The fields for the 2009 NCAA National Championships will be set this weekend.
Cross country season is in full swing and this weekend the action really heats up. Nine regional championship races will be run to decide who will be represented at the 2009 D1 NCAA Cross Country Championships on November 23rd in Terre Haute, Ind. Although each region has its own story of bubble teams and top individuals, we deliver to you the top five storylines to pay attention to going into the weekend.
5. At-Large Bids: The biggest fight is for the coveted at-large bids that are handed out based upon an almost impossible to fully understand set of guidelines. Teams that don’t place in the top two spots in their region will have to wait and see if they did enough to be handed one of the select 13 at-large invitations to Terre Haute. What it comes down to is that teams that decided to show up to big, early season invitationals, outside their region, and ran well have a great shot of making scoring an at-large invite. My suggestion for so called “bubble teams”: don’t leave it to chance and get one of the auto bids because you never know what can happen when the computer spits out those final 13 qualifiers.
4. Would the real German Fernandez please stand up!: The defending NCAA 1500m champion, and true sophomore, from Oklahoma State missed most of the summer with an injury and could finish 5th or 50th at the national meet, we just don’t know. This weekend will give us a clue as to which German Fernandez we can expect in Terre Haute. He was 4th at Big-12’s and looks like he could be rounding into shape. My hope is that the German Fernandez of last track season stands up and proves he is the best young talent the NCAA has to offer.
3. Oregon Men and Women: Both the men and women Duck squads face fierce battles for the West regional crowns. The #3 Oregon men have to face #1 Stanford, which should be an all-out-war. The Cardinal destroyed the Ducks at Pac-10’s, but expect the extra 2k this weekend to make a difference in favor of the men in green and yellow. Nicole Blood and the #5 Oregon women will have their hands full with the #1 Washington Huskies. The Huskies edged the Ducks at Pac-10’s but look for Blood and freshman teammate Jordan Hasay to lead a strong charge for the regional title. My advice: never discount the Ducks in Eugene.
2. Jenny Barringer: Is it really possible that Jenny has never won a regional title, and just picked up her first Big-12 title this year? That bit of trivia is hard to comprehend, but don’t expect the Colorado star to come up short of her first regional title this weekend. Barringer should win by about 45 seconds…if she holds back. Usually a spread of over a minute between your first and second runners is bad, but I don’t think the Buffs should be worried if that happens this weekend. I see Jenny and her Colorado teammates coming home with the hardware from the Mountain region, no question.
1. Upsets: Always a thrilling prospect, they happen anywhere – well, not to Jenny Barringer, but pretty much anywhere else. Who can we look for as a potential show stealer on Saturday? Here are my top picks:
1. Portland Men: While I talked about the Mountain Regional as an epic battle between Oregon and Stanford, these two powerhouses had best not get wrapped up in their two-team race. The #7 Piolts have firepower, including WCC champ Alfred Kipchumba and a top seven that includes just one upper-class man. The last thing you want to see if you are Stanford and Oregon is a group of young, eager Portland harriers in the mix with 3k to go.
2. New Mexico Men: The #12 Lobos took down the then #7, now #14, BYU Cougars at the Mountain West Championships at BYU. They are led by standout individual Jacob Kirwa and Arkansas transfer Chris Barnacle, and took home their first conference title in 11 years. The little-known team from the thin Albuquerque air is ready to make a statement and take a run at the likes of #4 Nothern Arizona and #5 Colorado.
3. Penn State Women: The #11 Lady Nittany Lions upset #13 Illinois at the Big 10 Championship and look primed to make a splash on the national stage. Penn State’s Bridget Franek took down 2009 NCAA 5000m champion Angela Bizzarri of Illinois to win the conference title and the two will battle again this weekend for the regional crown. Penn State will need another huge race from Franek and her army if they want to steal an automatic bid from #2 Villanova or #7 West Viriginia. The Nittany Lions are ready to roll and could be the biggest spoilers of the weekend.