DI cross country: The top contenders at the NCAA Championships
It’s championship time in cross country.
All three divisions will be meeting at their respective sites on Saturday to decide who is the best of the best.
Before the Division I championships begin with the women’s competition at 11 a.m. ET in Terre Haute, Indiana, here are four of the runners in each DI competition who could rise above the rest.
Statistics via TFRRS.org
Erin Finn | Michigan
Finn, a senior from West Bloomfield, Michigan, had already had a tremendous college career over her first three seasons, including two All-America spots. But she has stepped it up to an even higher level this year, emerging as one of the most dominant runners in the country.
Finn became the first Wolverine in five years to win the Great Lakes Region title with a mark of 19:27:8 in the 6,000-meter championship last Friday. That came a couple of weeks after she won the Big Ten title for the third time in her career in the same event, winning by a 25-second margin despite her time being over a minute slower than her performance in the regional championship. Who knows, she might have even been saving some of her best stuff there in her quest to win a national title.
Amy-Eloise Neale | Washington
Neale was born in Stockport, England, and has British citizenship, but she grew up near her current home in Snohomish, Washington. After competing in both cross country and indoor track as a freshman in 2013-14, she redshirted the following season before sitting out cross country a year ago. As such, this season marked her first cross country action in three years, and it was well worth the wait.
The redshirt junior earned individual victories in the Pac-12 and West Region championships, with the latter coming by a 13-second margin. She posted a time of 19:27.8 in that event, equal to Finn’s in the Great Lakes Region championships down to the millisecond. That could foreshadow a thrilling battle on Saturday.
Anna Rohrer | Notre Dame
The sophomore burst onto the scene last year, earning ACC Freshman of the Year honors and finishing second only to teammate Molly Seidel in the ACC championships. Now with Seidel, one of the most accomplished runners in NCAA history, having graduated, the ACC was Rohrer’s for the taking.
And take she did, as the Mishwaka, Indiana, native posted a time of 19:26:4 to win the 6k race by 25 seconds. She then found herself in a good contest with Finn at the Great Lakes Championship, ultimately falling to the more experienced runner by eight seconds. However, the time she posted in the ACC Championships would have won the regional title, so she will be a major threat if she has her top form.
Alice Wright | New Mexico
Wright came to New Mexico by way of her hometown of Worchester, England. After only racing once as a true freshman and holding onto the year of eligibility, Wright has been a star for the Lobos. She was named an All-American for each of her first two seasons, and it would be expected that she will make it 3-for-3. In 2014 she won the Mountain Region title and finished 20th in the national championship, then placed fourth and fifth, respectively, last year.
This year, the star of the defending national champions competed in four events, finishing first or second in each. Her two first-place finishes came in the two most recent ones, the Mountain West and Mountain Region championships. Notably, none of the four runners to finish ahead of her at least year’s NCAA championship will be in this year’s race.
Edward Cheserek | Oregon
Since arriving in Eugene by way of Newark, New Jersey, Cheserek has turned NCAA competitions into his own personal playground. Whether it’s in cross country or indoor or outdoor track, the senior has absolutely dominated. Cheserek won the cross country national championship in each of his first three years of college, and winning it one more time would, among other obvious achievements, make him the NCAA’s all-time winningest runner across cross country and track and field with 16 titles. That would separate him from Suleiman Nyambui, who won 15 titles for UTEP from 1979-1982.
Cheserek’s résumé certainly speaks for itself. He has not finished worse than second in a cross country event since his freshman year. He has won all four events he has competed in this season, including breezing to a 29:23:7 time in the 10k for the West Region title. Given his incredible 28:45:8 time he posted in last year’s national championship, seeing if anyone can pull off the massive upset will be a fun development to follow on Saturday.
Jacob Choge | Middle Tennessee
With Cheserek’s final cross country race coming on Saturday, Choge will be one of the top contenders to try to fill his shoes as the next NCAA star. The Kenyan has had a great freshman season, which was capped off with a victory in the Conference USA and South Region championships. Choge did not win any of his first three career events but has burst onto the scene when it counts, and he will look to keep that momentum going in Terre Haute.
Justyn Knight | Syracuse
Knight was named the USTFCCCA’s Northeast Region Men’s Performer of the Year for the second consecutive season after going a perfect 4-for-4 in events. That included a course record of 23:13:8 in the 8k Panorama Farms Invitational and a 30:30:6 winning time in the Northeast Region championships. Knight placed fourth in the NCAA championship last season with a time of 29:46:1. Catching Cheserek is a tall task, but the Ontario native might have a better chance than anyone.
Futsum Zienasellassie | Northern Arizona
Zienasellassie was born in Eritrea, an African country with a population smaller than New York City. After immigrating to the U.S., he made his home in Indianapolis before moving out west to Northern Arizona.
Zienasellassie has run cross country and indoor and outdoor track for the Lumberjacks since the 2012 cross country season. He qualified for the national championship for each of his first three seasons, finishing fourth as a sophomore and third as a junior. After redshirting last year, he has been in top form as a redshirt senior. He won his first Mountain Region championship last week after grabbing his second Mountain Sky title on Oct. 28. He will look to continue to finish strong in his fourth event of the season and final one of his college career.