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More NCAA Dominance For North Central, And Other DIII Regional Analysis

More NCAA Dominance For North Central, And Other DIII Regional Analysis
Photo: UW-Oshkosh Athletics
The NCAA cross country regional slate officially wrapped up on Saturday, as the eight Division III qualifying meets took place across the country. We here at FloTrack were especially focused on how the NCAA favorites looked in their dress rehearsals for nationals.

Sixteen teams -- the top two from each region -- earned automatic berths to next Saturday's finale in Elsah, Illinois. The remaining 16 at-large squads and all the individual spots will be announced later today by the NCAA. 

As a reminder, you can watch the 2017 NCAA DIII Cross Country Championships live right here on FloTrack on November 18.

Here's our breakdown of the regional action from Saturday.

North Central men should dominate NCAAs once again; Johns Hopkins has big question to answer.

The top-ranked men's and women's teams, North Central and Johns Hopkins, both cruised to easy victories on Saturday in their regions, and the picture is clear heading to NCAAs: The 2016 champs will each be favored next weekend. 

North Central put four in the top 10 in the Midwest region to easily topple FloXC No. 3 UW-La Crosse, 34-81. For a team that won nationals last season by a record 144 points and had dominated every race so far this season, today's result was not exactly a surprise. In our preview of the weekend, we highlighted that the matchup between NCC and UWL on Saturday would serve as a litmus test for NCAAs since the talented Eagles squad had yet to race North Central in 2017. The 17-time NCAA champs passed that test on Saturday with flying colors.

After crushing a team that should podium next weekend, the question isn't if North Central will repeat, but by how much. Last year, the Cardinals beat eventual NCAA third-place team UW-Eau Claire by 54 points at regionals. They went on to utterly crush them by 149 points a week later. North Central is no doubt coming for their 18th NCAA cross country title in a downhill freight train. Might they better their margin of victory record from last season? We'll see.

While the Johns Hopkins ladies won't be quite as heavily favored as the No. 1 men's team, JHU's regional performance -- even in a weaker region -- was quite impressive. The Blue Jays also had their top four among the first 10 finishers, and perhaps most crucially, they returned junior All-American Felicia Koerner to the lineup. 

Koerner, who won the Mideast region last fall and ultimately finished 29th at NCAAs, had not raced since mid-September. Koerner was sixth on Saturday and is a tremendous difference maker for Hopkins as they face an MIT team that nearly beat them in mid-October. There is one concern for Hopkins, however: Tasha Freed, who was their top runner when they beat MIT last month, did not race on Saturday after a DNF at the conference meet. If Freed is a no-go at nationals, MIT could have a shot to win their first ever cross country title. Regardless, we still expect the team that has won four of the last five NCAA crowns to be ready come race day.

Upset in Atlantic region means men's individual race is wide open.

One important rule to follow when watching NCAA cross country is to use caution when analyzing regional results. As it is just a qualifying meet, the effort level can vary greatly from one runner to the next. That said, we're going to go ahead and break the rule to say this: The DIII individual race is wide open. After SUNY Geneseo's Isaac Garcia-Cassani, who was the two-time defending Atlantic region champion and top NCAA returner, lost on Saturday, suddenly none of the top contenders for the title is without some bruises.

The man who beat Garcia-Cassani, Grant O'Connor, is no slouch as he was the No. 2-ranked individual in the FloXC entering the weekend. But O'Connor lost to Garcia-Cassani by 14 seconds earlier in the season and was only 25th at NCAAs last fall. Another contender, Darin Lau of UW-Eau Claire, has been top 10 at NCAAs each of the last two seasons, but he lost to Garcia-Cassani and North Central's Dhruvil Patel in mid-October. And Patel didn't even win his conference meet, as North Central teammate Jared Borowsky got him by six seconds there. But Borowsky finished almost 30 seconds behind all three of Garcia-Cassani, Patel, and Lau earlier in the season! 

See how crazy things have gotten? Or perhaps Garcia-Cassani was simply taking it easy with a week to go before nationals.

Ithaca's Taryn Cordani is the women's individual favorite, but Bryn McKillop of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps should challenge.

While the men's individual race took an unexpected turn at regionals, nothing has changed in regards to the women's favorite for NCAAs: Taryn Cordani of Ithaca remains the woman to beat. The junior has not lost against DIII competition this season, and her four wins have come with a 36-second average margin of victory. Cordani picked up another easy one on Saturday at the Atlantic region with a painless 19-second gap that actually marked her closest win of the season. The three-time NCAA champion on the track has yet to finish top 10 at cross country nationals, but her resounding victory in October over FloXC No. 2 Khia Kurtenbach, who was 10th at NCAAs last fall, proved that Cordani was the real deal on the cross country course.

One woman she hasn't beat this season, however, is Bryn McKillop of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. The All-American pair have yet to meet in 2017. McKillop will enter NCAAs having won her last five races, and she actually beat both Cordani and Kurtenbach at nationals last November. Cordani stills stands out as the favorite because of her three track titles from last spring, but don't be all too surprised if McKillop scores an upset next weekend.

Here are the automatic qualifiers to the 2017 NCAA DIII Cross Country Championships:

Atlantic SUNY Geneseo SUNY Geneseo
RPI Ithaca
Central Loras Carleton
Carleton Nebraska Wesleyan
Great Lakes Calvin Hope
DePauw Calvin
Mideast Haverford Johns Hopkins
Carnegie Mellon Elizabethtown
Midwest North Central UW-Eau Claire
UW-La Crosse Washington (Mo.)
New England MIT MIT
Amherst Tufts
South/Southeast Christopher Newport Trinity (TX)
Rhodes Emory
West Pomona-Pitzer Claremont-Mudd-Scripps
UC Santa Cruz Whitworth
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