Weekend College Wrap
Jesse Squire | On 22, Sep 2013
How were this weekend’s college cross country meets like the NFL preseason? Read on.
College cross country will get off to a rousing start…next weekend. That’s when teams can begin accumulating points towards NCAA Championships qualification, making it effectively the first week of the regular season. There will be meets like Minnesota’s Roy Griak Invitational, Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Shootout and Oklahoma State’s Cowboy Jamboree. Those meets will really mean something.
So did this past weekend’s meet mean nothing? Yes and no. They were very much like the last weekend of the NFL preseason. Those games didn’t count for anything in the standings, but they did offer a glimpse of the future. The Mannings looked sharp, RGIII was a big question mark, and Terrelle Pryor surprised–and all of these were born out in the early weeks of the regular season. In the same way, this weekend’s results give us some level of insight into the coming weeks and months of college racing. Let’s take a look at a couple of them.
Insight #1: Northern Arizona has firepower.
The Lumberjacks were a surprise fourth at last year’s NCAA Championships. “Surprise” may be a strong word here, as their results throughout the season indicated they were good, but they didn’t get the respect in the poll as they were just tenth in the rankings entering the NCAAs (and that was their highest ranking all season). One reason for the lack of respect was that their varsity seven included three freshmen and three sophomores, athletes who are supposed to fold up at the end of the season. Obviously, that didn’t happen. All seven return for this year, and the Lumberjacks aren’t sneaking up on anyone this time.
Northern Arizona ran in Friday’s Dave Murray Invitational at Arizona and rested most of their top guys (remember, this is the preseason). Even the two members of the “first line” who raced kept things in check to save gas for next week’s Cowboy Jamboree, where the ‘Jacks meet up against #1 Oklahoma State. One of them, Cody Reed, was NAU’s sixth man at last year’s NCAAs. The other was freshman Andy Trouard, who finished right with his teammate.
Trouard is a bit of a wild card among the nation’s freshmen. He won every Arizona high school state title open to him last year with good but not stunning times, and at first glance he shouldn’t gain any more notice than several dozen other incoming freshmen around the country. But he has significant upside since all of that was accomplished as a part-time runner; he also led his school’s soccer and swimming teams to state titles. The presumption is that he’ll take it to another level now that running is his lone emphasis. Sometimes athletes like that pan out and become superstars, and sometimes they flame out because their bodies can’t handle being a full-time runner (or they simply dislike it). Trouard looks to be doing just fine right now. At the very least, he may make NAU even better than we expected them to be. That might not be enough to knock off Oklahoma State, everyone’s favorite to win yet another NCAA title, but probably enough to fend off attacks from everyone else
Insight #2: Duke might be a contender.
Providence is the #1 team in the women’s poll but #4 Duke has garnered some attention as a challenger for the national title. It’s far from certain, though. The Blue Devils have three outstanding freshmen recruits in Wesley Frazier and Haley and Hannah Meier, and any team dependent on several freshmen is going to have a lot of question marks. But another question mark is Juliet Bottorff. “When she is on our team and running, we are a good team,” head coach Kevin Jermyn told the Duke Chronicle. “When she hasn’t been, we haven’t been nearly as good. The correlation there is exceptionally high.”
Just over two years ago on a hot and humid night in Des Moines, Bottorff surprised everyone (including herself) and won the NCAA 10,000 meter title. Since then, much has gone wrong. She missed the following cross country season with injury and didn’t race again until April, and finished 14th at the NCAA 10k. Last fall’s cross country season was good but not great, capped by a 27th-place finish at the NCAAs. For most runners that would be an excellent result, but most runners haven’t been a national champion. She had a better indoor track season, finishing 7th at the NCAA 5k, and then redshirted the outdoor season.
