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10 Takes From NCAAs
There was a palpable excitement leading into this year’s NCAA Cross Country Championships – this one just had more hype around it than normal.
There were plenty of dynastic storylines to pique one’s interest and in this increasingly social media saturated world, these kids are legitimate stars with massive followings. Plus, thanks to some serious top-end team parity, the races were wide-open between a select handful of teams, which made it all the more palatable from a narrative standpoint.
The NCAA XC Championships are unlike any other college sport’s. Every team and individual shows up together on one day with a fair chance. So the outcome is treated more reverentially. There aren’t biased coaches’ polls or tough bracket draws that can cause fans to question the eventual champ. You can look back at results from years past and get a pretty clear picture of what transpired on a given day.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the meet ended, fans were probably already debating whether or not this would be considered the greatest slate of races in the meet’s history. (I’m not old enough to remember the Penn State and Indiana tie of 1942, but for as long as I’ve been alive, this has to take the cake.)
Here are my major takeaways:
Props to Nico Young and Drew Bosley. The “gas, gas, gas” tradition of Northern Arizona individuals continues on, and is so fun to watch. With the team title on the line, the duo could have easily sat back and played it safe against the risk of blowing it up. Instead, they looked fear in the eyes and invited it to dance.
North Carolina State found a way. At the beginning of the year, stats nerd Isaac Wood declared that this Wolfpack had the potential to be the greatest college cross country team ever. A bold assertion, but consider this: they lost Marlee Starliper (15:36) and Savannah Shaw (15:33) at the beginning of the season AND STILL WON! And while the Wolfpack’s top three had great races, my MVP is Nevada Moreno, who rose from 36th at Nuttycombe and 19th at ACCs to finish in 29th place. This is more than a great team, it’s a program.
It was not the tangents. The contrast between Parker Valby’s hard-from-the-gun style with Katelyn Tuohy’s conservative starts set this up to be a fascinating game of cat and mouse. The course had hills, but it was also extremely windy — as I said on the broadcast, taking the shortest path possible would be a huge advantage. And while Valby made a few mistakes by following the gator rather than taking a straight line, that was not ultimately the difference maker. Katelyn was just too strong and once she smelled blood in the water it was over. Both are sophomores. This rivalry is far from over. And as impressive as they both were in the race, their performances afterward were even more so. All Katelyn wanted to discuss was her team’s performance – that investment in the group has become the secret to her individual success. And although she was caught just 400 meters from an NCAA title, Parker was happy and in great spirits for all post-race interviews. Those are the sort of indicators that point towards long and successful careers.
Charles Hicks doesn’t miss. The worst finish of Charles Hicks’s college cross country career is 14th, and that was his freshman year at NCAAs. In his 13 other races, he’s never placed lower than 6th and that includes his European U23 title. (He’ll aim to defend it next month.) He was the first Stanford Cardinal to win an individual title at this meet, which is truly outstanding when you consider some of the names that wore the same jersey. Hicks did something Ryan Hall, Chris Derrick, Grant Fisher, Jacob Riley, Sean McGorty, and countless others did not.
The top 11 women return. In a world where some super seniors are running in their fifth NCAA championships, the women’s race was dominated by underclasswomen. Out of the top 28, there were only three seniors. (For perspective, in 2019 there were fourteen.) As expected, OSU’s Natalie Cook was way up there in 7th, the type of finish you would expect of a 15:25 high school runner. But the top freshman was Alabama’s Hilda Olemomoi in 6th, who led the Crimson Tide to a third-place finish, the highest in school history.
Never doubt Northern Arizona. I admittedly did! In a private conversation before the race, I said I just didn’t see the path to victory for them this year since it would require needing multiple race day heroes stepping up to run way better than they have all season. But I’ve learned my lesson and I’ll never doubt Brodey Hasty again. He’s now finished 46th, 44th, 39th, and 25th at the Championships, despite regular season races that rarely pointed to such outcomes. The dude just has the clutch gene! Combine that with the HUGE 19th place finish by Santiago Prosser, whose highest finish all year was 17th at Regionals, plus the wild improvement from George Kusche since October, and that’s how you win the sixth title in seven years.
The tie breaker is fine. The problem is inconsistency and that it’s not immediately apparent who won. There is no good way to break it, but the problem is that it’s different in high school. It’d be like if the NBA decided to play a game of knockout rather than go into overtime… Wait, did I just solve the problem? We need overtime. Each team selects one runner to race a mile for a run-off. Imagine a coach trying to determine which guy is best prepared fifteen minutes after a 10k to win it all for the team. Do you pick the guy who just had the best finish or the token miler who just acted as the seventh man? We can score it as a dual meet, go to the 6th man, look at the head-to-head results, use cumulative time, it doesn’t matter. There are multiple places on the results sheet that show that with a tenth of a second here or there that Oklahoma State would have won. Ultimately that’s where the race is decided, not the rulebook. And speaking of OK State…
Oklahoma State ran fantastic. Much was made of the potential home course advantage the Stillwater-based hosts might enjoy, while it wasn’t quite enough to propel the Pokes to the top of the podium, the OK State teams ran up to or above expectations. But the only reason the men even got close enough for it to come down to a tiebreaker is that Fouad Messaoudi finished 12th in just his second race in the United States, making him the top freshman in the country.
