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Men's NCAA DI Individual Preview

Published by
RunnerSpace.com/College   Nov 21st 2013, 9:17pm

Defending Champ, Experienced Veterans Lead the Way

By Scott Bush

The NCAA Cross Country Championships are here! Top individuals and teams head to Terre Haute with their eyes on the prize, big-time finishes and trophies ready for the taking. As the action heats up, here are ten individuals to keep an eye on Saturday, plus one athlete capable of surprising the field in a big way. Here’s the breakdown…


Kennedy Kithuka (Sr., Texas Tech): The defending NCAA cross country champ has shown no reason for anyone to bet against him. Another fall campaign, another undefeated season. Kithuka won the Chili Pepper Festival by six seconds over Arkansas standout Kemoy Campbell, the slimist margin of victory this season. His other notable wins…a 16 second victory at the Mountain Region race last weekend, where he defeated top five contender Anthony Rotich rather easily and a massive 33 second victory at Pre Nationals. Kithuka is running as strong as he was last fall when he won. He might find more challengers this fall, as Campbell showed top-level harriers can at least stay close if they try, but to bet against Kithuka wouldn’t be the wisest of choices.

Kemoy Campbell (Sr., Arkansas): The leader of the Razorbacks, a legitimate trophy contending team, is the only athlete to come even remotely close to defeating defending champ Kennedy Kithuka this season. Campbell, racing on his home course at the Chili Pepper Festival, lost by a mere six seconds to Kithuka. While a defeat is still a defeat, Campbell showed that A) he doesn’t fear the great Texas Tech star and B) he has the guts to at least step up to challenge. Now realize the Razorbacks can use every point they can get in the team scoring, which means Campbell may be told to hang back and shoot for second place, since that’d be a single point score in the team race. Challenging Kithuka could mean the Jamaican native Campbell blows up and slides back in the scoring column, hurting Arkansas’ team score. We’ve seen this before, as generally coaches play it conservatively, but Campbell has the talent to truly challenge.

Paul Chelimo (Sr., UNC-Greensboro): One of the most successful runners at the NCAA level over the past bunch of years, Chelimo has been overlooked far too often. The senior opened his season later than most and could be the individual challenger most likely to attack Kithuka early. The two-time NCAA outdoor 5k runner-up will give it one last go over hill-n-dale and after beating fellow top ten threat Andrew Colley to win the Southeast Region last weekend, Chelimo should be riding a nice wave of confidence heading into Terre Haute.

Anthony Rotich (So., UTEP): Similar to Chelimo, Rotich tends to get overlooked for whatever reason. As a mere freshman in 2012, Rotich finished fourth overall at the NCAA Cross Country Championships and has only lost twice this season, both times to defending champion Kithuka. Rotich ran 33 seconds off Kithuka at Pre-Nationals, then halved that time to 16 seconds at the Mountain Region. While he’s maybe not capable of really challenging Kithuka for the win, the wet and cold conditions in Terre Haute can cause all sorts of chaos, something Rotich might be able to thrive with.

Chris O’Hare (Sr., Tulsa): Speed is the name of the game for O’Hare this weekend. He has more raw leg speed than any other top ten threat and if the conditions slow down the field on Saturday, keep an eye on the Tulsa senior to come up big. He finished third at Pre-Nationals earlier in the season, only to run even better at the Midwest Regional, where he showed he was the class of the field, taking home the win. O’Hare has plenty of big race experience that he can use to his advantage.

Edward Cheserek (Fr., Oregon): The last Oregon Duck to finish top ten as a freshman was Luke Puskedra, when he finished an astonishing fifth back in 2008. Cheserek seems even more talented and capable and is coming in with momentum and confidence on his side. The former New Jersey standout finished fourth at Pre-Nationals earlier in the season, but is on a tear the past few weeks, winning the Pac-12 individual title and then the West Region title. Every point counts for the Ducks, as they look to bring a team trophy back to Eugene and Cheserek is the leader of the squad. How he handles his first NCAA championship event is a sight for all fans to see.

Andrew Colley (Sr., NC State): The first American title is always a fun one to speculate and this year Colley could very well take home that title. He’s a proven cross country veteran and continues to improve each time out after starting his season with a third place performance at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational. He backed that up with a big win at the ACC Championships, taking home top prize by a 25 second margin of victory. He finished a second behind Southeast Region winner Paul Chelimo last week and is looking strong heading into this weekend.

Maksim Korolev (Sr., Harvard): If an award was given out to breakout runner of the year, Korolev would most certainly win. The former Missouri state champion finished 201st at the NCAA Cross Country Championships last fall in Louisville, and while that race wasn’t his finest, it shows how far he’s come. Korolev surprised the country by finishing second at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational earlier this season, only losing to Kemoy Campbell. He’s been running strong since, winning the Northeast Region, setting up a potential top 5-10 finish this weekend.

Soufiane Bouchikhi (Sr., Eastern Kentucky): The man with the hardest name to spell, enters Saturday’s race eyeing one more chance to crack the top ten at the NCAA Cross Country Championships. Always running strong and nearly unbeatable through the regular season, Bouchikhi is still searching for that breakthrough national race. The All-American senior, and Belgium native, finished 40th last fall at NCAAs, but don’t let that sway you away from this season’s success. Finishing fifth at the Wisconsin earlier in the season, then running to a third place finish behind Chelimo and Colley at the Southeast Region, Bouchikhi seems ready to run the race he’s shown he’s capable of this weekend.

Futsum Zeinasellassie (So., Northern Arizona): A quiet season in many ways, Zeinasellassie is the leader of Northern Arizona. He led the squad with a sixth place finish at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational and finished third at the Moutain Region behind Kithuka and Rotich. He finished 31st at NCAAs last fall, the second freshman in the country and has more to prove this time around. Something of small note…Cheserek and Zeinasellassie are friends and tend to feed off one another. At the 2011 Foot Locker Championships, the two ran most of the race together until Cheserek pulled away to victory at the end. The sophomore has big race experience, plenty of confidence and a spark of motivation, especially considering his team needs every low point they can get as they challenge for the national team title.


Jared Ward (Sr., BYU): Two weeks ago, BYU thought they were sure to run without their All-American, since he missed all season after being ruled ineligible by the NCAA. What a difference two weeks makes! Speculation grew all week around Ward’s fitness heading into the Mountain Regional. Not only was competition fierce and the meet was Ward’s first of the cross country season, but the senior was coming off a strong debut marathon performance at the Chicago Marathon in October. Ward proved his fitness and drive, finishing fourth and setting himself up to contend for top 10 this weekend in Terre Haute and lead his trophy contending team into battle. He finished 14th in 2012, so a top ten finish is a reasonable prediction.

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