Jermyn says she’s now over her injury problems and Bottorff’s actions backed him up. She won Saturday’s Adidas XC Challenge, running the second half faster than her first en route to a course record. Cross country times must always be taken with a grain of salt, but her 16:28.81 is faster than any track 5k she ran in the entire 2012 season, and almost as fast as her best 5k in her NCAA Championship season of 2011. She did this while running mostly alone in a race which was nothing more than a tune-up for more meaningful racing to come, so there’s a lot more left in the tank. If Bottorf really is back to form, then she gives Duke a shot at a top-four podium finish, or maybe more.
Every week I’ll be posting my picks for the top ten runners in the nation. Little has changed since last week’s calculation of the NCAA’s top runners except Bottorff’s proof of fitness, which boosts her up to #2.
1. Kennedy Kithuka, Texas Tech
2. Lawi Lalang, Arizona
3. Anthony Rotich, UTEP
4. Paul Chelimo, UNC-Greensboro
5. Eric Jenkins, Oregon
6. Tom Farrell, Oklahoma State
7. Andrew Colley, North Carolina State
8. Brian Shrader, Northern Arizona
9. Taylor Thatcher, BYU
10. Parker Stinson, Oregon
1. Abbey D’Agostino, Dartmouth
2. Juliet Bottorff, Duke. No one is beating D’Agostino, but a healthy Bottorff might be better than everyone else.
3. Cally Macumber, Kentucky
4. Laura Hollander, Cal Poly
5. Emily Sisson, Providence
6. Colleen Quigley, Florida State
7. Elaina Balouris, William and Mary
8. Laura Nagel, Providence
9. Elvin Kibet, Arizona
10. Sarah Collins, Providence
What’s in a name?
Two of this weekend’s meets sounded like they’d be boozy affairs: SUNY Cortland’s Jack Daniels Invitational and Beloit’s Olde English Classic. The Daniels meet was actually named in honor of the Red Dragons’ well-known former coach and exercise physiologist, and the Olde English meet was the 51st edition of a European-style race complete with hay bales, a stream crossing, steeplechase barriers and more. Texas-San Antonio hosted their Ricardo Romo Classic at a facility unlike any other college course anywhere: the National Shooting Complex.
Course of the Week: Beaver Island State Park
The University of Buffalo hosted a quadrangular on Saturday at the Bulls’ home course in Beaver Island State Park. At first glance it’s nothing particularly special, another multi-loop course through mostly open areas in a park. It does have two unusual features. Few US cross country courses run directly along an international border, as this one does near the 2 and 4 mile marks when runners go along the bank of the Niagara River. Even fewer American cross country courses allow athletes to see Canada directly to their south.
Men’s Athlete of the Week: John Mascari, Indiana State
Mascari won the Indiana Intercollegiates in Bloomington rather impressively. He shared the lead for the first 5 kilometers, then pulled away over the last 3k for a 23 second win, well over 100 meters ahead of second. It was his second win in as many races for the defending Missouri Valley Conference champion.
Honorable mention goes to Arizona freshman Collins Kibet, who won the Wildcats’ own Dave Murray Invitational. This is notable because, according to ArizonaWildcats.com, it was just the second competitive race of Kibet’s life.
Women’s Athlete of the Week: Juliet Bottorff, Duke
See above for details of Bottorff’s weekend. Honorable mention goes to Florida State’s Hannah Walker, a junior transfer from the UK’s University of Birmingham, who ran to a clear victory at the Wake Forest Invitational/Pre-ACC meet. She handily beat teammate Colleen Quigley and Ohio U’s Juli Accurso, both All-Americans.
Men’s Team of the Week: Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish won their own National Catholic Invitational with a rather tight pack of seven men, all within five seconds of each other.
Women’s Team of the Week: Florida State
The #2-ranked Seminoles won the Wake Forest Invitational/Pre-ACC meet while putting six runners in the top eight.
Profiling the CIS
In each of the next four weeks, I’ll take a look at a non-D1 level of college cross country. This week’s circuit is Canadian Interuniversity Sport. CIS is the governing body for the 54 largest university athletics programs in Canada.
