The biggest names in collegiate cross country converged in Verona, WI Friday at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational in the most highly anticipated regular season cross country meet of the year. The women’s field featured 16 of the top 25 teams and 10 of the top 25 individuals, while the men’s field included 15 of the top 25 as well as 13 of the top 25 individuals. With such a concentration of talent, the fireworks that ensued were no surprise.

The women’s championship began at 12:30 pm, with defending meet and national champions #17 New Mexico and rising contender #3 Washington establishing a presence at the front early. The field stayed together for a significant portion of the competition, as the absence of defending meet champion Boise State sophomore Allie Ostrander meant there was no clear individual favorite.

For much of the race, the pace was dictated by some of the country’s best in Roy Griak champion Boise State’s Brenna Peloquin (#2 individual), Notre Dame’s Anna Rohrer (#4), New Mexico’s Alice Wright (#4), and Washington’s promising sophomore Charlotte Prouse (#8). As the race neared its conclusion, Rohrer made a move to the front in a bid for the win and started to drive to the finish. However, this would prove to be her undoing, as Peloquin and Wright stormed by her in the final stretch. The Boise State sophomore would take the crown in a time of 20:00.8, with Wright finishing in 20:01.9 and Rohrer in 20:03.4. Prouse would ultimately finish 5th after her teammate Amy-Eloise Neale (#19) covered serious ground over the last 1K of the race.

That late drive would bode well for Washington as a team, as their duo’s top 5 finishes along with strong performances from their back end delivered them the title. The Huskies scored 124 points, and were followed by #5 North Carolina State with 166 points and #2 Providence with 170 points. The Badgers, led by senior Michelle Lee, finished in 21st with a score of 473. Sophomore Amy Davis, freshman Alicia Monson, senior Sarah Heinemann, and sophomore Erin Langer rounded out the scoring for the Badgers.

With 7 of the top 10 teams in the nation, including the top 3, the men’s race carried championship implications. #1 Brigham Young, in their first truly competitive race since jumping 13 spots after beating #2 Syracuse and #3 Stanford, looked to hang on to their surprising ranking, while the Orange and the Cardinal sought revenge for their prior defeat at Panorama Farms. The race was tactical from the start, with almost all of the nearly 200 competitors within 10 seconds of each other at the 2k mark. In his first cross country race since Nationals in 2014 due to redshirting last season, Northern Arizona’s Futsum Zeinasellassie (#3) led the pack along with Stanford senior Sean McGorty (#5). In the second half of the race, North Carolina State senior George Parsons (#18) decided he had enough of the bunched pack and went aggressively to the front. Syracuse’s ace Justyn Knight reeled him in during the last 200 meters en route to victory in a time of 23:53.1. Zeinasellassie was able to hold off Wisconsin junior #7 Morgan McDonald for second, who charged hard over the final straightaway to lead the 8th-ranked Badgers. 

Said the Australian-born McDonald, “My strategy was to stay off the back of the lead pack and to watch for when the move is made, and when it is, respond as best as I could and have a really fast last mile.”

Despite most of their team having little race experience this season, #10 Northern Arizona dominated, scoring just 78 points to win the meet in their first race at full strength this year. Stanford was second, Brigham Young finished third, and Syracuse came in fourth. Wisconsin finished a disappointing 11th, though the unfortunate DNF of former All-American Malachy Schrobilgen (#6) played a big part of that.

With Pre-Nationals occurring tomorrow in Terre Haute, the postseason picture for cross country will be much clearer after this weekend. New Mexico’s women, thought to be a shell of last year’s steamrolling squad, showed they are still contenders after beating 5 teams ranked higher than them despite not having All-American Rhona Auckland. #8 Boise State also showed that the successful return of Allie Ostrander will be the most significant determinant of their postseason success as the Broncos lack of depth caused an 18th place finish. Washington solidified their place as a serious title contender, and depending on how #1 Colorado performs at Pre-Nationals, could vault into the top spot.

On the men’s side, Northern Arizona looks to be the best team in the country right now, defeating the top 3 teams in the country in impressive fashion.

NAU coach Eric Heins said after the race, “I think this [race] puts us right where we want to be. Dating back to a year ago, when we had redshirted some guys, it was to prepare the guys for this season to have a shot at the national title and I think if you can win the Wisconsin Invite, you at least have a chance to win the national meet. I’m confident, the way they ran their last 2k, that means they’ve got a lot left in them and that they can go the extra 2k at the national meet.”

Stanford, Syracuse, and BYU won’t go down without a fight, however. The Cardinal held out freshman Thomas Ratcliff, who recently ran one of the fastest 8k times in Stanford history. With Fisher and McGorty still getting back into racing shape after long track seasons, Stanford is likely the most likely to topple the Lumberjacks in Terre Haute. Unranked UCLA, with a 6th place finish, upended some ranked teams and could make a run for one of the qualifying spots out of the West region. #11 Colorado State put on display their status as the most volatile team in cross country, finishing 10th after All-American Jefferson Abbey, who placed 13th at Nationals in 2016, finished 184th. For Wisconsin, even with McDonald’s heroics, the lack of their top dog was a major issue. If they want to avoid last year’s regional disaster, the Badgers will need Schrobilgen healthy and competing at the top of his game.

Both the Wisconsin men and women will be competing next at the Big 10 Championship on October 30th in Minneapolis, MN.