CITIUS Mailbag: Who do you think will win the NCAA title?

By Chris Chavez

August 31, 2017

Greetings! Welcome to the first CITIUS Mailbag of the fall. I realized that these were a lot of fun to do back when we first launched the site in February and then I kind of fell off from doing them. I love hearing from Citwits and really enjoy taking the time to answer any questions that you think are interesting.

The weather is starting to get a little crisp at night and so the cross country aura is upon us. Winter is coming. Just finished and finally caught up on Game of Thrones so I’m on that kick. Enjoy the video above by our latest team member Kyle Klosinsky. Got a funny idea for a video, tweet it at him @KlosinskyKyle and we’ll put the kid to work.

This week’s mailbag is getting ready for the NCAA cross country season. I definitely get that our readership is pretty male-heavy but let’s get some questions out there about women’s cross country. That’s certainly going to be as interesting if not more interesting than the men’s side. Our new contributor Jacob Magiera broke down the favorites on the women’s side so check that out.

For next week, you can feel free to tweet at me: @ChrisChavez or @CitiusMag with any questions that you think would be great for next week’s mailbag. Slide into the DMs if you want the question to be a little more discreet. Hop in our emails: citiusmag@gmail.com. Cross country is quickly approaching. Little time for rest between the track and XC season but let’s get right to it.

Derek asks: Do you think that Morgan McDonald will win the NCAA XC title?

Getting right back into the swing of things and I’m asked to make a pre-season prediction on NCAA champion. It’s a great question and as of right now, I think it’s a difficult one. As Jacob also outlined on the site earlier this week, it’s looking like a very close race on paper right now between the top dogs like McDonald, Justyn Knight of Syracuse and Grant Fisher of Stanford. There’s the total unknown right now about how good the Kenyans from Alabama are going to fare at the Division I level. Could they be the next Kennedy Kithuka? We’ll learn fairly soon. I’d like to lock in a NCAA champion pick by like October. But, I’ll give you my pre-season pick. I’ll go with Knight on this. He didn’t win the NCAA 5,000m final and he obviously didn’t win the world championships but I think he’s done enough to establish himself in my eyes as someone who can perform at the right time. McDonald holds the faster 5,000m personal best with his 13:15 from Heusden compared to Knight’s 13:17 from Stanford. It’s just two seconds though. If we look at their overall head-to-head record, Knight is 6–1 against McDonald overall and went 3–1 against him in 2016. The only time McDonald beat him was when he finished 5th in the 2016 NCAA Championship 5,000m final and Knight had a bad day and faded to 10th. Their last head-to-head came in Terre Haute in November. Knight was second to Patrick Tiernan and McDonald was just 32 seconds back to finish in seventh. It’s going to be a very close battle at the front and these two are going to be in the thick of it.

Sidenote: I mention the Kenyans that are running at Alabama but there’s one other international runner that we have our eyes on. May have to reveal that in the next column.

This first question has me fired up about following cross country again. I will admit that I kind of fell off from it in the past few years. It gets a little less exciting when you’re just expecting Colorado or Edward Cheserek to win. This year is certainly going to be wild.

Logan asks: With the Cheserek-era over, is there a clear favorite for men’s NCAA XC? If so, who is it? If not, who’re the main contenders?

Well, Logan, if you made it this far to see your question, you’ll see that I just made a pick above. I still think it’s close and I hope I’m allowed to maybe change my answer in a few weeks. In addition to Knight and McDonald, I mentioned the Kenyan transfers that are running at Alabama. There’s a little bit more about them, here. The one thing that always gets me about runners from Kenya that compete on the NCAA cross country scene, it just seems like it could be a hit-or-miss when it comes to recruiting. I remember being at the 2012 Big East Cross Country Championships and Louisville had Ernest Kibet and Louis Kibichy in the men’s race. They dictated the early pace and it looked like others just didn’t know what they may have been capable of. It was at Van Cortland Park and they finished fifth an 20th, respectively, in the conference. The Big East still had Notre Dame and Syracuse so it was still fairly deep but nationally, that doesn’t mean that they’ll contend for the national title. So I’m very curious to see how Gilbert Kigen and Vincent Kiprop fare before I choose them for the crown.