To paraphrase Vincent Vega, they have the same sport in Canada but it’s the little things that are different. First of all, there are large differences within the CIS in terms of athletic resources in general and in terms of how much are allocated to cross country. Some teams have full-time coaches and some have part-timers.
The universities themselves vary widely in size and wealth; Toronto has 56,000 students and a $1.8 billion endowment, while Cape Breton has 3500 students and a $6.1 million endowment. There is a much greater emphasis on participation in the CIS; it’s not unusual for university athletics websites to include information on club teams, intramurals, and student recreation facilities, things that are basically unheard of at athletic websites for US colleges. And among the four individual awards handed out at the CIS Championships, along with MVP and Coach of the Year and the like, is the Student-Athlete Community Service Award.
There is no formal qualifying for the CIS Championships, like the NCAAs were until the 1970s, but most universities aren’t willing to foot the bill to send a team that won’t be competitive. Also much like NCAA cross county in the old days, the open national championships come close on the heels of the collegiate championships and are often also an important part of a college runners’ season.
One university has been dominant in CIS cross country, the Guelph Gryphons. Coach Dave Scott-Thomas has built a juggernaut which has swept the last seven CIS titles for both men and women. The cross country program is complemented by the summertime Speed River Track Club and has earned Guelph the moniker of Canada’s Track Town. You know you have a major program when the new track facility, Alumni Stadium, is being used as the interim home of the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats while their new Tim Horton’s Field is being built. Naturally, the Gryphon men’s and women’s teams are both unanimous #1s in the year’s first CIS poll.
This year’s teams expect to win again and easily. The Gryphon women have four of the top six returning athletes from last year’s CIS Championships, inlcuding 2012 runner-up Carise Thompson and 2012 champion Geneviève Lalonde, and they bring in the two best recruits in Canada. One of them, Amelie Kretz, is one of the best U23 triathletes in the world. The men are just as stacked, featuring four of the top five returners from last year’s CIS Championships. The supporting crew includes a multitude of nationally-competitive middle distance runners.
Here’s what and who to watch this coming season…
September 28: Vic Matthews Open, Guelph ON
This will be the Gryphon’s first real race of the year (they ran B-tramers at Western Ontario last weekend). Most of the other top teams will be there; Windsor, McMaster, Western Ontario, and Toronto amongst others. The women’s race will likely include Queens’ Victoria Coates, who was third at last year’s CIS while running for McMaster, and we’ll see how she stacks up against Guelph’s stars.
October 5: International Weekend
It’s not an official “international weekend” in CIS but it almost seems like it. Guelph will fly out to Oregon and test themselves against top NCAA D-1 competition at the Bill Dellinger Invitational. Windsor’s #4-ranked men’s team will go to the Notre Dame Invitational and Western Ontario’s #2-ranked women will run at the Greater Louisville Classic.
October 26: Conference Championships
CIS teams are organized into four regional associations which function along the same lines as conferences in American collegiate competition. By far the most competitive in cross country is Ontario University Athletics. This year’s OUA Championships will be hosted by McMaster in Hamilton.
November 9: CIS Championships
The championships will be hosted by Western Ontario at London’s Thames Valley Golf Course. Whether or not the host Mustangs can pull off the improbable upset over Guelph, it will still be a big day. Coach Bob Vigars has been at Western in one position or another for 46 years, but this December will be his last. He will be the subject of a roast on Saturday evening following the championships.
He landed a job in London after earning his Master’s from Cal State LA in 1968 and realizing that if he stayed in the USA he would almost assuredly be drafted and sent to Vietnam. So he went back to his home province of Ontario, where Western needed a phys ed prof and track and cross country coach. Two years later his men’s team won the national title, the first in any sport in university history, and brought home thirteen more in the coming years. He improved the status of track and cross country in the CIS, he started a women’s team in 1974 (when most NCAA schools didn’t have one) and then pushed for a women’s championship. He is among the most respected coaches in the country, and it only seems right that his last hurrah is a national championship meet.