By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
Editor’s Note: Course Chronicles will run each Wednesday on the SEC Digital Network during the SEC Cross Country season.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – For fans of Southeastern Conference cross country, last weekend was an exciting one. With the exception of the Arkansas men, each of the league’s teams competed either Friday or Saturday and those events resulted in a number of impressive performances.
The two most important weeks of the cross country regular season are last weekend and the weekend of Oct. 12. Those performances (and any after Sept. 21) count toward the NCAA regional selection process, which means teams are fighting hard to race well and post “wins” against the top teams in the nation and their respective regions. Because of this, you are more likely to see teams racing the lineups that they will use at the upcoming conference and national championships.
The majority of SEC teams this past weekend were competing at either the Notre Dame Invitational in South Bend, Ind., or the Greater Louisville Classic in Louisville, Ky. Both featured strong fields but the one advantage to the Greater Louisville Classic was that the meet was run on the same course the NCAA Championships will be on Nov. 17.
One of the takeaways I had from the Louisville meet is this - the men’s teams from Georgia and Missouri really made a strong statement, finishing third and fourth, respectively. The Tigers cracked into the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association on Tuesday for the first time since Sept. 1, 2000. The SEC coaches, in their preseason poll, voted Missouri to finish sixth at the league championships but, based on Mizzou’s performance this past weekend, look for the Tigers – along with Georgia - to be in contention near the top of the standings come Oct. 26.
There won’t be much activity this weekend in the SEC cross country world. The majority of teams will be preparing to compete at either the Wisconsin/adidas Invitational or the Pre-National Meet in two weeks, where each squad is sure to face its stiffest competition of the season.
If you just looked at the headlines this week regarding the latest USTFCCCA poll, things looked about the same: “Five SEC Teams Ranked In Latest USTFCCCA Poll.” If you happened to look through the complete poll, things looked much different.
The majority of teams across the nation competed this past weekend and this was especially true in the SEC. Many of the nation’s top squads were squaring off with one another last week. As I mentioned earlier, experimentation with lineups has largely ceased, with most teams refining their teams to those athletes who will be competing during the championship season.
All of these things coupled together has caused a large shift in this week’s USTFCCCA national rankings. The process behind ranking the teams is not scientific. Each coach that votes in the poll has his or her own reasoning behind their selection; there is no direction set for voting by the USTFCCCA.
There are several schools of thought behind the voting: some coaches focus on a more regional-based format that places strong emphasis in the head-to-head competition and the subsequent “wins.” Other coaches take into account the depth of a team by analyzing its pack spread, while still others try to analyze each team holistically based on where they expect them to finish at the national championships.
What did that mean in this week’s poll? I’m going to break down each poll to show the changes that took place this past week.
On the men’s side, the top-four spots remained unchanged, including first-place Wisconsin. Iona moved into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the poll, after claiming the team title at the Greater Louisville Classic in a field that featured four ranked teams and the 2011 NCAA individual champion Lawi Lalang of Arizona.
From an SEC perspective, Texas A&M dropped from 14th in the men’s poll to unranked after a seventh-place showing at the Notre Dame Invitational. Arkansas, which did not compete, dropped to No. 19. Georgia, which was third at the Greater Louisville Classic, rocketed from “receiving votes” to the nation’s 24th-ranked spot. Missouri, which finished fourth in Louisville, went from unranked to No. 30 nationally to record the program’s first national ranking in more than a decade.
For the women, Florida State took over the nation’s top-ranked spot for the first time since the final regular-season poll of the 2011 campaign. The Seminoles captured the team victory at the Notre Dame Invitational, defeating No. 20 Notre Dame, No. 19 New Mexico and No. 25 N.C. State, among others. Arizona moved into a program-best No. 2 spot, moving up 10 spots after defeating then-No. 1 Washington at the Greater Louisville Classic.