I haven’t mentioned him much yet but keep your eye on Grant Fisher. He won the NCAA title in the 5,000 meters and this may be his best season to come. He dominated at Footlocker and that wasn’t too long ago.

Logan also asks A couple of high-level recruits have joined forces at Oregon – what do you anticipate from Cooper Teare and Reed Brown?

So they have Oregon at No. 9 in the coach’s national poll right now. I think that’s fair. We have added a former Duck, Connor Hayward, to our contributor staff for the fall and so I’ll talk to him about this soon. The biggest loss for the Ducks is obviously Cheserek but the recruiting haul that they have is fairly impressive. So we had Cheserek and then Matthew Maton as the No. 2, I think Tanner Anderson is the guy who will naturally move into Maton’s role. Couple in the transfers of James West and Connor Clark and you kind of have the top four set there. Sam Prakel and Blake Haney raced a bit in Europe and could also factor into the scoring so I think guys like Cooper Teare and Reed Brown may not be as big of an impact for this upcoming cross country season as you expect. They also have Austin Tamagno, who was in similar shoes as Teare and Brown being highly touted high school recruits that came super close to a sub-four minute mile. It’s best not to rush things and let the talent develop over time. Oregon has the pieces to mix and match this season.

One more from Logan: Who do you envision as being the top men’s freshman this XC season?

This is tough because I had to vet through all the returners from last year. Do I go out on a limb and say that no true freshman makes the top 50? That sounds preposterous but it’s late as I’m writing this and I think I’ll need a little more time to bet through the freshman class. I know Stanford and BYU have very strong classes so I’ll split my answer between the two schools. I like Casey Clinger of BYU, who has a 14:42 personal best, and I like Thomas Ratcliffe from Stanford because he ran 23:17 in his first-ever cross country race at last year’s Stanford Invite. The kid was a soccer player and so when he finally got his chance, he ran one of the top 10 times in that meet’s history. His 23:17 is right there with Chris Derrick’s 23:15 from the 2011 race before he finished second at the NCAA championships.

Update: Someone hit me up and reminded me that Ratcliffe was named the 2016 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year so I’ll stick with Clinger as my pick.

Kevin asks: Will the addition of Chris Solinsky as the Florida cross country coach team result in immediate results or will it take a while for his coaching philosophy to take hold? Also, do you see Solinsky as a long term coach at UF or a short-timer? Go Gators!

I like this question. When I saw the news about Solinsky taking over in Florida, it was certainly interesting. Mike Holloway has done a tremendous job with developing the sprints, jumps and hurdles. Paul Spangler had some success with the likes of Cory McGee, Mark Parrish, Andres Arroyo and Genevieve LaCaze in the middle and longer distances but I guess we still don’t think of Florida as a powerhouse on that side of things. A former high school teammate of mine was at William and Mary before Solinsky arrived and during his first year there and he had some great reviews of the coach. Solinsky was an assistant there for two years and then served as the head coach for one year. In that year, he earned CAA Coach of the Year honors as William and Mary extended its conference title streak to 17 years. On the track, he managed to get two guys to the NCAA championship in the 1,500 but the ultimate sign of success for him with the Tribe may have been the 1,500m, 5,000m, 10,000m, and steeplechase sweep at the conference championship. It’s going to be tough to do that in the SEC. Part of me also thinks that the generation that’s coming up in high school right now definitely knows the name “Chris Solinsky” and so that could play into helping recruit people to Florida. It’s tough to run in Gainesville and the humidity but that certainly makes people tougher. It’s really early to tell how it’s going to work. It’s a great move by Florida to bring in a big name to help bolster the distance program where they may be able to go toe-to-toe with someone like Oregon’s distance program. That’s the ultimate hope, I think. You have the sprints on par and sometimes better. Now get those points in the distance events. First up is cross country and let’s see how well the Gators can fare at regionals.

That’s all we’ve got for now. We want more questions for sure. We’re back on the grind after taking some time to recover from the world championships and summer track season. Cross country is here. Winter is coming. Let’s do it.

Email me: chris@citiusmag.com

Tweet at me: @ChrisChavez

Chris Chavez

Chris Chavez launched CITIUS MAG in 2016 as a passion project while working full-time for Sports Illustrated. He covered the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and grew his humble blog into a multi-pronged media company. He completed all six World Marathon Majors and is an aspiring sub-five-minute miler.