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Syracuse XC: How Syracuse Won the Title

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With their 1st National Championship since 1951, let's take a closer look at how the Syracuse Orange pulled off the upset

The Syracuse Orange shocked many people, including me, when they took down the favored Colorado Buffaloes on Saturday. Denver Post writer Daniel Petty wrote a great breakdown of what went wrong for Colorado, but from the Syracuse perspective, let's look at what went right on Saturday in Louisville.

First of all 2015 USTFCCCA Coach of the Year Chris Fox developed a roster capable of taking the program to the next level. During his 11 years at Syracuse, Fox has elevated the program from Big East also-ran, to regional power, and now an elite program. As Let'sRun.com points out, 2015 has marked new territory for the Orange. Prior to this year, Syracuse had never had a top 30 finisher at the NCAA XC Championship, and among some fans of the sport, had been viewed as being "overrated".

The Orange had a top 30 finisher on Saturday, in fact they had three of them, and oh by the way all three were top-10 finishers. Justyn Knight, Colin Bennie, and Martin Hehir were the top 3 runners for Syracuse all year, and in the biggest meet of the season, they delivered, becoming the 20th trio to record top-10 finishes in NCAA history. Knight's 4th place finish is the highest for a Syracuse runner since Ray Osterhout finished 2nd in 1952. With their performance, Knight and Bennie have a chance at joining Osterhout (51-53) and Neil Pratt (47-49) as 3-time top-10 finishers.

In last week's preview, we compared Syracuse to Colorado and the Stanford Cardinal, so let's revisit that chart with updates for each runner's place on their team, and in the NCAA meet, so we can look closer at how Syracuse took home the title.

Runner Syracuse Colorado Stanford
1st

Justyn Knight -4th

Pierce Murphy-3rd

Jim Rosa- 6th

2nd

Colin Bennie-8th

Morgan Pearson-25th

Sean McGorty- 7th

3rd

Martin Hehir-9th

John Dressel-26th

Grant Fisher-17th

4th

Philo Germano-39th

Ben Saarel- 31st

Garrett Sweatt-64th

5th

Joel Hubbard-47th

Connor Winter -33rd

Joe Rosa- 97th

6th

Dan Lennon-65th

Ammar Moussa- 42nd

Sam Wharton-207th

7th

Joe Kush- 123rd

Zach Perrin- 195th

Jack Keelan 231st

Last week I said

"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."

First, Colorado did not have an off day at all. You could argue that Moussa wasn't able to run up to his 2014 standards, but 5 All-Americans is an incredible display of depth. Colorado ran reasonably well, but Syracuse was better, and it began with the Orange moving into solid position from the start.

The top 3 for the Orange exceeded expectations by getting into the  top 10. They ran aggressive and put themselves in a strong position when Villanova Wildcats runner Patrick Tiernan pushed the pace early. They not only stayed in the top 10 the entire race, they only lost 2 spots over the 10k and built up a lead. As I mentioned above, becoming the 20th team with a top-10 trio shows just how well these guys ran on Saturday. No one expected them all to finish that high, and in doing so they put the pressure on the other teams.

As the results were updating on Saturday, Colorado's depth temporarily put them in front. Then the closing 2k from Germano (moved up 14 spots) and Hubbard (moved up 4 places) hit the scoreboard and showed that the Orange had done enough to cover the 34 places that Dressel and Saarel improved in the final portion.

Right after the race, I said Germano's close was reason SU won, and a couple of days removed, it still stands out. In the clip above you can see him picking off 5 runners. Germano came into the race as Syracuse's 6th man, but he delivered strong showings at the ACC and NCAA meet and makes the comments Knight and Hehir made to me last year seem prophetic.  It was an incredible effort by the whole squad and it showed that Syracuse is a team that is a threat to repeat in 2016 in Terre Haute.

Congratulations Orange!