few of the highlights from our conversation below:
The Women’s Team Race Is Shaping Up To Be An All-Timer Between N.C. State and New Mexico
“I got a few texts after making the bold declaration that: ‘Honestly, it might be the best women’s team ever.’ [N.C. State is] still really good. I don’t know if they’ll score 30 or 40 points now. If New Mexico wasn’t around, they’d be able to score that low. New Mexico also might have one of the top 10 best all-time women’s teams. It’s no longer how much will N.C. State win by but instead a question of whether there can be two teams scoring 50 or 60 points at NCAAs and not win. That will be wild. New Mexico is ready to give N.C. State a major run. In a lot of ways, they have it a bit easier because the target isn’t on their backs. That’s firmly planted on the Wolfpack.
“For New Mexico, it’s about how low their low stick is going to score. Katelyn Tuohy is going to be either first or second for N.C. State, so how well will Garcelyn Larkin, Samree Dishon or Amelia Mazza-Downie score as the Lady Lobos’ top woman? The thing that makes them so interesting is they have five women who can be their No. 1 on the day. That’s what makes their depth so good and so scary to N.C. State. They can have a 1 to 3-second spread at NCAAs – but it’s a question of how high up are they? If the top woman can finish in the top 10, it will be gut-check time for N.C. State on where their pack comes in. This is a team race so your first, second, third, fourth and fifth all matter. There’s pressure on everyone to perform.
“This feels like a battle of the titans. If Oklahoma State coach Dave Smith is reading or listening to this, he’s probably sitting there laughing because this is his home course and he’s got the athletes that can pull this off too.”
Oklahoma State’s Natalie Cook and Taylor Roe Went 2-3 At The Midwest Regional And Made It Look Easy. Now They’re On Their Home Course.
“This is exactly how Oklahoma State wants it. There’s little to no pressure on them. They have stars up front with Roe and Cook. No one is really talking about their 3-4-5 (Gabby Hentemann, Billah Jepkirui and Sivan Auerbach), who are also good. It’s their home course. They know this place better than anyone else. If you watched the Cowboy Jamboree a few weeks ago, you notice how perfectly Alex Maier powered up the top of one of the hills to breakaway and perfectly win that race. He knew exactly when to go. The women are going to be the same. If they are within striking distance within a mile or a kilometer to go… if I’m New Mexico or N.C. State, I’m trying to run away from them as early as I can – especially their 3-4-5.”
Alabama Has A Good Podium Shot
Notre Dame Looked Really Good At The Great Lakes Region
I think right now it’s pretty clearly N.C. State, New Mexico and Oklahoma State… going into this meet with a shot of winning. Then you’ve got Alabama, Notre Dame, BYU, Colorado and NAU who are all hoping to get the final podium spot.”
The Case For…
Katelyn Tuohy as individual women’s champion
Parker Valby as individual women’s champion
Taylor Roe or Natalie Cook as individual women’s champion
Mercy Chelangat as individual women’s champion
West Virginia’s Ceili McCabe
Harvard’s Maia Ramsden
Utah Valley’s Everyln Kemboi
The Tightest Men’s Team Title In Recent Years
“Stanford, NAU, BYU and Oklahoma State can win. There’s a scenario for each one.
“I think this is finally the time for Stanford. They haven’t won a team title since 2003. I think coach Ricardo Santos is due for a trophy. He’s had a lot of good teams at Iona in the past. This could be a breakthrough day. They’re just so proven upfront. Charles Hicks, Cole Sprout and Ky Robinson are all really good and they have been all year. Then, you throw in a sorta-unknown like Meika Beaudoin-Rousseau, who was sixth at the Pac-12 Championships and sixth at the West Regional, as their X factor. They’re too proven and too strong to blow this one. I don’t think they will.
“The battle for second is maybe more intriguing to me.
“BYU has a chance because Casey Clinger has yet to win a team title and he’s hungry for it. He should’ve won a few in high school at American Fork in Utah. He could’ve won some at BYU but he also served a full-time mission in Sapporo, Japan in 2019 and 2020. The BYU team from his freshman year in 2019 should’ve won but NAU dominated BYU, who faded to third. He’s ready to lead a team to a win. He’ll be aided by Weber State transfer Christian Allen, who is a two-time cross country All-American. They had a 1.9-second spread at Wisconsin without Clinger or Allen. WITHOUT THEM!? They can win if Clinger and Allen have top 10 days and their spread stays within five to 10 seconds.
“NAU has a chance because they have the ultimate low stick if Nico Young can pull off the win. If they can run the race as smart as they did two years ago, they’ll be in the mix. NAU always runs the smartest and most patient at the national championships. They can win with that discipline but it might also depend on whether they can get a big day out of true freshman Colin Sahlman.
“If Oklahoma State wins, it’s because of Dave Smith’s savviness throughout the season. He hasn’t run their entire top five together in one race. That’s on purpose. He can tell his team. ‘Look how well we’ve run and we’ve yet to put it all together. Now we’re putting it all together and this is the time.’ They’re going to field a squad led by Alex Maier, Isai “Rodriguez, Victor Shitsama, Rory Leonard and Fouad Messaoudi. This is their home course. They’re motivated by the fact that they’re putting it all together on the day.
“You can look at it this way…
STANFORD VS. BYU VS. NAU VS. OKLAHOMA STATE BREAKDOWN
Cole Sprout vs. Christian Allen vs. Drew Bosely vs. Isai Rodriguez;
Ky Robinson vs. Brandon Garnica vs. George Kusche vs. Victor Shitsama;
“All four of those teams have a top three that are really good. There’s honestly a chance that in the top 20, you’ve got something like 12 guys from just four schools. If we run this through my simulator 10 times, I’m sure you’d have each of those four schools winning at least once.
“I’ll predict that at least one of those four will have a bummer of a day. That course is so hard that someone will have an athlete that drops out or has a rough day. If that happens, that opens the door for someone like Air Force, Tulsa, Wake Forest or Wisconsin to crack the podium.”