Th NCAA Championship is rapidly approaching and the Syracuse Orange cross-country teams are hoping to peak for next week's meet in Louisville. First, the teams have to run this Friday's Northeast Regional in Boston where the top teams automatically qualify to advance.
The 19th-ranked Orange women are the #2 seed behind the 4th-ranked Providence Friars. They will take to the 6k course at Franklin Park at Noon in hopes of finishing in that same position. Should the Orange slip out of the top 2, they look to be secure to earn an at-large bid with 9 wins over ranked teams on their resume already this season.
Coming off a solid 4th place finish at the ACC Championships, Syracuse will again ride the strong Senior campaign of Margo Malone. Margo has paced the Orange all year and will be in position for a top 5 finish on Friday. The key for the team will be the continued improvement of the 2-5 runners on the team. Shaylyn Tuite and Stephanie Bitcon ran strong races at the ACC meet to help solidify the 3-4 spots on the team behind Malone and Sydney Leiher. This group needs to run a little closer together to help the Orange finish strong the next two weeks.
The #2 ranked Orange men are the clear favorites on Friday, but I wouldn't expect Syracuse or the #9 Iona Gaels to exert a lot of effort in Friday's 10k race (1 pm start). Both squads are good to go for Louisville and running two all-out 10k races in 8 days is less than ideal, so don't be surprised if top runners for each team sit this week. Syracuse and Iona are the only men's teams to win the Regionals, which began in 2005, so even at less than full-strength, they should still take the automatic qualifying spots.
There won't be a lot this week will tell us about the chances for Syracuse to win a National Title, but last week's conference meets were a bit more telling. While Syracuse cruised to their 3rd straight conference title, across the country at the Pac-12 Championships Colorado also dominated as expected, but Stanford ran a healthy squad for the 1st time this season and showed they will be a contender again this year. Syracuse's top 3 of Justyn Knight, Colin Bennie, and Martin Hehir will match up with the top runners on any team, but they will need help from the final two scorers to take the title.
The good news for Syracuse is that Joel Hubbard and Dan Lennon have NCAA experience, and 4th man at the ACC meet, Philo Germano ran a strong 10k during the 2015 outdoor season. I think the jump up to 10k will especially help Lennon, who ran the 10th-fastest 10k in the Nation last season. Still not ready to pick the Orange to beat Colorado, but I'm certainly saying they have a legitimate chance.
We'll recap this meet and do a much more detailed NCAA prediction next week.