2017 FloXC Countdown: #9 Iona Men
Probable Top Four:
SR Gilbert Kirui (13:50 5K; 28:54 10K; 6th at '17 NCAA Outdoor 10K; 20th at '15 NCAA XC; 87th at '16 NCAA XC)
SR Chartt Miller (4:00 Mile; 7:57 3K; 13:49 5K; 6th at '17 NCAA Outdoor 5K; 43rd at '15 NCAA XC; 64th at '16 NCAA XC)
JR Liam Dee (3:58 Mile; 8:02 3K; 14:04 5K; 7th at '17 NCAA Indoor Mile; 117th at '16 NCAA XC)
SR Johannes Motschmann (8:07 3K; 14:14 5K; 8:46 3K SC; 93rd at '16 NCAA XC)
Fifth Man Battle:
SR Brandon Allen (8:09 3K; 14:21 5K; 8:42 3K SC; 192nd at '16 NCAA XC)
SO Jac Hopkins (8:08 3K; 14:24 5K; 170th at '16 NCAA XC)
SR Andrew Tario (14:17 5K; 29:49 10K)
FR Jack O'Leary (8:14 3K; 14:28 5K; 6th at '16 Euro Jr. XC)
Jordan Brannan via Colts Neck, NJ (9:08 3200; 14:56 5K XC; 25th at '16 NXN)
Graham Baird via Canada (85th at '17 World Sr. XC)
Despite a roster practically bursting at the seams with talent, a national podium spot has eluded the Iona men since just after their Mick Byrne era in 2008. Nearly 10 years later, the Iona men will be looking to flip that script and capitalize on their abilities, with yet another top-ten finish looking likely.
The '17 Gaels may just be the most diverse group of athletes in the NCAA -- our projected top eight come from eight different countries (Kenya, Australia, England, Germany, Canada, Wales, USA, and Ireland). They lost their top '16 returner in Kieran Clements due to graduation, but that isn't saying much considering he was 'only' 44th. It's a rarity for a top-ten team to not have any All-Americans. But one man will be expected to surpass that placing and more than make up for Clements' absence in 2017 -- Gilbert Kirui.
Kirui has the most impressive distance track resume of the Iona squad, with a sub-29 10K best set just this year along with a sixth-place finish at outdoor NCAAs in that event. That finish wasn't even the best in a distance event at outdoor nationals for a Gael last year though -- fellow senior Chartt Miller is coming off an equal 5K best of 13:49 and an equal placing of sixth in that event at Nationals this year, and he'll also be contending for top honors.
The Gael with the greatest speed would be Liam Dee, who has the best mile PR of the contenders with his 3:58 this year and some decent 14:04 5K strength to back it up. Dee is the only other Iona man to boast a NCAA top finish in a track event this year, with his seventh-place All-American showing in the indoor mile. Dee has struggled at nationals his last two appearances without a top-100 finish to his name, but should he finally figure it out in 2017 his points difference could be huge for the team.
One thing going against the Gaels is that 2016 represented a career low at nationals for all but one of the five two-time returners -- all of Kirui (20th -> 87th), Miller (43rd -> 64th), Dee (110th -> 117th), and Allen (152nd -> 197th). That one exception would be senior Johannes Motschmann, who finished 209th in 2015 but improved upon that to a career-best 93rd-place finish in 2016. Coming off career bests in all the mid-distances and an impressive 8:46 steeplechase PR this year, Motschmann should be good for another big jump at NCAAs should he remain healthy.
There are a host of incoming freshmen/redshirt freshmen that could snatch the likely fifth spot should they compete, led by Jack O'Leary, Jordan Brannan, and Graham Baird. The coaching staff tells us that Brannan and Baird will redshirt, but if they give the green light to O'Leary he should be a force with his 14:28 prep 5K best, and perhaps more impressive his sixth-place finish at the European junior XC champs last year, beating some big names including Cheserek-dethroner Josh Kerr.
The material is there for Iona to at least match their eighth-place showing from last year, but with so much variability in the runners we could be looking at huge swing depending on how the team performs on the day. One thing that's certain is that Iona runs as a pack -- no two scoring Gaels were more than 24 spots apart last year -- so should Kirui and Miller lead the way with All-American finishes, the rest should follow nicely.
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