The Syracuse Orange travel to the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Madison Wisconsin with a different focus than last year. In 2017 the Orange women were competing for a top twenty spot while the men were pushing for the team title. This year Shannon Malone is the only Syracuse woman competing and this year’s men’s squad won’t face the same pressure. Syracuse is projected to be battling for a top 15 place in Saturday’s 10k race and they are certainly under the radar.
Head Coach Brien Bell is impressed by how Shannon has responded to a shortened senior season. “Shannon looked great (at Regionals) and probably could have run faster if needed”. It’s challenging for an athlete to return and race three very intense races without building up but Malone has had no trouble. While she’d prefer to be pulling her teammates with her on Saturday she does gain the advantage of being able to execute her own race plan without a concern for team position. It’s her final collegiate race and I believe she’s in very good position to earn All-American honors with a top 40 finish.
The women’s team race should be the best part of Saturday’s meet as there are five teams with a strong chance of winning the title: the defending champions New Mexico Lobos, Colorado Buffaloes, Oregon Ducks, Arkansas Razorbacks and Boise State Broncos.
Unlike last year when Justyn Knight won the title, no one is expecting to see an Orange singlet in the top 20 runners, but don’t be shocked if Aidan Tooker is in that position. Tooker’s one of those athletes who has a lot of big race experience and he can certainly hang with the the best runners in the country. In the NCAA Championships having a low stick is usually a requirement for teams hoping to get into the top 10 so if Tooker can be up there it will pull Syracuse higher.
Last week Joe Dragon and Dom Hockenbury stepped up to finish 2nd and 3rd on the team. These guys bring last year’s NCAA experience with them this weekend and both are flashing potential to be strong 10k xc runners. Dragon feels confident heading into the meet and felt that the Orange overcame tough conditions at regionals running “a very Syracuse race whereas we are the best team over the last 2k”. In order to finish the season on a strong note, the team will need to do that again on Saturday.
It’s difficult to race two 10ks over an 8 day period, especially in the cold. Syracuse builds their training to face this challenge and we’ll see if the conditions provide them a boost. Bell feels that the mental toughness forged by training in the Cuse is advantage because the Orange “aren’t going to let it bother us”.
For the team competition, the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks are the favorites to win their third title in a row with the BYU Cougars seen as their closest competition. The Wisconsin Badgers and Portland Pilots are the next best teams and with individual favorite Morgan McDonald and the home course advantage, the Badgers are a team to watch.
The women’s race begins at 11:45 with the men slated to start at 12:45. You have to pay to watch this meet on FloTrack (Thanks NCAA!) but you can follow live splits here.