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Syracuse XC: Can Orange Win 1st NCAA Title Since 1951?

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The #2 ranked Syracuse Orange Men's Cross-Country team heads into Saturday's NCAA Championship meet with a chance to bring home a title. Can the Orange take down the favorites, let's take a look?

2014 NCAA Championships
2014 NCAA Championships
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The #2 ranked Syracuse Orange Men's Cross-Country team heads into Saturday's NCAA Championship meet with a lot of confidence and momentum. It's going to take a lot for Syracuse to knock off  the #1 ranked and two-time defending champion Colorado Buffaloes, and to hold off the fast-rising #3 ranked Stanford Cardinal.

Head Coach Chris Fox has stated that the goal for the Orange is to earn their 1st podium finish (Top 4) since 1958. Last year's team just missed out with a 5th place finish, which felt disappointing after a strong season. Back with something to prove in 2015, Syracuse has won every race this Fall and head into Louisville with a lot of confidence. Let's take a look at what the Orange men and women are up against on Saturday.

Men's Team Breakdown

Here are the three teams top-7 runners (in XC the top 5 count towards team score) and their place and performance at last week's NCAA Regionals.

Runner Syracuse-Northeast Region Colorado-Mountain Region Stanford-West Region
1st

Justyn Knight -1st

30:28

Pierce Murphy-6th

30:06

Jim Rosa- 6th

31:14

2nd

Colin Bennie-2nd

30:29

Morgan Pearson-7th

30:07

Sean McGorty- 7th

31:15

3rd

Martin Hehir-3rd

30:30

Ammar Moussa-15th

30:22

Joe Rosa- 8th

31:15

4th

Joel Hubbard-11th

30:50

Zach Perrin-18th

30:28

Grant Fisher- Did not Run

5th

Dan Lennon-12th

30:51

John Dressel-19th

30:29

Garrett Sweatt-20th

31:35

6th

Philo Germano-15th

30:57

Ben Saarel-21st

30:31

Sam Wharton-42nd

31:57

7th

Shawn Wilson- 19th

31:05

Connor Winter-23rd

30:42

Steven Fahy- 71st

32:32

Team Race Breakdown

I didn't include the times to invite a direct comparison, as you have to account for the differences in courses and weather conditions at last week's races, but I wanted to show the splits, especially between the 1-5 runners for each of the contenders. Syracuse actually turned in the smallest split last weekend with 22 seconds between Knight and Hubbard, but many think Colorado's depth is the strongest and that's because of the 2015 debut of  Saarel, who finished 7th at the 2014  NCAA Championship, as their 6th man. Experts believe that he will finish higher on Saturday and be the difference for the Buffs adding another title.

What Colorado has in depth, Syracuse and Stanford have in top-end talent. No trio has run better than Knight/Bennie/Hehir this Fall, and both Knight and Hehir feel they have a little bit to prove after last year's race. Bennie's rise this Fall has given the Orange a legitimate chance at finishing in the top 2.  The Rosas and McGorty all have XC All-American honors on their resume and watching these trios battle on Saturday will be one of the highlight's of the meet. All 6 of these runners have the ability to place in the top 15-20 overall and the team battle might come down to which trio gets in first.

As good as the top of the Syracuse and Stanford line-ups are, the chances for either team to upset Colorado hinge on the 4 and 5 runners. What the two teams do enjoy in these spots, are runners who could certainly surprise on Saturday. For Stanford, freshman Grant Fisher was a 2-time National XC Champion, and ran a sub 4 mile in high school. He finished 11th at the Pac-12 Championships and gives Stanford an added boost after their top 3.

For Syracuse, Joel Hubbard and Dan Lennon have "struggled" in 2015, which means they haven't been as close to the top 3 as they were last year. Some of this is due to the incredible seasons the top 3 have had, but last week showed improvement for both guys. Syracuse fans should note that Lennon had the 10th fastest 10k time in the country during the 2015 outdoor season, so moving up to run that distance works to his advantage. Hubbard has 4 minute mile speed and ran in last year's NCAA meet, so both could be pleasant surprises this weekend. Philo Germano and Shawn Wilson have run well in the 6th and 7th spots and are in good position should any of the top 5 have a bad day.

To pull off the upset and take home Syracuse's 1st NCAA title since 1951, the Orange are going to need Colorado to have a really off day, they will also need Knight/Bennie/Hehir to finish in the top 15 and have Lennon and Hubbard somewhere in 25-30 range. It's possible, because #sports, but I think the Orange are going to go out and not worry about the Buffs and will execute their race plan.

Michigan, Oklahoma State and Iona are three other teams to watch.

Men's Individual Race

Defending Champion from the Oregon Ducks, Edward "King Ches" Cheserek is the heavy favorite. If history is any indication, Cheserek will hope for a sit and kick race where he can use his speed over the final 2k. Virginia Tech runner Thomas Curtin did beat Ches on the Louisville course earlier this year, but that race was 8k and not 10k. Something to watch will be the UTEP duo of Anthony Rotich and Jonah Koech and how they approach the race. UTEP is likely to finish in the top 10 as a team, but Rotich and Koech could work together to force Cheserek out of his comfort zone. Another runner to keep an eye out for is Villanova's Patrick Tiernan, who qualified as an Individual and claimed comfortable victories in his last two races.

The Louisville course is fast, so it will be interesting to see how the race unfolds.

Predictions: Syracuse finishes 2nd behind Colorado. Knight, Bennie, Hehir and Lennon earn All-American Honors.  King Ches wins the individual title.

Women's Team Breakdown

Like the Colorado men, the New Mexico Lobos women's squad is the heavy favorite. They are so good that the pre-race talk is not about if they win, it's about "Will they set a record for lowest team score ever?".  Colorado, Arkansas, Providence, Michigan, Oregon, Virginia, and Boise State will battle for the remaining podium spots.

The Orange women come into the meet ranked 20th and expectations are that they will finish somewhere in that range this weekend. Once again Margo Malone leads Syracuse, and the Senior is being underrated right now as a lot of previews don't see her as a Top 20 contender. Malone has a history of running well in big meets, and she looks poised to earn All-American honors.

For Syracuse to crack the top 15, Shaylyn Tuite, Sydney Leiher, Cassia Hameline, and Rebecca Skodis will need to repeat or improve upon their regional races where they stayed within 45 seconds of Malone. Stephanie Bitcon and Karina Ernst will round out the Orange team.

Women's Individual Race

The women's individual race sets up to a very compelling battle. Among the favorites are Arkansas Razorbacks star Dominique Scott, the ACC Champ from the Notre Dame Fighting IrishMolly Seidel, Stanford's Aisling Cuffe, and Boise State Freshmen Phenom, Allie Ostrander.

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Predictions:

New Mexico rolls to a new NCAA record while taking the team title and Molly Seidel brings another NCAA Title back to South Bend.

Let's let Coach Fox and the Cuse athletes take us out with their thoughts. Remember the meet will be live online at NCAA.com. Women's race starts at Noon and the Men's Race is at 1:00. Go Orange!