cross-country-men-d1 flag | October 31, 2013

Colorado will defend title and turf at PAC-12 Champs

NCAA Cross Country, Division I, Colorado, Conference Championships

Two teams at PAC-12 Championships

In addition to its No. 1 rank, Colorado has more at stake than just a national poll positioning as the reigning Pac-12 Champions, Colorado will look to defend both their title and their turf as the host school.

The Buffaloes were both top-heavy and deep en route to a Pre-Nationals team title with two top-10 finishers and all five scoring runners within the top 28 finishers for a team total of 90 points — taking the win against conference rival No. 4 Oregon with 113 points.

Sophomore Morgan Pearson finished seventh to lead the pack, followed shortly thereafter by first-year runner Ben Saarel in ninth. A herd of three followed in 22nd, 24th and 28th to round out the lineup. Considering it was the team’s first true test of the season, expect even more from the Buffaloes this weekend on their home course.

At No. 4, Oregon has been debuting its full roster in fragments, and despite a runner-up finish at Pre-Nationals it doesn’t appear the Ducks have taken their final form just yet. First-year phenoms Edward Cheserek and Jake Leingang have been a huge addition to a team loaded with veteran talent in Parker Stinson and Mac Fleet. Cheserek finished fourth overall at Pre-Nationals, while Stinson and Fleet were 15th and 16th.

A team that made significant gains at Pre-Nationals was No. 13 Stanford, which jumped 17 spots in the rankings following a fourth-place showing. The Cardinal were led by their own sensation freshman in Sean McGorty in fifth place, along with Erik Olson and Jim Rosa in 13th and 14th, respectively. Stanford was the only team to place three runners inside the top 15 finishers.

Two teams at WCC Championships

West Coast Conference cross country is synonymous with Portland, as the Pilots have taken 33 of the past 34 conference titles. The one other team to win a title during this stretch has been BYU in 2011 — the Cougars’ first year as a member of the conference.

Portland regained control with a title a year ago, and the two teams are as evenly matched as ever going into the 2013 edition with BYU at No. 5 and Portland right behind at No. 6. An early-season match-up went in the favor of BYU, but a lot of time has passed since that September meeting.

Led by Tylor Thatcher and Jason Witt, the top BYU finishers at the Roy Griak and Wisconsin invitationals, respectively, the Cougars are perhaps the deepest team in the nation. BYU finished runner-up to No. 2 Northern Arizona at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational.

Portland was right behind in third place at Wisconsin, paced by Scott Fabule’s 15th-place showing individually.

No. 2 Northern Arizona at Big Sky Championships

The Lumberjacks will try to follow up their dominant Wisconsin adidas Invitational title with their seventh Big Sky title in a row and their 10th in the past 11 seasons.

Futsum Zienasellassie finished sixth to lead six NAU runners in the top 50. No. 30 Southern Utah is also in the field.

No. 3 Oklahoma State at Big 12 Championships

Defending national champion No. 3 Oklahoma State is going for its sixth consecutive Big 12 title. The Cowboys rested their top squad at Pre-Nationals but already have a victory against No. 2 Northern Arizona under their belts.

No. 27 Oklahoma and No. 29 Texas will challenge.

No. 7 Wisconsin at Big Ten Champions

Much of the national focus on the Big Ten this year has centered around No. 7 Wisconsin. Gone are most of the runners from the Badgers’ 2011 NCAA title team, leaving the 14-time defending Big Ten champions a relative unknown in the early part of the season. A fourth-place showing at the Boston College Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown early in the season wasn’t promising, but these young Badgers appear to have risen to the program’s lofty expectation with a fourth-place team finish in a loaded Wisconsin adidas Invitational field.

Wisconsin didn’t have any true front-runners at the meet with freshman Malachy Schrobilgen and junior Michael VanVoorhis leading the way in 20th and 21st. But to earn the fourth-place showing with veteran Rob Finnerty having an off-day back in 116th place, Wisconsin looks to be in good form to extend its streak.

No. 16 Michigan and No. 24 Indiana will provide the biggest challenges for the Badgers on paper

No. 8 Iona at MAAC Championships

In the MAAC, No. 8 Iona will be going for its 23rd consecutive title — the longest active streak in all of Division I, and third only to the 39 North Central (Ill.) has and Calvin’s 26 in DIII.

The Gaels finished third at Pre-Nationals behind seven finishers in the top 80, making Iona the only team to put all of its runners even in the top 100 finishers.

No. 9 New Mexico at MW Championships

New Mexico is coming off a strong fifth-place team finish at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational behind seventh-place finisher and defending MW champion Luke Caldwell, who was also the individual runner-up at the Notre Dame Invitational. The Lobos will look to defend their championship for a fourth consecutive season and run their streak to five.

Standing in their way are a pair of upstarts in No. 20 Boise State and No. 22 Colorado State.

No. 28 Air Force is also looking to challenge for conference title honors on its home course.

No. 10 Columbia at Ivy League Championships

A signature win at Notre Dame propelled the Columbia men into the top 10, and a sixth-place showing at Wisconsin among a crowded field of ranked teams backed up its top-10 claim. The Lions’ strength is their strong pack mentality, as their top four finishers at Wisconsin — led by Jake Sienko in 34th — all claimed top-50 spots individually.

In order to earn the Ivy League title, Columbia will have to get past No. 15 Princeton, the defending champion. The Tigers posted an identical sixth-place showing at Pre-Nationals behind a similarly strong pack. Sam Pons in 35th was the top finisher, and Princeton’s top four all came through before spot No. 55. Chris Bendsten is the defending Ivy League champ.