Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013 NCAA Men's Cross Country Season Preview

After a break from the Wood Report in order to focus on school and other things, The Wood Report's 2013 NCAA Cross Country Season Preview is here. This edition of the Wood Report will break down the top 10 teams returning for 2013.

Oklahoma State
After a dominant performance at the National Championships a month ago, the Cowboys appear poised for another run for a National title next year, returning five of their top seven.

Leading the way, Tom Farrell has a proven record of improvement year after year at Nats. As long as he stays healthy and has a nice indoor/outdoor season in the 5k and 10k, he should be ready for another top 10 finish. Alongside Farrell is the reliable pair of Shadrack Kipchirchir and Joseph Manilafasha, returning 10th and 14th respectively. Those three alone are scary enough knowing how deep the Cowboys are. Adding to this strength are Nowak, Armstrong, Krotzer, and the blue chip recruiting class they will certainly garner. Okey State also has a much improved Shane Moskowitz returning and Kirubel Erassa, who struggled at Nationals, but are possible All Americans this year. At this point, although early, Oklahoma State appears to be the heavy favorite for a repeat national championship in 2013.

Northern Arizona
The surprise team of the year in 2012 was definitely the Lumberjacks of Northern Arizona. Flying under the radar for the much of the season, NAU looked strong at the Mountain Regional beating BYU and Colorado handily. NAU looked quite good at the National Championships in Louisville as well, placing fourth overall. What is scary for every other team in the country is that the entire top 5 of this team is returning and they are mostly all young and very talented athletes with bright futures.

Led by the three-headed monster of Brian Shrader, Futsum Zienasellassie and Matt McElroy, NAU will pose the biggest threat to Oklahoma State in the their quest for a back to back title and their fourth in the last five years. With McElroy placing 3rd at Big Sky, and Caleb Hoover and Nathan Weitz not far off him at Nationals, the Lumberjacks can keep a nice group of five together throughout most of the season. Barring injury, NAU looks to be a top threat to Oklahoma State and the rest of the nation looking ahead to 2013.

Mark Wetmore continually proves his brilliance in Boulder as he perennially gathers together touted (and some not so highly touted athletes), and makes a run at a national championship. Last year was a shining example: without Wacker, Bosshard, and Medina, the Buffs were just as good if not better as the 2011 team. With the addition of Jake Hurysz and a few others, Colorado finished 3rd at the national meet.

2013 appears to be another chance for Wetmore to work his magic and bring together his athletes for another shot at a national championship. With Jake Hurysz coming back as the the number 20 returner in the country and Blake Theroux, Pierce Murphy, and Connor Winter at 24, 27, and 38 respectively, Colorado looks to be ready to take a shot at Oklahoma State and NAU for another top three finish and maybe even a championship run.

Keep in mind that their fifth returner, Hugh Dowdy, was running well all season, top 20 at Pre-Nats, but seemed to struggle down the stretch and especially at Nationals, if he runs up to par as a solid fifth man, the Buffaloes are just as capable as NAU to take down the Cowboys in 2013.

After a somewhat disappointing 2012 campaign being ranked as high as 3rd and finishing 6th, the Cougars return 6 of their 7 from Nationals for 2013. Jared Ward is the 6th returner and Tylor Thatcher stepped up in the place of an injury plagued Rex Shields, and he comes in as the 22nd returner in the nation.

With Mormons now being able to go on missions at the age of 18 instead of 19, BYU's recruiting class will not be as strong as in years past in terms of an immediate effect on the program, so the Cougars will rely on newly returned missionaries and the strong depth they had for the majority of the season last year. Conner Peloquin returns as the number three after a much improved 2012 along with Tommy Gruenewald and Steve Flint rounding out the top 5 returners. The wildcard is Jason Witt, who was second to last at Nats with strep throat, but BYU's 5th man on their 4th place 2011 squad. If he his healthy and has a solid summer along with Thatcher and Peloquin improving as they are, BYU should look ripe for another shot at the podium in 2013.

Another letdown in 2012 at Nationals for the Cardinal leaves many wondering if they will ever be able to pull it together at Nats to even podium, especially in light of the talent they have. Considering the coaching situation in Palo Alto now settled and with a very strong core of athletes returning, it is hard to imagine Stanford not making a push at the podium in 2013.

