It was a dramatic end to a streak that lasted nearly a decade.
At last year’s Big 12 Championship, Iowa State emerged victorious from a tight three-team race with Texas and Oklahoma State, where the trio was separated by four points. The narrow victory ended Oklahoma State’s nine-year reign over the conference.
Though the margin was small, Iowa State’s win was perhaps indicative a much larger balance of power in the conference. This year, they enter the meet as big favorites—poised to defend their title and perhaps begin a run of titles to rival Oklahoma State's.
They have the team to do it. The Cyclones are the only team in the Big 12 currently ranked in the men’s FloXC rankings (No. 5) and have two top-20 runners in Edwin Kurgat (No. 5) and Andrew Jordan (No. 17).
In their only true test of the season, Iowa State placed fourth at the Nuttycombe Invitational, the best Big 12 performance of anyone in the meet. Kurgat took second in that race—a showing that removed any doubt that he belonged among the NCAA’s top 10 runners.
But it goes beyond the top two for Iowa State. Festus Lagat, Dan Curts, and Stanley Langat make up a strong core projected to have five finishers in the first 10 when they race on their home course in Ames on Friday.
The best challenger to Iowa State is the team they unseated in 2017, Oklahoma State. Ashenafi Hatte and Isai Rodriguez are likely the only duo that can break up Iowa State’s top three. Hatte is a junior college transfer who placed 13th at Nuttycombe and then won the Arturo Barrios Invitational two weeks later.
Rodriguez, a freshman, finished just behind Hatte in that race—his NCAA cross country debut. But Oklahoma State, like every other team in the conference this year, doesn’t have the depth to stay with Iowa State.
Alex Rogers, John Rice, and Sam Worley give the Longhorns the inside track for third place. Worley was third at this meet last year, but hasn’t found that same form this fall placing 19th in the Arturo Barrios Invitational and 72nd at the Nuttycombe Invitational.
Individually, Kurgat is as big of a favorite as his team. His runner-up finish at Nuttycombe is far and away the conference’s best performance this season. Assuming he runs full bore on Friday, there isn’t anyone in the conference who can run with him. Hatte, Rodriguez, and the rest of the Iowa State team should occupy the majority of the top 10. Texas Tech’s Miguel Bautista was second at this meet in 2016 and is fresh off a third-place run at the Arturo Barrios Invitational.
Cyclones Go For The Three-Peat In Women’s Race
In the women’s race, Iowa State will look to win their third conference title in a row. Their projected margin isn’t as large as the men, but they are the only women’s team in the field currently ranked in the top 25.
Their team is lead by Cailie Logue and Anne Frisbie. Logue, a sophomore, placed 21st at Nuttycombe. Frisbie ran well to take 31st, helping the Cyclones to a ninth-place finish in the team race. Sophomore Amanda Vestri gives them another runner with top-10 capabilities.
West Virginia and Oklahoma State will make this team race competitive. West Virginia hasn’t raced at either of the big meets in Madison, which puts them a bit under-the-radar. Their duo of Hayley Jackson and Olivia Hill should lead the team, but their small one-through-five gap lands them in contention.
Oklahoma State has a clear No. 1 runner in Sinclaire Johnson, and her low score will pull the Cowgirls into the top three. Johnson was only 28th in this meet last year, but has made huge gains in 2018. She was 15th at the Nuttycombe Invitational, and won the Arturo Barrios Invitational.
Sharon Lokedi of Kansas headlines the women’s individual race as she goes for her third consecutive Big 12 victory. The NCAA champion in the 10,000m had a setback at Pre-Nationals, where she finished sixth in her race, but she is still far and away the class of the field. Her run at Pre-Nationals dropped her from first to ninth in the individual rankings.
This race will help to see if Lokedi can reassert herself as a national championship contender. There’s nobody she can beat on Friday that will make her shoot up the rankings, but the race can serve to reset Lokedi’s season before she gears up for her final two meets.