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Syracuse XC Preview: Will the Orange men continue their ACC dominance in 2018?

The names will be different but the result should remain the same

FloSports: FloTrack ACC XC Championships Matt Lunsford-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of year again everyone. The morning air’s a bit cooler and your mind starts to wander to thoughts of fabulous Fall afternoons spent watching the NCAA’s most majestic sport.....cross country.

For the Syracuse Orange the 2018 season is all about transition. Head Coach Chris Fox has moved on to the professional ranks. Last year’s ACC Indvidual Champions Justyn Knight and Paige Stoner have exhausted their cross-country eligibility (Paige will be back for track) so new leaders will have to emerge. I’m breaking this preview into two parts, women were up first so here’s the outlook for the Orange men.

In one of his 2018 Predictions, John suggested that the Syracuse men’s cross-country dominance of the ACC would come to an end. It’s an understandable take when you look at the losses of Justyn Knight, Colin Bennie and Philo Germano from this year’s team and that was before we knew Chris Fox was moving on to the professional ranks. However, I think there’s a very good chance that the Syracuse men will be celebrating a 6th-straight ACC title next Fall and I’ll explain why.

When you look at last year’s ACC results and remove the Seniors (assuming those do not have a 5th year), the Virginia Cavailers will return the top two runners in 2018 in Brent Demarest and Lachlan Cook. After that, Syracuse’s Aidan Tooker and Joe Dragon will be 3rd and 5th respectively. I think Noah Affolder will build upon his NCAA Outdoor appearance and join Tooker at the top of Syracuse’s group this Fall. The steeple duo should be in contention at the top of the ACC pack and both guys have the potential for All-American honors.

The NC State Wolfpack will have three runners returning in the top 10 and look to be the biggest threat to Syracuse’s title reign. When you look to Orange runners like Dom Hockenbury, Iliass Aouani, and Kevin James who find themselves outside the top 10 returners but have the potential to climb the ranks this Fall they will be keys to Syracuse extending the title streak. Let’s not forget that last year the Orange beat the rest of the ACC combined so knocking them from the top of the podium will be challenging.

On the National scene, Syracuse will not be expected to contend for a podium spot and that’s probably realistic for this group. The Orange start the season as the 10th-ranked team in the country. Defending champions Northern Arizona will be the favorites along with the BYU Cougars, Stanford Cardinal, and Portland Pilots. The Orange should be strong enough to easily be in the top two in the Northeast region, but the team is certainly reloading with some young talent to take a run at the top in 2019/2020.

Along with the runners mentioned above Syracuse will look to veterans Mickey Burke and Simon Smith along with redshirt freshmen Nathan Henderson and Stephen Schultz to take steps forward to make the Orange a surprise team in November.

In the past we assumed that the freshmen distance runners would redshirt during XC season, but Tooker and Affolder competed right away and it’s possible that Head Coach Brien Bell might tap one of this year’s recruits to contribute. Syracuse has added Michael Phillips (Florida), Thomas Witkowicz (Ontario), Matt Scrape (Ohio) and New Yorkers Silas Derfel and Nathan Lawler to the roster. This group might not have the accolades of some of the other incoming freshmen across the country but there is a lot of talent there.

The Orange open up the season this Saturday at Colgate followed by a Friday afternoon meet at Penn State. We’ll get to see which runners are getting the 2018 season off on the right foot.