The King Is Gone: Who Is The Most Feared NCAA XC Runner Now?

By Jacob Magiera

August 25, 2017

While he may not have won in his last NCAA championship, it was no secret that most of the attention was on Edward Cheserek heading into Terre Haute. Now that the King’s historic reign is over, is anyone feared going into the 2017 season? As of right now, it’s very early to tell, the 2017 NCAA cross country championship in Louisville, KY appears to have a very wide of an open field with no clear pre-season champion pick. The past few years have been dominated by Cheserek, Lawi Lalang and Kennedy Kithuka to the point where they were the ones with targets on their backs and everyone knew it.

With the departure of King Cheserek and Villanova’s reigning champion Patrick Tiernan, could Stanford’s Grant Fisher add another crown to his NCAA outdoor 5,000m championship? Maybe one of the transfers, Gilbert Kigen, a two-time NJCAA cross country champion or Vincent Kiprop, five-time NCAA DII champion, will give Alabama its first NCAA cross country champion in school history. Will Wisconsin’s Morgan McDonald, coming off a great summer in which he ran 13:15.83 for 5,000m on the track, follow in his Aussie’s footsteps and improve on his seventh place finish from last year? These are all plausible scenarios for the upcoming cross country championship, but none of these runners strike fear as much as 2016 runner-up, Syracuse’s Justyn Knight.

Coming off a stellar ninth place finish (13:39.5) at the IAAF World Championship 5,000m this summer, Knight looks poised to take another leap. Internationally battle tested, the Canadian is looking to translate that to the fields and capture his first NCAA championship. Knight clearly has shown the ability to excel in cross as he ran 29:46.1 for fourth place in 2015 and the beat Cheserek last year en route to a second place finish in 29:27.3. However, lets not forget that Fisher did beat him in a tactical outdoor 5k, even though Knight still ran a 13:17.51 that season. Based on previous cross country results and recent races, he’s the favorite, out for redemption, and most feared.

Also, have we truly forgotten what he can do on a cross country course? That kick at last year’s Wisconsin Invitational was absurd.

When I posed the question to the CITIUS MAG staff, they did pose an interesting answer: No one is really feared and that’s why the lead-up and ultimately, the championships will be so great. Cheserek was an imposing character because of how tight-lipped the University of Oregon can be with workouts, access and just the general culture. Everyone knew about Cheserek’s closing speed and how it couldn’t be matched. I think with guys like Fisher, Knight and McDonald, that closing speed is pretty evenly matched so those guys probably don’t even fear each other. McDonald has clocked a faster 5,000m on the track and Fisher has Knight’s scalp from the outdoor championships. Again, when we look at names on paper right now, it’s wide open but if I was a betting man and putting money down on a futures pick, I would take Knight.

Buckle up for a wild cross country championship.

Jacob Magiera

Former collegiate runner at the University of Rhode Island who now spends his weekends running 24 miles for fun and eating donuts. Citius Mag contributor for the 2017-18 NCAA Cross Country season.