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NCAA Cross Country Nationals: What to Look For

November 13th, 2012

Photo credits (from left):pac-12.com; flickriver.com; Texastech.com; TrackTownPhoto.com; Runnersworld.com; Madison.com

Women’s Race

If excitement is what you want to see in a cross-country race, the women’s race is one you will want to keep your eye on. Both the individual and team races are promising to be close all the way to the finish.

Individual Race

After a dominant performance in last weekend’s west regionals, Jordan Hasay (a local favorite here in SLO) seems to be back in top form.  Hasay has improved every race after a shaky start and we hope this trend can continue into the weekend.

Still, one slip can change the outcome of the individual race and there are a handful of seasoned veterans and rising stars that could take the title. Laura Hollander, a true freshman running for Cal Poly, has a very no-nonsense racing style. She takes the pace out hard and forces other runners to run her race. Because of this tactic, Hollander has become a freshman phenom and is expected to place high at nationals with an outside chance of taking it all.

However, Jordan Hasay knows how to race in all conditions and last weekend Hasay delivered Hollander’s first loss of the year at western regionals.  Another runner expected to be in the mix will be Betsy Saina of Iowa state. After placing 2nd behind Hollander at Wisconsin, you can bet she won’t let her out of her sights this time around.

With the track speed to kick anyone down, this race is going to be close. It doesn’t matter if you were lucky enough to make the trip down to Louisville on November 17, or you are watching from home, expect to be hoarse from yelling after this one.

Team Race

On the team side, three strong teams look to be in contention for first place.  All three teams look to have the same ingredients for obtaining the goal they have been working toward all year. That strategy is having a low stick in a front-runner and a tight pack behind her.

The Florida State Seminoles are hungry after last year’s placement and they have shown it in their racing, rolling every team they have met this year. The Seminoles have positioned themselves as the team to beat and they appear up for the task.

Starting cool and getting hot at the right time, the Oregon Ducks are a force to be reckoned with come race day. With their front-runner back, the team seems to be headed in the right direction. And although their home is “track town” and not “cross country town” USA, Eugene would love to have this trophy at home.

Another team you should never count out is Iowa State. Much like Oregon, a front-runner will get things going with four strong runners in the wake. Look for the team lead to change several times as the race progresses.

Men’s Race

Individual Race

Look for the former champion Lawi Lalang to assert his dominance on the 300+ runners during the race and repeat his win. His teammate Stephen Sambu will go stride for stride with the great runner just like he has done all season. With similar aerobic ability, the last straight away will be the deciding factor between these two great runners, and with more leg turnover Lawi can be expected to be the victor.

One person that could stand in the way of the Arizona 1-2 punch is Texas Tech’s Kennedy Kithuka. He knows what he needs to do, and that is take the legs out of Lawi. The only way to do that is to go out hard and never look back. Lawi will most likely respond with ease, but this is cross-country, and bad days happen to great runners all the time. And a bad day for Lawi is a great day for Kennedy.

Team Race

Two powerhouse teams have used two different season strategies in order to win the men’s cross-country team title. The Colorado Buffalos have been fire-hardened by racing well all season long. Their pack looks smooth and at home on the cross-country course.  After a 3rd place finish in the Mountain Region, the Buffalos might appear to have some weak spots. However, Mark Wetmore, coach of the Buffalos, knows what he is doing and most likely had his team do just enough to move on to nationals. This is still the team that took the PAC 12 with only an 8 second spread; placing them in the chaotic flood of talented runners will only strengthen their team lead.

Look for the Buffalos to find their teammates early, pack up, and work together in the front of the race. On the other hand, the Oklahoma State Cowboys took the early half of the season easy, getting ready for the late season push, and it seems to be working. They trampled what was called the most competitive conference in the NCAA by scoring an amazing 24 points. Much like the Buffalos, the Cowboys might have taken regionals easier in order to gear up for nationals. The Cowboys will run their race much like they planned their season. Look for them to start slow, but as the halfway point approaches start chasing people down. The only question is, can they run with the Buffalos?

Even though these two teams are favorites, there will be a number of teams trying to ruin their dreams. One of those teams is the Badgers of Wisconsin. Back to full strength, the defending champions will look to do what Oklahoma State did in 2009 and 2010, win back to back.

At the start of the cross-country season it appeared there were three teams that were shoulders above the rest. But as Nationals approaches and teams that dominated early cool off and other teams start to peak, it could be anyone’s race.

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