2019 XC Nationals: Men's Team Preview

November 14th, 2019

With a deep and talented field, the championship race is wide open for a few schools to claim their first ever championship, but Michigan is prepared to defend their title in hopes of repeating.

Purdue is coming into Nationals this weekend having defeated the defending National Champions, Michigan, at the Great Lakes Regional. Last year, Purdue placed fourth at Cross Country Nationals, led by Matthew Sraders (fourth) and Conner Sandt (seventh). With both of their top runners back this year, Purdue will be looking for not only their first podium appearance, but their first national championship. Last year, Purdue had a spread of 1:14 across their top 5 runners at Nationals. This year, their top five were spread by just 0:57 at the Great Lakes Regional (average time of 26:01), a very positive sign that they could have the right depth this year to secure the title. With Sraders and Sandt running well all season, it would be a surprise to see either of them outside of the top ten individuals in Richmond. The bigger question mark is how well can the rest of their team run to compete with the scoring runners from the other top teams. With their recent victory over a deep Michigan team at Regionals, it looks like Purdue is ready to answer that question this championship season.

 

Penn State has two runner-up finishes in the past four years (2015, 2017) and two recent third place finishes (2013, 2016), but has not yet captured a national championship. The Nittany Lions return five runners from their 2018 team which placed tenth at NIRCA Nationals. They won the Mid-Atlantic Regional in a dominant fashion with 35 points and a 25:23 average over Virginia Tech with 75 points. They have been led this season by Joseph Clark, the Mid-Atlantic individual champion, who will be looking to contend for the individual title in Richmond in addition to leading the team to a potential championship. Penn State had a large time spread at Regionals (1:24) that was inflated by Clark’s impressive finish of 24:31. Their second through fifth runners were separated by just 35 seconds, a relatively small margin, which contributed to their average time of 25:23 which led all regionals. If Penn State can keep a similarly tight pack towards the front of the race in Richmond, it will be hard for the other teams to be able to match both their frontrunner in Clark and their depth.

 

Cal Poly Distance Club (CPDC) placed second in 2018, which was their first podium finish at NIRCA Nationals. CPDC took first place at the Pacific Regional over UCLA and UC-Davis, and just like Purdue and Penn State, will be looking for their first national championship in Richmond. They bring back three runners from their 2018 Runner-Up team, Thomas Busse, Matthew Busse, and Mikolaj Krajewski. CPDC averaged a time of 27:14 on a tough course at the Pacific Regional, and managed to put their entire top seven in the top 20. Their top runner at regionals, Jonas Enders, was sixth individually. While the top runners from Cal Poly’s primary competitors look poised for better individual finishes, it will be hard for them to match the depth from CPDC. This team also knows how to show up for Nationals.  Despite only having two runners in the 2018 Pacific Regional’s top ten, they had three runners in the top 10 at 2018 Nationals. If they show a relatively increased performance between Regionals and Nationals this year, they will be a very tough team to beat.

 

Michigan returns this year as the defending National Champions, but with a recent loss to Purdue at the Great Lakes Regional. The Wolverines were missing two of their top runners in Shelbyville, Tyler Opdycke (fifth at 2018 Nationals) and Brandon Shepherd (18th), but their presence might not have overcome the 20 point margin that separated them from Purdue. Along with Opdycke and Shepherd, Michigan brings back Adam Sawicki (22nd) from their 2018 National Championship team. This year, Michigan’s results have appeared very similar to those from their 2018 season - showcasing a lot of depth and a small spread between their top five runners. Despite having only one runner in the top 15 last year, all of their scoring runners were in the top 25. For the Wolverines to defend their title, it is likely they will need to rely on that same recipe for success. They were not able to match the top runners from Purdue and Indiana at Regionals, and would likely not be able to match the top two or top three runners from a lot of other team contenders. However, if their fourth and fifth runners are able to move up in the field relative to the other teams, the Wolverines would be in a good position to defend their title.

