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A cold and sloppy Lavern Gibson course in Terre Haute made for one of the most challenging DI NCAA XC Championships in recent memory. The men’s race was contested in a steady downpour, which likely contributed to a massive upset in the team battle. On the women’s side, Arkansas conquered the mud-- and their mental demons from 2018-- to win their first cross country title.
Here are the grades for the top five teams in both genders:
On a day when NAU had their first off race in four seasons, the BYU men capitalized with their five scorers each running the race of their lives in Terre Haute. Coach Ed Eyestone implored his group to get out well in the adverse conditions, knowing that moving up in the mud would be difficult.
“The cues for the race were get out well, maintain, and then win your race,” said Eyestone. “Win your race just means over the last 3k, look around you, identify the people around you, and then you win that race, whether it was for first place or 10th place or 20th place or 30th place.”
They executed perfectly. The Cougars led at every intermediate split, with their point total barely wavering at all throughout the race.
For all the talk about how the freshman for Northern Arizona would fare with the weight of defending three national titles on their shoulders, it was the Lumberjack veterans who ultimately did not deliver on Saturday. Luis Grijalva and Blaise Ferro were a combined 66 places worse in Terre Haute compared to 2018 on a day when freshmen occupied three of their top four.
The Buffaloes got great performances out of their big two of Joe Klecker (second) and John Dressel (seventh), who both finished in the top 10 for the second straight year. If you would have told Mark Wetmore that his team would finish a point behind NAU, I think the coach would’ve called his team’s performance close to a perfect day. But in reality, the Buffs have to be kicking themselves for not taking full advantage of NAU’s tough race as Eduardo Herrera and Kashon Harrison did not meet expectations in 55th and 90th, respectively.
Iowa State: A
Edwin Kurgat implemented his will on the individual race to deliver on his status as the pre-race favorite. When the Iowa State senior moved with 1200 meters to go, the race was over. Kurgat’s win led the Cyclones to their first podium finish since 1994, as their other four scorers did their part by each finishing inside the top 80.
A year after placing second to last at NCAAs, the Tulsa men were the most-improved team in 2019 in finishing fifth in Terre Haute. Junior Patrick Dever, 11th on Saturday, keyed the Golden Hurricane’s progression after joining the team this fall, but the overall catalyst was tremendous improvements from Tulsa’s 2-5 runners. Peter Lynch (13th), Cameron Field (77th), Scott Beattie (81st) and Isaac Akers (100) were a combined 336 places better than a year ago, with Beattie going from a DNF in 2018 to the team’s fourth man on Saturday.
Instead of backing away from their disastrous 14th place showing in 2018, the Razorbacks embraced their collapse in Madison and vowed to not let it happen again. No one runner embodied that more than senior Taylor Werner, 81st in 2018, who recognized that her mindset had to change for the results to do the same. “I had a mental block, and then finally, I was able to switch my mindset going into track this past year,” Werner said.
A more focused Arkansas team emerged in 2019, and on Saturday Lance Harter’s crew won their first cross country national title to complete the calendar sweep for the track and cross country program. The big four of Katie Izzo (third), Werner (fourth), Devin Clark (21st) and Carina Viljoen (28th) all ran well, while fifth runner Lauren Gregory held on to take 72nd. For a team that had to answer questions about their ability to handle the pressure of NCAAs all season, this was a convincing response.
I imagine placing three women in the top 10 exceeded BYU coach Diljeet Taylor’s expectations, especially since Courtney Wayment, the team’s No. 3 runner all season, ended up leading the team in fifth place. But I also imagine that the Cougars are lamenting a missed opportunity as a 16-second spread between their third and fourth runners at 4k grew to 42 seconds by the finish. That cost them the title.
For a team that didn’t even know if Pac-12 champion Fiona O’Keeffe was going to be able to run the day before the meet, Stanford ran about as good as they could have hoped to place third. O’Keeffe, dealing with a back injury that kept her out of regionals, gutted out a 27th place finish while Ella Donaghu and Jessica Lawson both placed in the top 11.
New Mexico: B+
A 97-second spread looks ugly, but with Kelati’s victory and Ednah Kurgat’s top 10 finish, New Mexico’s uneven race was good enough for the Lobos to podium for the third straight year. An underrated performance was Hannah Nuttall’s 35th place finish, an improvement of 36 places from 2018.
N.C. State: B
Even though they lose 10th place finisher Elly Henes to graduation, the Wolfpack look like the team of the future as they’ll bring back the rest of their squad for 2020. Freshman Kelsey Chmiel will be one to keep an eye on after finishing 22nd in Terre Haute, the second-best freshman showing in the country.