The champions will be favorites again. NC State and Northern Arizona should return as the pre-season number-one ranked teams next year, but they’re far from locks. On the women’s side, the entirety of New Mexico’s five All-Americans and eleven-second spread returns and with 13 straight top 10 finishes for coach Joe Franklin’s squad, they’re all but guaranteed to be in the mix once again. And although the Stanford men entered Stillwater as the favorites and they’re undoubtedly disappointed by taking the last podium spot, they bring back Hicks, Robinson, and Sprout, while adding in the two best high school distance runners in the nation in Lex and Leo Young.
This isn’t just the national championships. It’s international, too! How many of the 80 All-Americans on Saturday would you guess hail from a country other than America? Back in my day, when handing out the All-American awards the NCAA would remove the non-Americans from the top 40 list. They stopped doing that, which has made the awards ceremony much easier, but it’s also just the right thing to do. This meet is one of the deepest and most competitive in the world and that should be celebrated. All in all, there were 31 international athletes who had the honor of receiving that certificate – how cool is that!
Tuohy doesn’t go pro ///
If you just woke up from the theoretical coma you fell into ten years ago and logged onto that fun new app Instagram on your iPhone 4 and saw this post, you might have some questions. Hell, even more plugged-in followers of the sport might not fully understand the implications.
First off, this is not a professional signing announcement.
The NIL (name, image, likeness) rules have changed the game, but the world of running hasn’t been greatly impacted just yet. Sprint and social media star Matthew Boling is perhaps the best track & field example of a marketable, young, still-NCAA-competing athlete dipping their hands into the NIL pot. He has had partnerships with Merrell, Philips Norelco, and Dunkin. But without the ability to compete with these companies’ logos on his jersey, these are likely smaller deals compared to the eventual payout he could theoretically receive upon graduating.
Enter Adidas. Unlike in other instances, Katelyn Tuohy can rep Adidas while she wins national titles. In fact, she already did when she crossed the finish line at the NCAA Championships, since NC State is an Adidas school. Adidas shoring up their commitment to Tuohy appears to be a win-win. Tuohy was already valuable to Adidas, and this deal will likely ensure she remains in a three-striped uniform for as long as possible. And she’s now getting paid for the exposure she brings to the brand and validation she brings to its shoes and spikes.
This move could have broad implications for how the sports’ top young stars navigate their college decisions, as well as their going-pro decisions.
It will likely be viewed as a positive by most educators and parents that high school studs will no longer have to make the difficult choice to take a lucrative shoe contract or enter the NCAA. Now they can do both! Not to mention, for these athletes being a part of a college team can be a really wonderful and fun experience that lends itself to long-term athletic development!
But ask yourself, if you were among the upper echelon of teenage track prodigies, where would you commit: a Nike-sponsored school or an Adidas one? Although Nike has started sponsoring individual basketball players on Nike teams, they may have to start doing something similar with track teams soon, if Nike-sponsored teams want to remain competitive in recruiting.
And for the shoe companies who don’t currently have partnerships with college teams… it might be time to get one! It isn’t too far fetched to imagine a world in which every All-American talent is graduating college already under contract. The reality is that it all makes sense. Younger athletes in the sport have always received more attention and are more influential to a more devoted following. They were always “worth” more, but now there are checks to validate it.
Catching up with Andy Bayer
Those of you who signed up for this newsletter because you’re old enough for us to have exchanged posts on the Dyestat message boards might remember Andy Bayer as a 1500 meter runner. In 2012 he dove across the line to beat out Miles Batty for the NCAA title, and then at the Olympic Trials he finished in the agonizing fourth place spot.
Eventually, as a member of the Bowerman Track Club, he transitioned to the steeplechase and finished fourth at the 2015 USATF Championships, fourth at the 2016 Olympic Trials, fourth at the 2017 USATF Championships, and then in 2018 he was third, but it was a non-championship year.
His fortune finally changed in 2019: he finished on the podium again at USAs to qualify for the World Championships, where he ran his personal best of 8:12.47. But he retired during the pandemic, passing on his third shot at an Olympic team. But as he shared on Instagram this week, he’s ready to give this running thing another whirl.
