2018 XC Nationals Recap
November 18th, 2018
Stats, highlights & takeaways from the 13th NIRCA XC National Championship.
As with any record, they are made to be broken and predictions are just that, predictions. Both of those were apparent on a beautiful, albeit slightly chilly, day in Lexington, Kentucky for the 13th Cross Country Nationals. The sun and NIRCA fandanas certainly helped everyone feel a little warmer than the high of 37 F and we hope you’ve thawed out since then.
Michigan reigned supreme in Kentucky and became the second school to win both the Men’s and Women’s Team Championship at the same race with scores of 89 for the Men and 88 for the Women; Illinois did the same in 2011 with scores of 87 for the Men and 85 for the Women.
Michigan had not been on the podium since a second place finish in 2014 and had not claimed first since 2010, but that all changed Saturday. As was discussed during the preview of the Michigan men, consistency was going to be the key to their success and that was exactly what they did. Tyler Opdycke aside, who ran a very good race finishing fifth and being their only first-team All-American, their second through fifth place runners finished within 0:10 seconds of each other with times sub 26:21. While the Wolverines will not go down as one of the most dominant teams in terms of total score, they did finish with five All-Americans and ran hard together. Keep an eye on them next year as they only graduate a few members from this team and should be able to replenish from their second place Freshman/Sophomore team and third place Junior/Senior/Grad team.
Top 5: Tyler Opdycke (5th), Brandon Shepherd (18th), Adam Sawicki (22nd), Lynus Zullo (23rd), William McElgunn (25th).
Too much stock was put into the lack of data from the schools in the Pacific Regional, leading many to be shocked by the second and third place finishes for Cal Poly and UC Davis. Cal Poly put in a top end performance similar to that of Iowa State in 2017 as they had three runners place top 15 and earn first-team All-American honors. While their score was 32 points behind first place Michigan, their average time was only 0:04 seconds slower and had a higher finisher, Sam Nishi, in third. Their lack of team consistency is what cost them a shot at the title but a stellar performance nonetheless and their highest ever team finish.
Top 5: Sam Nishi (1st), Niklas Sjogren (8th), Thomas Busse (10th), Matthew Busse (44th), Lincoln Colby (50th)
An individual first and second place finish carried UC Davis to third place but it wasn’t enough to reclaim their team title from 2015. Jon Horvath and Nathan Kwan carried the Aggies all race and left little chance for the other runners to catch them. If time counted more than finishing place points, they would have claimed first with the fastest average team time on the day of 26:08.
Top 5: Jon Horvath (1st), Nathan Kwan (2nd), Clancy McConnell (20th), James Melkonian (33rd), Ruy Barretto (94th).
Purdue just missed out on third, finishing with 155 points, 11 behind UC Davis, tying their highest finish ever (2017), but did walk away with a pair of first-team All-American awards and one second-team All-American.
Jon Horvath from UC, Davis has cemented himself into the NIRCA record books with a time of 25:08, good for t-21st all-time. After re-watching the live feed from the race, he could’ve run faster if he had some competition with him at the top as he finished nearly 0:20 seconds faster than the second place finisher and fellow teammate, Nathan Kwan. Kwan came in widely expected to finally claim his long awaited first place finish, but it wasn’t meant to be despite running a time that was 0:03 seconds faster than his time last year and would have been the fastest time in East Lansing, MI. The state of California showed its strength as Sam Nishi, Cal Poly, claimed third after shaving off 0:34 seconds from his fourth place Pacific Regional time.
Speaking of the Pacific Regional, six of the top ten runners were from out west and will be important figures to keep an eye on next year. The others were Eric Beyerle of Oregon who improved upon his 17th place finish a year ago to finish sixth this year, and a pair of Cal Poly teammates, Niklas Sjogren and Thomas Busse. Sjogren made a huge leap from his 87th place finish in East Lansing to finish eigth while Busse improved from 59th to tenth.
After going toe-to-toe in the Great Lakes Regional, Tyler Opdycke of Michigan and Matthew Sraders of Purdue were at it again in Lexington. Opdycke finished first and Sraders finished fourth at the Regional but Sraders got his revenge this time as he finished fourth while Opdyke finished fifth. Connor Sandt, Sraders’ teammate, also ran well and finished seventh.
The pride of the Great Plains Region was Josh Mollway from Illinois as he carried the banner and continued his great season following up a second place finish at Regionals with a ninth place finish at Nationals.
Good things happen to those team’s who have the same top four runners repeat as their top four and finish no worse than 18th. This recipe for success is what the Michigan women used to continue dominating the NIRCA world and become the fourth team, third school, to repeat as back-to-back champions. This gave the Wolverines their fourth team title, trailing only Penn State who has five. Anna Piccione repeated her 2017 fourth place finish and led the Wolverines throughout the race, even leading for a segment of the race early on. What really cemented the Championship for Michigan was their next three runners finishing 12th, 17th, and 18th, giving them plenty of room to get their fifth runner across. Expect Michigan to continue dominating as they will return their top four again, and possibly their entire championship squad, in 2019.
