The 2011 college cross country season draws to a close this Monday in Terre Haute, Indiana, commonly referred to as “Cross Country Town USA”. The only thing that lies between the fastest college men in the nation and their Thanksgiving break is the 10,000-meter LaVern Gibson National Championship Cross Country Course.
Vince McNally is no stranger to the national championship meet. 2011 will mark the 4th consecutive year that he will race in the meet. McNally has run strong all year, and showed his talent in the conference and regional meets. His time of 30:50 shows his strength late in the season and puts him in a good spot to contend for All-American status at nationals.
Kyle Dawson has been the undisputed #1 runner for Penn State all year. The senior captain has set the personal goal to be an All-American, and is in perfect position to do so after running 30:47 at regionals. Monday will be his last collegiate cross country race. I don’t see him holding anything back.
We’ll try to get some exclusive coverage of Kyle and Vince before the meet on Monday, but definitely look for exclusive post race coverage of the two Penn State Seniors.
This is one of the deepest fields that the NCAA has had in a while. There are about 10 teams who could make a run at the podium, and five that have a real shot at winning the meet. See the USTFCCCA Pre-NCAA Rankings here.
The following are the three teams that are expected to be battling for a podium spot on Monday.
How good is Wisconsin? Let’s put it this way: if I was the coach of any other team, I would be saying my prayers right now. These guys are for real, and they want a national championship in the worst way. They don’t have one clear #1 runner, but rather they have executed the pack running method to a t this year. At their home invitational in October, the Badgers scored an astounding 66 points with only a 2 second spread in their top 5 over the 8K racecourse. Many people doubted that this dominace would continue after the distance increased from 8K to 10K, but head coach Mick Byrne showed this past Saturday that his team is here to stay. There was a .2 second spread between Wisconsin’s #1 and #5 runners, with all running 30:28 for 6.2 miles. These guys are for real.
Top 5: Ryan Collins(senior), Elliot Krause (senior), Mohammed Ahmed (junior), Reed Connor (junior), Maverick Darling (junior)
The Cowboys are no strangers to Terre Haute. They have won this meet the past two years and are looking to three-peat on Monday. They know how to peak too. Last year they surprised everyone by putting 3 runners in the top 10. Also, senior German Fernandez has not shown what I believe to be all his cards yet this season. After regionals, he said that his time of 31:22 was “one of the easiest 10K’s I’ve ever run”. Look for him to run faster than ever come Monday, and help push the Cowboys to a podium finish. Also, they rested 2 runners (including 3-time XC All-American Girma Mecheso) this past weekend at regionals. If they can run a full, healthy top 7 on Monday, they will be tough to beat.
Top 5: Colby Lowe (senior), German Fernandez (senior), Shadrack Kipchirchir (sophomore), Tom Farrell (sophomore), Fabian Clarkson (freshman)
If there was ever a year for Stanford to capture the title, it’s this year. All five of their scoring runners broke 30 minutes for 10K at the west regional last weekend. Not to mention their #1 runner Chris Derrick has his sights on NCAA Gold and should drag his team along to even faster times in Terre Haute. The past few years Stanford “machine” has had an exceptional team, but they fell short in the postseason. Will this be the year of the Cardinal? Only time will tell.
Top 5: Chris Derrick (senior), Jacob Riley (senior), Brendan Gregg (senior), Erik Olson (sophomore), Joe Rosa (freshman)
The Dark Horses
Colorado always shows up in the big meets. Coached by the legendary Mark Wetmore, the buffaloes have seen steady success at the national level. They train at high altitude in Boulder, Colorado and run high mileage. The 10K is their bread and butter. Too bad the Buffs can’t call upon recent Oregon transfer Lukas Verzbikas to help their already stellar lineup. Regardless, Andy Wacker and the Medina brothers will lead the charge. I would not be surprised to see lots of black and tan near the front of the race on Monday.
Top 5: Richard Medina (senior), Andy Wacker (senior), Christian Thompson (senior), Martin Medina (junior), Ammar Moussa (freshman)
Minus losing to Wisconsin at the Badger Invitational, the BYU Cougars have not lost yet this fall. They are led by standout senior Miles Batty, who just won the Mountain Regional individual title.