Can you start by rewinding the clock a little bit? The last time that you raced was in February 2020. What happened after that, which led to you making the decision to retire?
Obviously, a global pandemic came down upon the world.
I figured if everything was going to be shut down then I would spend time with my kids. I did keep training and even did a mile time trial under four minutes by myself on a quiet morning with just my family watching.
I checked in with Nike to tell them I wasn’t comfortable traveling around to races and they said that was okay. I started an online coding boot camp program, knowing that running wouldn’t be forever. And based on how long it took to get my final payment of the year, I knew I wasn’t going to be re-signed. Technically, I could have been reduced since I didn’t make the Olympic team – it was a whole thing.
Without me on a contract we would just be living on my wife’s teaching salary. If I got a part-time job to try making a run at things in 2021 and it didn’t work out, I would not have been happy with the decision. Doing that would have been highly stressful and not fun. Without many races to validate that process, the only thing that would have mattered was the final result of making the Olympics. Ultimately, by not running I spent 45 hours a week on the boot camp and got a good job pretty quickly and it feels like it was the right decision.
There were a lot of other people who got pushed out of the sport earlier than they wanted and it sounds like you're one of them. Did you continue running the last couple of years just for fun?
When I tried to train during the start of the boot camp it was just too much. I took a good few months off of running but played a lot of pickup soccer so I stayed in decent shape. I’d play hard enough to get tempo tummy.
When does this thought start creeping back into your mind that you’d maybe want to return? You were set up well to potentially be in Tokyo – was it watching that?
I kind of checked out completely for a year, but I did watch Tokyo. It was hard. I sort of feel like I didn't miss out on too much because it seemed like a toned-down Olympic experience. But that’s just me reasoning with myself to try and make it easier.
I just started wondering how hard it would be to get back in shape, but I wasn't seriously thinking about it. But then I was shown a LetsRun thread where someone said they wished I started running again and it sort of became a joke with some friends. It was just a fun experiment, with nothing to lose.
I don't have a contract and if I quit tomorrow, I only did one Instagram post and talked to you. There's not a whole lot on the line. I have some running left in the legs and I am now working from home – that’s a good sponsorship to have.
What has transpired behind the scenes that you felt ready to tell people?
I've done a lot of really good strength work. I just did 10 x 800 at 2:12 with a minute rest. That needs to be a few seconds faster before I am ready to race, but it’s getting close. I just had a conversation with work and my company has been really supportive and is allowing me some freedom in my schedule to train.
But now I'm a little more committed to doing this, right? By publicly announcing a comeback. Whenever I have shared it with people that I am starting to run again they’re so excited about it. I’ve learned that a lot more people were invested in how I did than I maybe realized previously.
What's the big overarching lesson here that would be the takeaway about your relationship with running? You’re probably sounding pretty relatable to a lot of people right now.
I can only really do it when I can make it fun. Getting out there and working hard is still something I enjoy. But I feel like I have to be at a place where I can appreciate enjoying the training that comes with balance and stability in life. I like to run, but I have other needs that need to be met.
My kids are now 11 and 13 and if I could make the World or Olympic team and bring my whole family to Europe that’s something that a 9 to 5 couldn’t provide. And I know if I still have it in me, why not give it a shot?
Behind the ESPN broadcast
When I was first asked in August to join the broadcast team for the NCAA championships, it was not an immediate yes. The main reason for the hesitancy was that I don’t really want to get into regular commentating – I prefer writing. There are no redos or editors in the booth, and with just one take during such an important event, that’s an immense amount of pressure.
Ultimately, I said yes to this one for two reasons. The first is that being ten years removed from my college graduation, I was starting to feel a bit out of touch with what was happening in the NCAA. Covering professional running has consumed the majority of my attention and so I viewed this as an opening to dive back in.
But the main factor was that the ESPN coverage the previous two years was excellent – like, a truly top-notch TV production. If the sport was covered this well all the time, then it would solve a lot of our problems. There were regular meetings with the entire team to break down the storylines as they unfolded throughout the season. It’s of course important for the on-air talent (sorry, but I get to call myself “on-air talent,” now) to be well acquainted with the details, but equally so for the producer and director. After all, what’s actually shown on-screen at any given moment is their call.
And one unexpected bonus is that there was a lot of conversation about how to improve the broadcast, which extended to asking fans for their feedback. A contribution of mine that I was glad to see was well-received was the intermittent updates on a team’s fifth runner. I’d have loved to get even more in the weeds on these less-heralded battles, but man, there are only twenty or thirty minutes to cover 31 teams and 255 athletes and it flies by.
Beforehand, I compiled pages of notes and I thought my few sheets of scratch paper were sufficient until I saw Carrie and John show up with binders full of prepared material. By no means did I feel like I was underprepared or coasting in, but I was floored by that pair. They put in so much effort and brought so much professionalism to the final product, much of which goes unseen.