Top 5: Anna Piccione (4th), Audrey Ladd (13th), Alison McLean (18th), Amberlee Kreis (19th), Mollee Shultz (40th)
It all came together perfectly for Purdue this year as they claimed second at the Great Lakes Regional and second at Nationals, both times losing out to Michigan. Their previous best finishes came in 2007 when they finished sixth, during NIRCA’s second National Championship, and seventh in 2017. The Boilermakers had a pair of runners at the top all race, Lucy Hilarides and Lauren Orr, who gave them a chance as they were able to keep their pace throughout the race and finish second and third. Those finishes were also the highest ever by any Purdue runner in NIRCA history.
Top 5: Lucy Hilarides (2nd), Lauren Orr (3rd), Michaela Lewis (32nd), Emma Keesling (35th), Nina Bouthier (37th)
Penn State claimed third place and earned their 12th trophy from 13 NIRCA National Championships, 2014 being the only year they didn’t finish top three. The Nittany Lions had 3 All-Americans, two first-team and one second-team, but didn’t have enough to compete with their Big Ten rivals from the Great Lakes Region. While disappointed to not claim first as a team, they did have the first place finisher in Suzanne Stein.
Top 5: Suzanne Stein (1st), Baylee Robey (9th), Chloe Connor (21st), Olivia Gettle (42nd), Rachael Wittmer (60th)
Illinois were 15 points away from returning to the podium, where they haven’t been since a second place finish in 2014, but claimed three second-team All-American honors and one first-team All-American award.
History was made in Lexington as the top 13 runners all posted times that earned them spots on the All-time Top 25 6k Performances at NIRCA Cross Country Nationals. The most notable accomplishment though was the time posted by junior Suzanne Stein from Penn State as she can now lay claim to being the fastest 6k runner in NIRCA history with a time of 21:21. Suzanne finally earned the elusive first place finish she’d been seeking since running at her first Nationals in 2016, where she finished 14th, and then second in 2017. Suzanne wasn’t the only runner from Penn State to walk away with first-team All-American honors as Baylee Robey finished ninth. Baylee ran nearly 0:30 seconds faster than her fifth place finish last year, but a faster course and field led to lower finish.
Purdue’s remarkable team finish was spearheaded by two runners we thought could wind up as All-American’s after a strong season. Lucy Hilarides finished outside the top 100 last year and wound up finishing second in Lexington with a time of 21:33, giving her a second place finish at Regionals and Nationals in the same year. Teammate Lauren Orr was running in her first year of NIRCA and sped onto the scene finishing third and only 0:06 seconds behind Hilarides. Having gotten such an early taste for the top three, expect her to be a strong contender for first next year.
Anna Piccione found herself in a similar situation as Robey as she ran 0:33 seconds faster than her fourth place finish at Nationals last year, but finished fourth again. Piccione ran at the top during the first half of the race but didn’t have enough to keep up with the top three; but don’t worry, she’s only a junior and will be back next year to try and finally get that first place finish. Fellow Michigander but cross state rival, Charlotte Etienne of Michigan State, may have been the only Spartan running but wasn’t fazed as she finished fifth, continuing her improvements year after year. Now a three-time All-American, 28th in 2016, and 12th in 2017, Etienne continues to improve year after year and similar to most of our top runners, will return next year.
Success at Regionals doesn’t always translate to success at Nationals, but it did for these runners. Nicole Ticea of Stanford finished second at the Pacific Regional and finished seventh in Lexington. Jennifer Mohler from NC State finished first at the Southeast Regional and finished eighth on Saturday. Boston College found success in their first year in NIRCA and were led all season by senior Christina LaRitz. LaRitz, in maybe her only season, finished first at the Northeast Regional and finished fifth at Nationals. And Barret Gray from Princeton finished fourth at the Mid-Atlantic Regional and tenth this past weekend.
THE YOUNG GUNS
Indiana finished sixth but could have used the winner of the Freshman/Sophomore race, Braden Clements, who won with a time of 26:36, on their championship squad. Braden should make their top seven next year and will be looking to claim All-American honors. Cal Poly may lose a couple runners but should be able to replace one of them with Cameron Priest, who finished third after spending the entirety of the race among the leaders.
Purdue had a pair of runners, similar to the Championship race, finish top three, this time finishing first and second. Catharine Pickford, first, and Megan Casey, second, should become contributors on the championship squad next year as they look to oust Michigan. Michigan continues to stockpile top runners and had a pair of runners finish top six, Jenna Bishop, third, and Phoebe Sotiroff, sixth.
WAY TOO EARLY PREDICTIONS
Men: Michigan repeat as champions followed by Oregon and Cal Poly.
Women: Michigan become the first team to three-peat followed by Penn State and Princeton.
Thank you all for a wonderful season and we hope you'll join us again next year!
Michael Potter, NIRCA