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Upsets & Upstarts Spice Up NCAA Title Race After DII Conference Weekend

Upsets & Upstarts Spice Up NCAA Title Race After DII Conference Weekend
NCAA Division II cross country conference championships nationwide took center stage this weekend as Division I squads took an off week before their conference meets. Saturday's action provided a taste of what's to come at November's NCAA DII Championships, which can be seen LIVE on FloTrack. Judging by the weekend results, the title fights in Evansville, Indiana, will be fascinating.

Check out our four takeaways from the top NCAA DII conference results. 

1. No. 2 Colorado School of Mines thumps partial Adams State squad -- should the NCAA champs be concerned?

For the second straight season, Colorado School of Mines soundly beat top-ranked Adams State at the RMAC Championships -- this time, by an impressive 54-point margin. Juniors Grant Colligan and Ricardo Ocampo went 1-2 and the Orediggers put five men in the top nine overall to easily run away from their conference rival. Today's result puts an Adams State NCAA repeat in question, and establishes Mines as a major threat to win it all in November. 

That said, it's important to put this race in perspective. The Grizzlies were without their top two runners -- Sydney Gidabuday and Kale Adams -- who both probably would have finished in the top five had they run. ASU still may have lost even with their top guns, but that's exactly what happened last year, and Adams State still went on to dominate at nationals.

Although the defending champions are certainly loaded with talent and experience, the health of All-American Gidabuday is now a serious question mark as he has not raced at all this season. The junior has 13:36 5K speed and has finished in the top 10 the last two years at NCAAs, so losing him would be a major blow. Additionally, fellow All-American Chandler Reid was only 40th today after finishing top 15 at conference the previous two seasons. The Grizzlies won't win NCAAs without those two on form.

At full strength, Adams State is still likely the best team in the nation, and their history of turning it on at Nationals is legendary. But today showed the Grizzlies may struggle get to that point in just a month, while Colorado School of Mines has already arrived.

2. Grand Valley State reminds us why they're still great.

In our preseason feature on the Grand Valley State men, we posited that the Lakers blew their best chance to win their first NCAA cross country title last season when they squandered a 13-point lead over Adams State in the final 2K. Since GVSU graduated three of their top five and Adams State brought back five All-Americans this season, the prospects of Grand Valley getting another shot at them in 2017 seemed slim. But after a 33-second spread and a 20-point thrashing at the GLIAC Championships on Saturday, the Lakers deserve some NCAA title consideration.

Grand Valley has won 16 straight GLIAC titles, so Saturday's performance wasn't out of the norm, but the two men that led them could be significant difference-makers at nationals. Senior Wuoi Mach has never been an All-American in cross country, but he looks on his way to doing that now that he's been their No. 1 at every race thus far. He was 48th at nationals last fall, but his 3:45/8:11 speed shows what he's truly capable of. And freshman Enael Woldemichael has also been a revelation for GVSU; he was third on Saturday.

With the return of last year's No. 1 Zach Panning -- who was fourth at GLIAC and owns two top-five NCAA finishes -- the Lakers suddenly look just as formidable as a year ago. Mach and Woldemichael look like All-Americans that could replace the graduated seniors' production, and Trevor Sharnas has a top-20 NCAA on his resume already. If Adams State can't find their footing, GVSU just might avenge last year's bitter end. 

3. Two Goliaths and one David emerge in women's team battle.

With our former top-ranked squad Western State redshirting NCAA champ Alicja Konieczek and All-American Sophie Seward, three favorites for the women's NCAA title have emerged after dominating their respective conference meets: Grand Valley State, Adams State, and, surprisingly, Cal Baptist.

Both Grand Valley and Adams State swept the top four places and ran away with their conference meet titles on Saturday -- the GLIAC and RMAC, respectively -- which was about the expectation for two programs that have combined to win 13 of the last 14 NCAA cross country titles.

While those two teams have long been forces on the DII scene, an upstart Cal Baptist squad might have the firepower to pull off the equivalent of a David-over-Goliath upset in November. Like the NCAA giants, CBU crushed their race on Saturday with 22 points by placing all five in the top 10. 

Impressive, but the result wouldn't have been nearly as eye-catching if weren't for the Lancers' takedown of a full-strength Grand Valley State team two weeks ago. That race showed Cal Baptist, which had their best NCAA finish ever last year in ninth place, can hang with the big dogs.   

4. Clarity arrives in the individual races.

After knocking on the NCAA individual champion door several times throughout his stellar career without receiving an answer, it appears there may finally be an opening for Tiffin senior James Ngandu very soon. Four times an NCAA runner-up on the track, Ngandu stood out the most of the individual favorites on Saturday with his solid 13-second win at the GLIAC Championships. The Kenyan is the top returner since both Vincent Kiprop and Alfred Chelanga transferred to Alabama, and with Sydney Gidabuday still on the shelf, it should be Ngandu in a class by himself in November.

The women's race at nationals should be an excellent show between U-Mary's Alexis Zeis and Alaska-Anchorage's Caroline Kurgat. Zeis should enter as the slight favorite since she won it all in 2015, but Kurgat has been impressive her last two races. She won at GNAC on Saturday by nearly a minute, and easily took down everyone at the loaded Lewis Crossover two weeks ago. This battle will be fun to watch.

How to Watch The 2017 NCAA DII XC Championships:


On TV:
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