Any jitters I was experiencing before going live completely disappeared the second we went on air – there’s no room for nervousness when your entire brain is focused on the event at hand, which is developing impossibly quickly. Ultimately, you just need to know the players because there isn’t time to look up specific stats. I was told beforehand that you’ll get to say maybe 10% of what you might want to, and if there’s any background vital to share with viewers, to make sure it gets put out there in the first half of the broadcast.
You also might be surprised to know that we don’t have access to any information that viewers at home don’t also have access to, minus the occasional post-it note passed to us by a producer with splits or some historical implications.
While no one likes the sound of their own voice – even me! – I knew I had to go back and watch the broadcast. There were a few occasions during the women’s race when I wasn’t entirely happy with my presentation, though overall I wasn’t cringing while revisiting it. And maybe it was the slightly longer race or the first rep under my belt, but I was generally pleased with how I sounded during the men’s.
While I now have pages of notes as to how I can improve, I feel confident that fans could have muted their televisions entirely and it would have still made for great entertainment. (And I also feel a bit of relief knowing I didn’t say the most controversial line of the broadcast, which came when Minnesota’s Carrie Tollefson referred to Rockland County as upstate New York.)
Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥
Hassan Mead, formerly of the Oregon Track Club, quietly shared that he has signed his retirement papers via Instagram story over the weekend. In addition to competing in the 2016 Olympics, he represented the United States in three World Championships and has a 5000m best of 13:02.
The Atlanta Track Club added two new athletes, in addition to a new mascot. The already loaded middle-distance squad now includes Great Britain’s Hannah Segrave (2:00.1) and Auburn’s Presley Weems (2:03.5/4:12).
Continuing what has essentially become a weekly segment, Thierry Ndikumwenayo won the Cross Internacional de Itálica in Spain in a close sprint against his dear friend and defending champion, Rodrigue Kwizera. Turkey’s Yasemin Can, the European 10,000m champion, won the women’s race.
Garrett Scantling, who finished fourth at the most recent Olympics and had the highest Decathlon score in 2021, was hit with a three-year ban for a third whereabouts failure and a tampering violation.
Camille Heron’s 100-mile record will not be ratified because the course was believed to be 718 feet short. First off, who bothered remeasuring that, and how accurate could those tangents possibly have been? She likely walked that distance by accident in the 89 seconds after finishing to grab some water. The good news is she is racing another 100 miler in a few weeks.
Eilish McColgan set a new 15km British Record in 47:40 at the Seven Hills race in Holland to take three seconds off her mom’s record. Who is telling who to clean their room now?
At the Sugar Run in Tennessee, Canada’s Julie-Anne Staehli won in 15:33 over Natosha Rogers. And on the men’s side, the 2019 NCAA XC Champ Edwin Kurgat beat out Hillary Bor by five seconds, running 13:40 for 5k. (Results)
Puma Elite Running added four new athletes to the North Carolina-based group: Allie Schadler (Furman, 4:31/15:31), Jessica Lawson (Stanford, 4:11/15:50), Amon Kemboi (Arkansas, 7:42/13:26/28:02), and Ehab El-Sandali (Iona, 13:25)
I thought it was always sunny in Philadelphia! Dominic Ondoro (2:14:20) and Amber Zimmerman (2:31:34) won the marathon, but a big shout out to second-place finisher Megan Krifchin, who bounced back two weeks after running 2:40 in New York to run 2:31:40 here. In the half marathon, Weynshet Ansa Weldetsadik held off Marielle Hall as the pair both ran 1:10:18 – not a bad debut for Hall! James Ngandu, this year’s Houston Marathon champion, won the men’s half in 1:03:44.
At America’s oldest ultramarathon, the JFK 50 Miler, Sarah Biehl set a new course record of 6:05:42 and Garrett Corcoran, who has a mile personal best of 3:59, won the men’s race in 5:29:47. Also, my friend Mark from The Real Maine broke seven hours in his first ultramarathon and confirms they’re hard.
The supergroup is getting even more super. This week Jenna Prandini and Keni Harrison joined Bobby Kersee’s LA-based training crew. WE NEED A REALITY SERIES!
On a snowy day in Michigan at DIII Nationals, the now two-time champion Alex Phillip took the men’s individual title while MIT won team honors. And if you liked the outcome from last year’s women’s race, good news: Kassie Parker and Johns Hopkins both repeated as champions!
This is a fun video of a pop-up half marathon inside of London’s Heathrow Airport. I have a feeling the runway might be short…
Thanks so much for reading another one of these newsletters! Big thank you to VELOUS for supporting this week’s newsletter — I love their slides as I have always been one to quickly take my shoes off immediately after a run.