Top 5: Miles Batty (senior), Rex Shields (junior), Jared Ward (sophomore), Curtis Carr (sophomore), Jason Witt (year not listed)
The Sooners are probably the most underrated team with an actual shot at making the podium. According to Flotrack, the average spread for their top 7 runners this season has been just 40 seconds. It is tempting to think that if they run an exceptional race on Monday, they can capitalize on another teams mistake. Out of all 3 dark horses I chose, I think that Oklahoma has the best shot.
Top 5: Kevin Schwab (senior), Jeremy Sudbury (senior), George Alex (senior), Kevin Williams (junior), Bill Kogel (junior)
Lawi Lalang (freshman – University of Arizona)
Many people are essentially handing this kid the crown. And why wouldn’t they? To say that the first year cross country runner has stunned the running community, is an extreme understatement. Lalang (pictured right) arrived at the University of Arizona last spring, never having run a competitive race. He proceeded to tear up the track, ultimately finishing 2nd in the 5,000 meter run at NCAA Track Nationals. This fall, he continues to do the same. He has not lost a race yet, and looks to continue the trend. Just last week, the native Kenyan ran a blistering 28:34 to win the West Regional meet. He usually puts a big move on about halfway through the race, so look for him to put a crushing on the field around the 5K mark.
Chris Derrick (senior – Stanford University)
Chris Derrick has been trying to catch Lawi Lalang all season and has fallen short every time. Will Monday be a different story? Derrick has always stated that his goal is to win the cross country national championship. I would expect to see him mixing things up with Lalang in the front of the field for the entirety of the race. He also has a strong team behind him, so there is always the chance that he will hang back and push his team towards title contention.
Lenny Korir (senior – Iona College)
Iona senior Lenny Korir was just chilling when he won the Northeast Region on Saturday in 31:10. The owner of a 27:29 PR, Korir is a force to be reckoned with in the 10K. He already has 2 NCAA titles in track. If anyone could challenge Lalang for the XC title, it is Korir. He’s fast. Trust me. Or just ask last years XC champ Sammy Chelenga about how he felt after the 5K at indoor nationals.
The Chase Pack
Ryan Hill (senior – NC State)
Coming off 2 consecutive individual victories at ACC’s and the Southeast Regional meet, Hill is confident heading into nationals. In a recent interview with Flotrack, he said that he is feeling good and is excited to see what he can do on the national level. The last 2 times he has posted are 23:06 for 8K and 29:48 for 10K. Look for him fighting for a top 5 spot.
Miles Batty (senior – BYU)
The 15th place NCAA finisher in 2010 is looking to improve drastically in this year’s race. Batty just won the mountain region, one of the toughest in the country. Like Chris Derrick, he also has a team score to worry about. Don’t be surprised if you see him hanging back for the early stages of the race before making a big move.
Deigo Estrada (senior – N. Arizona)
This past spring, Estrada ran under 13:30 in the 5,000 meters. The kid has speed. This year, he said that he has put in a huge base leading up to cross country season. He has run in the 28’s for the 10K. I see him leading the chase pack once Lalang breaks away.
To be honest, it is essentially impossible to predict how runners will feel on a given day. But nonetheless, here are my predictions. I’ll start with the teams. It’s nearly impossible to pick against Wisconsin this year. I don’t see how anyone can beat them. That being said, I think that Oklahoma State will beat Wisconsin. They have depth, speed, and they know how to win titles. However, I think that you could flip a coin with Wisconsin and Ok State and either pick would be just as good.
1. Oklahoma State
Easy picking here. Lalang will have to tie his shoelaces together to have a chance at being beat. Even then I feel like he would still win.
1. Lawi Lalang
2. Lenny Korir
3. Chris Derrick
4. Diego Estrada
5. Miles Batty
For anyone who is interested in watching the races, they will be streamed live on NCAA.com.
Also, Flotrack will be hosting live events throughout the weekend. To see when to tune in, click here.
I am happy to announce that The NLD will be on site in Terre Haute on Monday to take in all the action. Follow me (Ryan) on twitter (@hoagieman5220) to get updates and results from the day’s events. Also, stay tuned to The Nittany Lions Den for post-meet coverage!
*PHOTO CREDITS: gosycamores.com, AP Photo, wildcats.arizona.edu