In Part 1, we focused on the Syracuse Orange and how they have fared since 2013 at the NCAA Championships. We looked at what they might need to do to defend their title, but today we look at the top teams aiming to take the crown in 2016.
(Note: Unfortunately the NCAA sold out and gave exclusive streaming rights to FloTrack. They are advertising a “free 7-day trial” to watch the meet, but reports online suggest that you will be billed for a monthly charge, and would have to request a refund. I’d suggest following @USTFCCCA on Twitter for live updates during the meet)
Northern Arizona Lumberjacks
The #1 team in the country, NAU comes into the championship as a slight favorite thanks to their impressive win back in October at Wisconsin. NAU is led by Futsum Zienasellassie and he’s looking to cap his career by leading the school to a 1st-ever national title. Futsum was 2nd to Justyn Knight at Wisconsin, and is a likely top 5 finisher this weekend. Behind him, the Lumberjacks are deep and if they run as well as they did at Wisconsin, they will be hard to beat.
On the other side, their #2 spot has fluctuated between runners and isn’t as strong as some of their competitors. There are also questions about how they will respond to being the favorites as they lost the title in the final 2k in 2013. Outside of Zienasellassie, none of the NAU runners has finished in the top 75 at NCAA’s before.
This is the team which on paper has the most talent in the field. Grant Fisher and Sean McGorty entered the season as the top 1-2 combination in the country. Both have the ability to deliver top 10 finishes which could give Stanford an advantage at the front. McGorty hasn’t run as well this Fall, but he was 7th last year and has some of the fastest track times in the field.
After that it gets a bit dicey for the Cardinal. Thomas Radcliffe is incredibly talented, but the freshmen didn’t run cross country in high school and this will be his 1st 10k of the season. A big race from him could mean a title, but if he falters, Stanford might not be able to overcome as their projected 4-6 runners have only one combined Top 40 NCAA finish among them.
Last year Syracuse denied a Colorado three-peat, but lost in the Orange win was the fact that the Buffaloes had all five of their scorers earn All-American honors. Once again, this depth is emerging at the right time of the season. Ignored by many of the experts early on this fall, Colorado dominated at the Pac-12 Championships placing four runners in the top 10 and defeating Stanford. Ben Saarel has two top 10 NCAA finishes on his resume and he’s in position to match the top runners on each of the contenders.
Other than Saarel and John Dressel, the rest of Colorado’s roster is also a bit unproven at the NCAA meet. If you can sense the theme here among the contenders, you can see why a lot of people are excited for this race. There is so much uncertainty this year that it’s a lot more open than in the past.
Outside of this group of four, keep an eye out for the BYU Cougars who defeated Syracuse twice earlier this season, as well as a talented Arkansas Razorbacks team, who might be a 5th runner away from being the favorites. If this race turns tactical, these teams (especially BYU) could find their way to the podium.
The Syracuse men are ready to claim another title and the last two meets have put them squarely in the discussion. It’s going to be fun to see how this plays out on Saturday.
Here’s what Justyn Knight had to say about the meet.
I’m sticking with the same prediction I made last year which is a Colorado win and a 2nd place finish for Syracuse (yes I’m a #disloyalidiot). I had been leaning towards NAU or Stanford, but what Colorado did at the Pac-12 meet was impressive and they have a history of peaking at this meet.
I think Syracuse is also peaking at the right time, but I don’t know that the Orange have found a way to overcome the loss of Martin Hehir. It’s odd, but I feel better about Syracuse’s chances of winning than I did last year before this meet. The opportunity is there for Syracuse because I don’t think any team is as good as the top two were last year., it will depend on their ability to perform at a high level for the full 6.2 miles. Of course, I was wrong with my prediction last year so we’ll see if that repeats in 2016. Trust me, if it’s some kind of lucky charm, I’ll pick against the Orange every season. It should be a fun meet, and it’s a shame the NCAA decided to make it harder to watch.
On the individual side, I don’t think anyone’s beating Cheserek, but I like Justyn Knight’s chances of finishing 2nd tomorrow. For the women, look for a dominating Colorado win with individual honors going to Erin Finn from the Michigan Wolverines.
What do you think will happen? Leave your predictions below.