Erik Olson is the top returning athlete from Nationals at 50, along with Joe Rosa at 68 and Tyler Stutzman at 82. The under achieving Cardinal have some serious horses that are coming back from 2012. Both Rosa's, Stutzman and Olson are all solid, along with Andrew Berberick who should be healthy and ready to roll in 2013 after a solid top 50 performance at Nats in 2011, and the crop of young talent they pull in every year (Thomas Graham, Billy Orman and others) Stanford has the pieces to make the podium in 2013.

New Mexico
With a 21st place in 2012, this team may come as a surprise to many at number 6, but the Lobos have a legitimate shot to be a podium contender in 2013 after looking at what they bring back.

The first to look at is Luke Caldwell. The British product is the 17th returner from 2012 and only improved as the season went  on, with the experience he gained helping him lead the Lobos in 2013. Pushing the pace up front with Caldwell will be Ross Millington who redshirted the 2012 season. Millington is a sub 8:00 3k guy and was UNM's number 1 for most of 2011 before his DNF at Nationals. Those two up front are top 25 caliber runners in 2013. Sean Stam, Elmar Engholm and Adam Bitchell round out the top 5. If Millington can return to his 2012 indoor form and if Sean Stam can stay healthy with, Engholm improving over the longer distances (he has run 1:47 and 3:41), the Lobos will give the above teams a run for the podium.

Another surprising team in 2012 were the Golden Hurricane of Tulsa. Chris O'Hare showed the nation the nice range he has after running several nice 10K's. O'Hare is the 12th returner in the nation and will once again lead Tulsa up front going into his final season.

Some nice additions are Freshman Marc Scott is the 55th returner and Danny Thater 57th. Dennis Hodapp was solid for Tulsa for much of the season, but ended his season poorly at nationals and should look to reassert himself in the core athletes in Tulsa's ever impressive pack running. Chris O'Hare could be scary next year and will be looking for a top 10 performance, if he does that along with the rest of the team, as young as they are, they look like a solid top 10 for 2013.

Jason Vigilante has done an impressive job with the Princeton Tigers since he took over the program last year. Losing Donn Cabral could have really hurt the Tigers and put them in a major hole, but somehow without him Princeton ended up with a solid 11th place team finish and look to build off of that with athletes returning from the same core.

Once again leading the way up front will be Chris Bendtsen and Alejandro Arroyo-Yamin, who gained some nice experience running tough in big meets in 2012. Behind them is an ever steady Tyler Udland and a runner who ran surprisingly well for him at Nats, Matt McDonald. Eddie Owens is a solid #4 who will help keep a strong pack for Princeton, who looks to have their best team in years in 2013.

Rob Conner should be excited looking ahead at the 2013 season with the nice crew of talent that he has returning from a 12th place 2012 National finish. Scott Fauble is the 16th returner in the country and has only improved each season he has run as a Pilot. Along with Fauble is David Perry who struggled at times during 2013, but is very talented and should be a nice #2, running right with Fauble up front. Woody Kincaid was a revelation last year for the Pilots as he placed third at West Coast Conference, and is the 33rd returner in the nation. Jacob Smith got his feet wet running as a true freshman last year and has great potential; he'll look to be a nice core 4-5 man for Portland in 2013.

The key is a 5th runner for Portland. If Charlie MacDonald, Izaic Yorks, or Danny Martinez (a blue-chip recruit from California, 2011 XC State champ, who redshirted 2012) can step up this is a very dangerous team for 2013 and could surprise a lot of teams up front.

Deciding on number 10 was tough. There are several teams that could be put in this spot like Arkansas, Texas, Syracuse, and perhaps Oregon (especially considering their great recruiting classes). But Forest Braden has been impressive in his first years at the helm in Westwood.

Lane Werley returns as the top athlete for the Bruins coming in as the #15 returner in the country and improved in every race he ran, looking especially solid at Pac-12's and the West Regional, placing 5th in both races. UCLA also returns an ever improving Dustin Fay who ran solidly at Nats, and Nohe Lema, who improved nicely as the season went on as well. If Braden can continue to help UCLA get better as they did in 2012, the Bruins look poised for a top 10 finish in their 2013 campaign.


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