For SEC teams, Vanderbilt and Arkansas both move out of the top-10, though both performed well at the Greater Louisville Classic. The Razorbacks are ranked 11th this week and the Commodores are 12th.
Many thanks, as always, to Tom Lewis at the USTFCCCA for his help in understanding this week’s poll.
Three SEC teams – Florida, Kentucky and Ole Miss – will travel to Louisville, Ky., on Oct. 13 to participate in the Pre-National Meet. The event features a 6K race for the women and an 8K race for the men at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park, the site of the 2012 NCAA Cross Country Championships.
But it’s not just the course that will provide great preparation for the upcoming NCAA Championships. The competition, which will feature 77 men’s teams and 77 women’s teams, will be among the best in the nation. Much gratitude to Ira Green, track and field SID at the University of Louisville, for this great data.
Let’s dive deeper into the upcoming Pre-National meet.
A total of 13 men’s teams that will compete at the meet are either ranked or receiving votes in the latest poll. Of those ranked teams, four are currently among the nation’s top 10 in No. 3 BYU, No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 7 Colorado and No. 9 Tulsa.
There are also 13 women’s teams among the field that are either ranked or receiving votes in the national poll, including four top-10 squads in No. 1 Florida State, No. 4 Oregon, No. 6 Georgetown and No. 8 Michigan.
There is no doubt that this year’s Pre-National meet will be the premier regular-season competition of 2012. Last season, a number of top teams instead attended the Wisconsin/adidas Invitational instead of the Pre-National Meet. This year, most of those squads are headed to Louisville.
The comparison between this year’s Pre-National field and last year’s is eye-catching.
On the men’s side in 2011, only eight teams entered the meet ranked or receiving votes in the national poll. Of that number, just three were ranked in the top 10 and one was in the top five (Iona). Also, at this year’s event, 11 schools are ranked in the top 30. Last year featured just six schools of the eight that ranked in the top 30.
The women’s side in 2011 was highlighted by Nos. 3-5 in the rankings in Florida State, Colorado and Georgetown, respectively. After that, Michigan was the only other team ranked in the top 30 at No. 18. Six other schools were featured in the poll, but were just receiving votes: Vanderbilt, Indiana, Kansas State, Tulsa, Dartmouth and Cornell. This season, 10 women’s teams in the top 30 will descend on Louisville, with three additional squads receiving votes.
• Cally Macumber of Kentucky has proven to be very impressive over the past couple of weeks and, on Tuesday, was named the SEC Women’s Runner of the Week. A week ago, she won the Virginia/Panorama Farms Invitational and then was second this past weekend at the Greater Louisville Classic against a very difficult field. Included in that performance and not to be taken lightly, Macumber finished ahead of Washington’s Katie Flood at the Greater Louisville Classic. Flood is the defending Pacific-12 Conference cross country champion and posted a top-10 showing at the NCAA Championships a year ago.
• The Notre Dame Invitational provided another unusual finish for Henry Lelei of Texas A&M. Lelei, this week named the SEC Co-Men’s Runner of the Week, placed second at the Notre Dame Invitational this past Friday. He was among the lead pack throughout the race and led the field heading into the race’s final stages. However, he followed the lead cart when it left the race pack with 120 meters remaining, which allowed Tulsa’s Chris O’Hare to claim the lead. O’Hare won the race in 23:33, just three seconds ahead of Lelei. Last season at a 6K cross country meet, Lelei boasted a sizeable lead, but finished the face a loop too early. At the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, last June, Lelei was on pace for a second-place finish in the steeplechase final before clipping the final barrier, falling and placing fourth. Lelei has proven he is a talented runner and should be a force with whom to be reckoned at the SEC Championships. If there’s anything he could improve upon for future meets, it would most definitely be his luck.
• An addition to the schedule this week, Missouri will send a small contingent of athletes to compete at the Gary Stoner Invitational in Fayetteville, Mo., on Saturday.
Until next time.