Last Friday morning’s meet at Panorama Farms was supposed to be a battle between the two top-ranked men’s cross-country teams- the #1 Syracuse Orange and the #2 Stanford Cardinal. Instead it was the BYU Cougars who came away with the team victory scoring 39 points to the Orange’s 44. It’s the first time since the 2014 NCAA meet that Syracuse did not win the team title, but should it cause panic? Let’s dive in shall we...
First we need to start with the good news. Justyn Knight won the race in a new course record of 23:13, breaking the previous record of 23:15 established by Syracuse alum Martin Hehir. Go here and watch the 2-minute race highlight and watch how Knight took the win with a dominating final 3k as he turned an 8 second deficit at the 5k mark into a 16 second victory over Lawrence Kipkoech of Campbell. You can see that Kipkoech paid for his early pace, but Knight was over 20 seconds faster than the entire chase pack in that final stretch. For his efforts, Justyn was named the D1 Men’s XC Athlete of the Week by the USTFCCCA.
In his first meet of 2016, he certainly sent a message that he’s going to be even tougher to beat this fall. Of course, his post-race interview focused more on the team goals, which really enforces the mentality of the Orange.
Colin Bennie and Philo Germano were 6th and 7th overall, but were 44 seconds behind Knight. Iliass Aouani (12th) and Kevin James (18th) rounded out the Orange’s scoring. Joel Hubbard started the race, but dropped out after 2 miles. It seems as though Hubbard’s DNF was planned, and not as a result of injury, which is encouraging.
Of course the immediate reaction when the #1 team loses is one of concern, and some of that is valid. I’ll speculate on a couple of things, but you can also see what Head Coach Chris Fox thought about the race
For me the gap between Knight and the the rest of the Orange wouldn’t be too concerning, if the group hadn’t been so tightly packed together at the 5k mark. As you can see below, at that point Syracuse had the race comfortably in hand.
Justyn’s on a different level, but he shouldn’t put that much time on his teammates over 3k. I agree with Coach Fox that Bennie and Aouani will improve as the season progresses, but as last year showed, things have to fall perfectly to win a title.
On the other hand there shouldn’t be too much concern over one race. We saw the Sweet Road video from last week, and heard from Coach Fox that the Orange are heading into their heaviest training phase. This team is looking to claim a national title and the focus is to be fast in November, not September. The questions for Syracuse continue to focus on runners 3-5. Can the Orange get those guys to stay close to Knight and Bennie at the ACC and NCAA meets? We’ll continue to monitor this as the season progresses.
The Orange women finished 3rd at Virginia with 98 points, behind BYU (47 pts) and SMU (89 pts). As she has done all season, Madeleine Davison led Syracuse with a 9th-place finish with a time of 17:23 for the 5k course. The freshman has had an impressive start to her career and if she can keep this up, Syracuse will be in good position for a top-3 team finish in the ACC. Following Davison were Paige Stoner (12th in 17:39), Emma Wilson (23rd in 17:53), McKenzie Altmayer (27th in 17:58), and Mary Malone (28th in 18:00).
Finishing ahead of Virginia will give the young Orange women some confidence when the teams meet again next month. SU, UVA and Notre Dame all look to be battling for 2nd place behind the favored NC State Wolfpack. Not a lot was expected from the Syracuse women this season, but the team has benefited from the newcomers and with continued development this season, they have the potential to finish in the top 15 again this year. Like the men, depth is a concern so keeping the top runners healthy will be very important for the Orange.
Syracuse will be be back in action on October 14th at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational. That meet will be an opportunity for both squads to test themselves against more of the nation’s best teams.