 

Illinois had one of the most impressive regional performances this year, capturing the Great Plains regional title with just 17 points and an average time of 26:57. They return four runners from their fifth place team in 2018, including Josh Mollway who was nineth overall in Lexington and won the individual title at the Great Plains Regional. Despite having four podium finishes in NIRCA Nationals history and a National Championship from 2011, the Illini have not finished in the top three since 2014. With a strong frontrunner in Mollway, three other returning top 100 finishers, and a nearly perfect score at the Great Plains Regional, it is hard to find an argument against Illinois finishing on the podium this weekend. The only argument is that it is quite hard to compare just how good this team is against clubs outside of the Great Plains region due to their limited cross country schedule. Last year, they had a strong performance at regionals scoring 27 points, which led to their fifth place (186 point) performance at Nationals. An improvement at regionals this year should imply an improvement at nationals, but is it enough to get them to the top of the podium against teams from the recently dominant Pacific and Great Lakes regions?



Other Teams to Watch on Saturday at Pole Green Park:

UC-Davis was third at the Pacific regional (66 points), behind Cal Poly (55 points) and UCLA (61 points). While UC-Davis was third at Nationals last year, UCLA did not make the trip to Lexington. Both teams will be led by strong frontrunners looking for a possible individual title: Clancy McConnell for UC-Davis and Dilpreet Singh for UCLA. Both teams have a lot of potential with strong races from the rest of their runners this weekend.

NC State has continued their dominance over the Southeast region this year, winning with just 17 points, led by a 1-2-3 finish from Danny Sodano, Ethan Frey, and Silas Buckner. They’ll be looking to improve on their 11th place finish in Lexington in 2018.

Northeastern placed nineth at 2018 Nationals and is coming off of a victory at the Northeast Regional, with 43 points, led by Luke Janik and Brendan Hehir.

Virginia Tech placed second at the Mid-Atlantic regional, behind one of the top contenders in Penn State. They’ll be led by Sam Lebahn, who should be one of the top individuals in the race this Saturday, and trying to better their 12th place finish from 2018.

Indiana placed third at the Great Lakes Regional and returns a lot of runners from their team that placed 6th in 2018. As mentioned in the Great Lakes Regional preview, their top three runners placed first, third, and fourth in the 5k at Track Nationals this past spring, so they should certainly have the speed to compete this weekend. With strong races from two more of their runners, they could threaten any of the top contenders.

Honorable Mentions:

Brown

Michigan State

Princeton

UCLA



Prediction:

1st - Purdue

2nd - Penn State

3rd - Cal Poly

 

 

2019 Regional Champions 

Region

Champion

Average Time

Great Lakes

Purdue

26:01

Great Plains

Illinois

26:57

Mid-Atlantic

Penn State

25:23

Northeast

Northeastern

29:24

Southeast

NC State

26:50

Pacific

Cal Poly

27:14

 

Team Championship History 

Year

National Champ

Runner-Up

3rd Place

2018

Michigan (89)

Cal Poly (111)

UC, Davis (144)

2017

Iowa State (39)

Penn State (94)

Oregon (97)

2016

Oregon (52)

UC Davis (69)

Penn State (108)

2015

UC Davis (106)

Penn State (125)

Indiana (149)

2014

Indiana (23)

Michigan (149)

Illinois (162)

2013

Indiana (66)

Iowa State (93)

Penn State (114)

2012

Oregon (42)

Indiana (65)

Iowa State (115)

2011

Illinois (87)

Iowa State (115)

Virginia (128)

2010

Michigan (63)

Wisconsin (100)

Virginia (101)

2009

Wisconsin (62)

Illinois (105)

Michigan (128)

2008

Wisconsin (35)

Oregon (89)

Michigan (99)

2007

Oregon (42)

Michigan (47)

Illinois (102)

2006

North Carolina (54)

Illinois (62)

Michigan (74)

 

Top 10 All-Time Team Averages at NIRCA Nationals

Rank

Team

Average Time

Year

Nationals Course

1

Illinois

25:04

2011

McAlpine Creek Park

2

Iowa State

25:20

2011

McAlpine Creek Park

3

Delaware

25:22

2011

McAlpine Creek Park

4

Minnesota

25:23

2011

McAlpine Creek Park

5

Virginia

25:24

2011

McAlpine Creek Park

6

Indiana

25:39

2011

McAlpine Creek Park

7

Oregon

25:44

2011

McAlpine Creek Park

8

Iowa State

25:45

2017

Forest Akers Golf Course

T9

Wisconsin

25:49

2011

McAlpine Creek Park

T9

Penn State

25:49

2017

Forest Akers Golf Course

 

Written by: Patrick Kenney & Michael Potter


Michael Potter, NIRCA

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