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Syracuse men’s cross country looks to reclaim ACC crown

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For the 1st time this decade the Orange are not the conference favorites to start the season

2018 NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Championship
Junior Joe Dragon (#663) is a Syracuse runner to watch in 2019
Photo by Joe Koshollek/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The 2019 Syracuse Orange men’s cross-country team starts the year in some unfamiliar territory. For the first time in years the Orange are not the pre-season favorites to win a conference title. With eight conference championships in the last 10 years Syracuse will head into the season looking to reclaim their throne and avenge last year’s defeat to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at the ACC Championships.

Last year was a big transition year for the Orange. They were replacing Justyn Knight, Colin Bennie and Philo Germano from their line-up and Brien Bell had taken over the reins as Head Coach from Chris Fox. After a strong opening meet, Syracuse struggled to find consistency among their top five for the rest of the season. Despite winning the Northeast region, the team was only able to place 26th at the NCAA Championships leaving the team determined to get back to the level they feel the program should hold.

One of the questions for Syracuse this year involves replacing Iliass Aouani who only has track eligibility and Noah Affolder who transferred to Oregon. Aidan Tooker returns from injury in the spring to assume his position as the leader on the team. Aidan told me in May that the entire team saw the loss to Notre Dame as motivation and as proof that they couldn’t expect to just show up and win. Like last year he’ll be among a group of runners considered to be favorites to win the ACC individual title (more on the others below).

Joe Dragon emerged as a consistent threat for the Orange and the hope is that he’ll be ready to take another step forward this year. Dragon was 9th at ACC’s and 8th at the Northeast Regional and if he can inch forward that can help Syracuse try and recapture the crown. Dom Hockenbury doesn’t have the track resume of others but he’s run well in the last two Northeast Regionals. He’s proven he can contribute over the 10k races but can he translate that to the 8k races. Kevin James and Simon Smith are experienced and talented runners who have the ability to close their Syracuse careers on a high note. James ran an outstanding race at ACCs last year finishing 12th and if he’s healthy he could find his way into the top 10. Nathan Henderson was 19th at the ACCs and has the mile speed to be a threat at the end of races.

FloSports: FloTrack ACC XC Championships
Syracuse will be looking to recreate this in 2019
Matt Lunsford-USA TODAY Sports

Behind this group is a number of talented underclassmen who remain a bit unknown in collegiate XC after sitting out their first year at Syracuse. Michael Phillips ran the US Junior XC meet finishing 8th and then turned in a 4:02 mile during indoor track. Both Matt Scrape (14:06 5k outdoors) and Noah Beveridge (14:15 5k during outdoor) showed some of their ability last year as they qualified for the ACC Outdoor Championships but we didn’t get to see much from Nathan Lawlor, Silas Derfel and Thomas Witcowicz. This group could push the Orange to another level this Fall if a couple of them are able to make a consistent impact.

Syracuse has been ranked 12th in the country (and 1st in the Northeast Region) in the USTCCA preseason poll. The Stride Report has the Orange 17th and the ACC coaches picked them for 2nd in the conference this year.

Notre Dame is not only considered the team to beat in the ACC. The Fighting Irish start the season as a pre-season Top 10 squad and are considered strong candidates for a podium finish at NCAAs as they return three runners who finished in the top 10 at the 2018 ACC Championship. The Irish will be led by last spring’s NCAA Outdoor 1500m Yared Nuguse who enters the year as co-ACC favorite with last year’s champion Peter Seufer of the Virginia Tech Hokies. With this year’s ACC meet in Blacksburg Seufer will have the home course advantage as he looks to repeat.

The season kicks off this Saturday at Colgate where we expect to see a lot of the younger Orange runners compete. We’ll see the full squad when Syracuse heads to Boston for the Coast-to-Coast Battle on September 20. Stay tuned to Nunes Magician for all your Syracuse cross-country news.