RALEIGH, N.C. The college cross country season gets serious this weekend. After a pair of early-season blowouts, the NC State men and women head for Terre Haute, Ind., for the NCAA Pre-Nationals, which will feature most of the top cross country programs in the country.
Twenty-four of the top 30 men’s teams and 23 of the top 30 women’s teams in this week’s U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association national men’s poll will line up at the Pre-Nationals.
The men’s field will include No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 3 Colorado, No. 4 Portland, No. 6 Alabama, No. 7 Iona, No. 9 Michigan and No. 10 Stanford from this week’s top 10. NC State is 15th in the current men’s poll, and will be the 12th-highest ranked team in the men’s race. The women’s race will include No. 1 Washington, No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 Florida State, No. 4 Minnesota, No. 5 Princeton, No. 6 Stanford, No. 8 Arizona State and No. 9 Michigan State from this week’s top 10. The Wolfpack currently is ranked No. 18 nationally, and will be the 16th-highest ranked team in the women’s race.
Both the men’s and women’s fields will be broken into two races, which will do nothing to dilute the talent in this field. A top 10 finish in any of the four races will be considered a strong showing by most everyone in the field.
“We’ll all find out how we stack up after this weekend,” Wolfpack men’s coach Rollie Geiger said.
The women will be without the services of their top four upperclassmen. Senior Brittany Tinsley and junior Bona Jones are redshirting the season. Colleen Wetherbee and Kara McKenna will not run in this weekend’s Pre-Nationals. Decisions on their status for the remainder of the season are still forthcoming.
With those four out of the lineup, women’s head coach Laurie Henes will send a lineup of all freshmen to the starting lineup for the Pre-Nationals. Redshirt-freshman Amanda Burger and true-freshmen Lauren Bishop, Andie Cozzarelli, Caroline Kirby and Emily Pritt all lined up for the season-opening races at the Wolfpack Invite and the ECU Invitational. They will be joined by Erika Alpeter, a true freshman who performed well as an unattached runner at both races.
“This is a great opportunity for our freshmen, and they’re all freshmen who are lining up for us,” women’s head coach Laurie Henes said. “The field is really strong and our first two races were not that competitive, so it’s a huge step up for them. Again, it’s a great opportunity for them. This is a really strong group of freshmen, and they’ve performed well beyond my expectations to this point.”
Two other runners from the women’s team, junior Christena Tozel and sophomore Krista Moss, will run in Boone at the Covered Bridge Open.
The men will line up without senior Gavin Coombs, who is being withheld for precautionary reasons following a training mishap. Geiger said he expected Coombs to be ready to go in time for the ACC Championships on November 1. With Coombs out of the lineup, senior Fredy Torres, junior John Martinez and senior Bobby Mack will lead the 15th-ranked Wolfpack. Mack, an All-American and all-conference performer in 2004, has been granted by the NCAA a sixth year to complete his four years of eligibility. The Pre-Nationals will be his first competition in 13 months, since the 2007 Raleigh Invitational.
“If you read the criteria for granting an athlete a sixth year to compelte their eligibility, Bobby’s is a slam-dunk example,” Geiger said. “How well he’ll run after all this time, we’ll have to wait to see, but because he is a veteran runner on such a young team, we hope he can help us this year.”
Freshmen will round out the lineup for the Wolfpack. True freshman Ryan Hill will join redshirts Bobby Moldovan, Andrew North and Greg Dame to fill out the Wolfpack lineup. Two additional NC State athletes, senior Eric Mack and redshirt-freshman Srini Iyer will race in Boone on Friday in the Covered Bridge Open.
“We can only line up seven at the Pre-Nationals, so we’re sending two athletes to Boone,” Geiger said. “Two weeks from now, we’ll be allowed to line up 10 for the ACC Championships. That’s why we’re sending Eric and Srini to Boone. We want them to stay on their training cycle so they can be ready for ACCs.”
With a lineup featuring six fifth-year seniors, the NC State men finished third out of 40 teams in their heat at the Pre-Nationals a year ago. With only Coombs, Martinez and Torres returning from that team’s regular lineup, Geiger has no idea what to expect at this year’s Pre-Nationals, other than a challenge from the competition.
“We’ve been in two races so far that really didn’t challenge us or tell us very much,” Geiger said. “There is no danger of that happening at Pre-Nationals. We will be challenged, and the results of this race will tell us a great deal about this team is and how it stacks up.”