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October 19, 2022

NCAA Cross Country Tiebreaker Rule On Display At Nuttycombe Invitational

The Nuttycombe Invitational in Wisconsin is as good of a preview that NCAA cross country fans are going to get ahead of the big dance a month from now. The meet acts sort of as a “pre-nationals,” with basically every big team lining up head-to-head, which can be confusing considering there is another Pre-Nationals meet on the actual course in Stillwater.

Given the qualifying procedure and the associated points a team can earn by beating other Nationals-bound teams, it makes sense for the perennial locks to line up and more or less secure their spots. This takes the pressure off running a full-squad all-out at regionals or at least serves as some protection against a disastrous day. Additionally, it’s one of the few opportunities to learn how to go about navigating a dense field with top competition — just like at the real deal, slipping a second or two back in the final stretch can mean finishing 20 or more places back and disappointing everyone you know. Even the best conference meets don’t come close to this depth or pressure!

On the men’s side, Stanford came in ranked second in the country but came out with a strong 1-3-7 finish to win led by the Australian, Ky Robinson who held off a push from North Arizona’s Nico Young. The Cardinals won the meet over the number one ranked BYU squad, 54-89. The current iteration of the NAU dynasty that has won five-out-of-the-last-six NCAA titles finished a ways back in third with 145 points. But there is more to the story than the scores. BYU held out their top two in Casey Clinger and Christian Allen, and NAU’s sixth and seventh scorers were both All-American last year.

As for the ladies, the race began with something that we’ll be seeing a lot of this year — everyone just staring at North Carolina State’s Katelyn Tuohy and waiting to see when she moves. She eventually moved, and won, as expected. Although at Nationals she’ll be going up against the 2021 NCAA Champion Mercy Chelangat, their matchup at Notre Dame a few weeks ago will set the odds in Tuohy’s favor. (The third contender to consider is the best advertisement for the benefits of cross training around, Parker Valby of Florida, who dominated her season opener at Texas A&M.)

Entering this race the question was not who would win the team title, but just how dominant would the Wolfpack look? There have been whispers about this being the greatest women’s cross country team ever, after all. And although NC State’s potential number four, Marlee Starliper, did not run, this was much closer than anticipated. New Mexico closed down 51 points over the final 2000 meters to finish in a tie, 80 to 80. Alright — that’s a surprise, but no matter, let’s look to the sixth runners, right?

Not so fast!

In the NCAA, the tie-breaker doesn’t go to the sixth runner, which would have given the nod to the Lobos. Instead, we look to see which team won more head-to-head battles down the line, and that count went to NC State, 3-2. One of the cutest things about cross country is how we all pretend that whoever winds up as a team’s sixth and seventh runners on a given day count for anything. But in the single situation where there might be a use-case for their existence, we ignore them!

Anyway, I am going to be on the ESPN broadcast commentating the NCAA Cross Country meet from Stillwater on November 19th — MY BIRTHDAY!

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