Stanford, Villanova NCAA XC Favorites

Division 1 Championships set for Monday in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Written by: Chris Lotsbom
(c) 2010 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

Although Stanford and Villanova lead in the coach’s polls, which team will win the men’s and women’s titles at Monday’s NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships is anything but certain.  Many story lines are prominent as the 31 teams and 36 individual qualifiers gather in Terre Haute, Ind., ready to compete in America’s most competitive fall cross country races.  Here is our exclusive preview.

MEN’S RACE

Of the 31 teams, about ten have a legitimate shot at taking the title.  The #1 ranked Stanford Cardinal, led by the powerful trio of Chris Derrick, Elliott Heath, and Jake Riley, finished two points behind the University of Oregon last week at the West regional championships.  At Monday’s championships head coach Jason Dunn will try to right their ship one last time this season.

Oklahoma State, ranked #2, has also shown promise this year, with a strong group of front runners packing up in nearly every race.  Colby Lowe, German Fernandez, and Tom Farrell, all have the experience of being part of the 2009 National Championship team; though the Cowboys surprisingly lost the Midwest Regional to the University of Oklahoma by seven points.  Similar to Stanford, the question coming into Monday’s race is this: was the Regional race just a bad day, or are other teams creeping up and taking over the top two spots?

Oklahoma, only ranked sixth, has been the dark horse this year, sneaking up on Oklahoma State and the rest of the NCAA.  Kevin Schwab led the team at regionals and nationals a year ago.  The team won Pre-Nationals on the same championship course to be run on Monday.  But do they have the depth to beat Stanford, and can they pull out another miracle come Monday?

Third-ranked Oregon can’t be forgotten.  The 2008 national champions and runners-up a year ago, the Ducks won the West Regional and were second to Stanford at the Pac-10 Championships.  Luke Puskedra leads Matt Centrowitz and A.J. Acosta, but in order to win a team title, the Ducks’ number four and five runners, Miles Unterreiner and J.T. Sullivan, will need to step up.

From the South region Alabama and Florida State are the top teams.  Alabama (#12) won the region, with Florida State (#11) well back, but the Seminoles won the ACC Championships.

Wisconsin (#4), the Big 10 and Great Lakes Region champions, have shown tremendous depth this season.  Senior Landon Peacock, the Big 10 champion, is the Badgers’ top runner.

Other teams of note are New Mexico (#5), Colorado (=#7), Iona (=#7), Arkansas (#9), and Syracuse (#10).

Individually, Sam Chelanga of Liberty University is the overwhelming favorite to defend his 2009 title.  The NCAA 10,000m  record holder, Chelanga has not lost a race this season.  Australian David McNeill, a senior at Northern Arizona, could be Chelanga’s biggest threat.  The Stanford trio of Derrick, Heath, and Riley also have the experience necessary to hang with the likes of Chelanga and McNeill.  Mississippi’s Barnabas Kirui, who finished fourth a year ago, is also a contender.  Arizona’s Stephen Sambu, a Kenyan like Chelanga and Kirui, will be competing in his first NCAA championship, but should not be overlooked. A National Junior College champion at Rend Lake College, Sambu is a front runner who even beat two-time Olympic medallist Bernard Lagat early in the season at the Dave Murray Cross Country Invitational.  Virginia’s two-time ACC Champion, Emil Heineking, has also had an excellent season.

WOMEN’S RACE

The #1 ranked The Villanova Wildcats under head coach Gina Procaccio are undefeated this season, and are favored to retain their 2009 title (they won last year’s meet by 47 points).  With Sheila Reid, Amanda Marino, Alison Smith, Bogdana Mimic, and Emily Lipari, the Wildcats have the best depth.  They easily won the Big East and Mid Atlantic Championships in the run-up to Monday’s meet.

“Everyone ran great today and the team seems to be coming together nicely at just the right time,” Procaccio said after their Mid Atlantic victory.  “We looked good and are very excited going into the national race next week.”

Florida State, last year’s runner-up and presently ranked second, has a chance to take the trophy from Villanova. Seniors Pasca Cheruiyot and Pilar McShine have run together most of the season, including at the South Regional, at which the ‘Noles prevailed.  Florida State won the Pre-Nationals Blue race, too.

Villanova’s Big East counterparts, Georgetown, are ranked third.  Winning the Pre-Nationals White race, the Hoyas have already performed well on the LaVerne Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute.  Emily Jones and Emily Infeld have led the team all year.

From the Pac-10 Conference come the traditional powers Stanford (#7), Oregon (#6), and Washington (#4).  Stanford was the Pac-10 winner, but got blown out by Washington and Oregon at Regionals.  Washington, who had previously seemed to be out of the picture for the national title, surprisingly stole the show at the West Regional.  Oregon, led by sophomore Jordan Hasay, has stood constant, placing second at both meets. Hasay is the top individual from the Region and conference.  Don’t be surprised if she wins the title on Monday.

New Mexico (#5), Texas Tech (#10), and Colorado (#8), all of the Mountain West Region, could steal the title.  Colorado has done well despite missing sophomore Allie McLaughlin, who finished fifth at last year’s national meet.  Laura Tremblay has stepped up, however, and was second at Pre-Nats.

Several women could take the individual title who are not from the top teams.  The New Zealand twins Lucy and Holly Van Dalen, both running for the State University of New York at Stony Brook, have run at the front all year.  Lucy was the individual champion at Pre-Nationals, and also took the top spot at the Atlantic Regional meet.  North Carolina State’s Laura Hoer has had a remarkable year.  Only a freshman, Hoer was under the radar coming into college and has won the Roy Griak Invitational, the ACC Championship, and the Southeast Regional titles this year.   UTEP’s Risper Kimaiyo, Princeton’s Alex Banfich, Georgia’s Kristie Krueger, and North Carolina’s Kendra Schaaf all have a chance to win.

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