Aug. 27, 2009

 

NCAA.com Staff
 
The 2009 NCAA Cross Country Championships are all set to return to Terre Haute, Ind. at the LaVerne Gibson Championship Course this November. The festivities will kick off on the 23rd as the Oregon men look to capture a third straight title while the Washington women hope to make it two in a row. Here's a look at 10 teams with championship aspirations.

Men

Auburn
The Tigers do not lose a senior from last year's top seven that ran at the NCAA Championships and placed the team to a fifth place finish. Sophomore Girma Mesecho will lead the way after finishing 14th in the individual championship last fall. Behind him will be four seniors, two of which finished among in the top 25 in the individual championship. Last year's appearance at the championships was the program's first trip since 1985.

Colorado
The Buffaloes had an off-year in 2009. But their off-years are a little different than most. For the first time under head coach Mark Wetmore, Colorado did not finish in the top 10 at the NCAA Championships. The Buffs came in 12th, but with a top seven featuring only two seniors it appears a bounce back year is in store for Wetmore and company. Senior Jordan Kyle will be the Buffs top runner this fall, looking to improve on his 12th place individual finish. Colorado is only four years removed from its last national championship.

Oklahoma State
German Fernandez had himself quite a freshman campaign and now that he's back for his sophomore season a big target will be on his back and that of the Cowboys. All Fernandez did last year was became the first Oklahoma State runner to win the Big 12 individual cross country championship and was named Big 12 indoor and outdoor male athlete of the year. And the he only really started running seriously late in his high school career. Some people think he's the next big thing in American distance running. While that remains to be seen, Fernandez and a young squad from 2008 make Oklahoma State a national title contender.

Oregon
The two-time defending national champions are always a threat. The Ducks will feature three seniors and 11 juniors on the roster this season. They will be without Galen Rupp, however. Rupp will go down as one of the greatest Ducks of all-time considering he won the NCAA Division I individual cross country title last year becoming the third Oregon runner to win the individual crown, joining Oregon immortals Steve Prefontaine and Alberto Salazar. But with six of their top seven returning from last year, they figure to be in fine shape.

Stanford
A third place finish in last year's championships was Stanford's best finish since its 2003 national title. And with its top runner from last fall, soon-to-be sophomore Chris Derrick not going anywhere anytime soon, the Cardinal could be big time players for the next several years. Derrick was an All-American last year and finished as the nation's second-fastest freshman after coming in sixth in the individual championship. Joining him will be three other underclassmen, including Jake Riley who was a top 50 finisher.


Women

Florida State
No one could ever catch Texas Tech's Sally Kipyego during her illustrious career. But now that she's graduated and moved on, could the Seminoles Susan Kuijken take over the mantle as the top female runner in the country? Kuijken finished second to Kipyego at last year's NCAA Championships and helped pace Florida State to a third place finish. The senior-to-be will be one of five returning runners from last year's top seven championship team.

Stanford
The Cardinal is a four-time national champion this decade meaning they are always a threat. While they took a backseat to Washington's dominance in the Pac-10 and national scene last year, 2009 could very well be their year. A squad that only featured only three seniors and plenty of freshmen last fall finished eighth at the NCAA Championships. But five of the top seven from last year's championships should be back on campus this fall.

Villanova
The Wildcats lose only one senior from their top seven runners at last year's NCAA Championships. They'll miss Frances Koons and her 16th place individual finish, but right behind her last year were some talented underclassmen in Amanda Marino and Boganda Mimic, just a sophomore and freshman, respectively. The 2008 Big East Champs might have a tough time defending their conference crown this fall, but they won't go down without putting up a big fight.

Washington
If you didn't know, the Huskies swept the Pac-10 Championships in unprecedented fashion and then blew away the competition at the NCAA Championships for the program's first national title last year. When the season was all said and done, five Huskies had been named All-Americans and four of them are returning this fall. They also have the reigning Women's Cross Country Coach of the Year in Greg Metcalf back for a run at title No. 2.

West Virginia
The Mountaineers did not feature any seniors in their top seven so that makes this squad a legit contender in 2009. WVU should troll out three seniors and juniors this season, including Keri Bland who finished 10th in the individual NCAA Championship. Bland earned All-America honors for the second-straight year while WVU had three runners finish among the top 50 on its way to a fourth place team finish.