NCAA 2012 XC Preview - aka "The Big Dance" - trackboundUSA

NCAA 2012 XC Preview – aka “The Big Dance”

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Out of the hundreds that started back in August, only the lucky few remain. The NCAA Cross Country Championship meet is now upon us. On Saturday 17th November, a few days earlier than previous editions, the nation’s elite will converge on Louisville, Kentucky, for a brand new host course. The previous 8 championships have been hosted by Indiana State, Terra Haute, in what has become known as “Cross Country Town USA”.

It goes without saying that the meet is fiercely competitive. 255 of the best student athletes, each having earned their spot in the race, and there is no such thing as wildcards. To get some idea of the depth involved, we recommend checking out the PBs of athletes who finish in the 150s or worse. We had an article yesterday highlighting what makes this the most competitive race in the world, and the one with the lowest spread in finishing times.

A bad patch mid-race can cost you 50 places; likewise some teams like to charge through the field during the second half. Performing well in is therefore as much about strategy as it is shape of the athlete. The craft of each individual coach will come into play, especially given the new host course. We will see who has done their research.

It is also worth mentioning how the build-up adds to the sense of occasion. Athletes typically arrive in town on Wednesday or Thursday, three days prior to the meet. Jogging the course, watching movies, shopping, sitting around in the hotel; it is the same for everyone. On the Thursday evening a pre-race banquet is held. This will be a combination of awards and speeches, and if anything helps to build the anticipation ahead of the race. We did always use to wonder why no such banquet was held post-race but that discussion can be left to the NCAA for another day.

As per usual there is plenty of British and Irish interest. As a reference point, the most recent British and Irish winners of the men’s and women’s races include:

  • 2000: Keith Kelly (Ireland & Providence)
  • 1989: John Nuttall (Britain & Iowa State)
  • 1990 & 1991: Sonia O’Sullivan (Ireland & Villanova)
  • 1982: Mark Scrutton (Britain & Colorado)
  • 1974: Nick Rose (Britain & Western Kentucky)

Last year, Wisconsin took the men’s title and ended Oklahoma State’s chance of a ‘three-peat’. That feat had only been accomplished before by the crack outfits of Villanova ’66-68, UTEP ’78-81, Arkansas ’90-93 AND ’98-2000 and to a lesser extent Drake in the 40s, but a dominant Badgers outfit prevented the Cowboys adding their name to that illustrious list. If you would like to read more about that UTEP team and 1982 British NCAA Champ, Mark Scrutton, well, here it is.

Arizona’s Lawi Lalang looks in fine form again, having dipped under 23:00 for the 8k distance already this year, but so have team-mate Stephen Sambu and Texas Tech transfer Kennedy Kithuka. It looks set to be a Kenyan 1,2,3. Like Regionals, Nationals will be over 10k, but this shouldn’t adversely affect these guys, and if anything only lead to extend their winning margins over the rest of the field.  It will be a race to see who places first out of the non-Africans.

On the women’s side, 2010 and 2011 champ, Sheila Reid, has graduated so the chance beckons for someone to stamp their name on the race. Her Villanova team will be again competitive along with last year’s champs Georgetown, but Georgia Peel’s FSU were so dominant at Regionals – beating an excellent Vandy team – that they must surely be an outset bet for the top step. Cal Poly’s Freshman Laura Hollander will be isolated without a team, but will be duking it out with Hasay, D’Agostino, Kimayo and Saina in the individual race.

Also taking place this weekend are the NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships, which are being held in Joplin, MO, where every road out of Tulsa leads.. Whilst not as prestigious as the DI equivalent, the DII Championships are nevertheless still very competitive. Adams State has been the dominant team in recent years, winning 3 of the last 4 men’s team championships. Drew Graham and Stephen Emery compete for Adams this year, and Ieuan Thomas for rivals Western State, who pipped Adams to the title last year.

Here is our NCAA form guide. Click on the image to expand it.

We will have full updates throughout the race on Twitter. Louisville will host the Championships on Saturday, Nov. 17, at E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky. The women’s race will begin at noon ET, followed by the men’s race at 1:15 p.m. ET.

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