When NCAA competition rolls around each year, an interesting phenomenon occurs in the world of men’s cross country. After running 8-kilometer races throughout the regular season, the ante is raised to 10-kilometers for the NCAA regional and national meets. Apply that to another sport and that’s like telling the football team that they are going to play five quarters in the bowl game.
The teams of the Midwest Region have trained for this extension of their course and the change affects some teams more than others. A runner maybe be an All-America candidate at the 8K distance and falter to an average competitor at 10K. The very opposite is true as well, where an athlete with more endurance than speed, may excel in the longer competition.
Overall, heading into the NCAA Midwest Region as with any of the nine regions around the nation, some surprises may occur. Plenty of experienced runners return to highlight the field with 16 of 25 all-region performers from 2005 back this season.
Host Minnesota is the highest ranked team in the NCAA Midwest Region field and benefits from running on its familiar home course at the Les Bolstad Golf Course. The No. 15-ranked Golden Gophers are chasing their 10th consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships, the fifth-longest active streak in the nation. The Gophers also have two runners expect to contend for the individual crown, including defending Midwest Region champion Antonio Vega. Vega, a senior All-American, is gunning for his fourth career all-region honor as well. Minnesota’s lineup also features the newly crowned Big Ten Conference champion Chris Rombough. Only a sophomore, Rombough become the first Gopher conference medalist since 1971.
In addition to Minnesota, who placed 20th at the 2005 Championships, the Midwest Region was also represented by 8th-place Oklahoma State, 12th-place Kansas and 19th-place Iowa.
No. 23 Oklahoma State is the defending Midwest Region champion and returns three all-region athletes for the Cowboys’ quest to repeat. Senior Joe Gray placed fourth a year ago and recently earned All-Big 12 honors with a 10th-place showing at the conference meet. Sophomore Ryan Vail placed sixth as a freshman in 2005, and was joined by a third Cowboy in the top 10, junior David Jankowski who placed ninth. Oklahoma State’s top freshman, Daniel Watts, placed 12th in Big 12 Championships and was named the conference’s Newcomer of the Year.
No. 20 Kansas will be a team to watch as the Jayhawks return all five scores from the team that placed 12th at the NCAAs a year ago. The Jayhawks’ frontrunners are All-American senior Benson Chesang and juniors Colby Wissel and Paul Hefferon. Chesang finished 30th at the NCAA meet and 11th in the last year’s regional championship. Wissel is the 2006 Big 12 champion and notched a 15th-place finish in the region last fall. Hefferon placed eighth at the Midwest Region meet in 2005. Senior Erik Sloan also tabbed all-region acclaim placing 22nd.
Iowa is the fourth nationally ranked team in the field, checking in at No. 28. Two all-region runners are back for the Hawkeyes: junior Eric MacTaggart, who placed 10th, and senior Micah VanDerend, who finished 13th.
Iowa State received votes in the last national poll but could make some noise with its two all-region runners returning. Sophomore Uhl Kiel ran to Midwest Region runner-up honors as a freshman in 2005 and is coming off an eighth-place finish in the recent Big 12 Championships. Senior Davie Rotich finished 24th in the region a year ago. Freshman Guor Majak earned All-Big 12 honors and adds a third weapon to the Cyclone lineup.
Loyola only has five runners competing, but one of them is senior Sam Romanoski, who earned all-region honors with a 16th-place finish in 2005. Romanoski paced the Ramblers to a third-place finish in the Horizon League Championships with a third-place individual outing. Senior Andy Shertoli (9th) earned second-team All-Horizon League honors.
Completing the list of returning all-region runners entered in the 2006 Midwest Region Championships is Illinois junior Dan Stock, who finished 14th a year ago.
Though the Big Ten and Big 12 teams are expected to battle it out for the Midwest Region’s two automatic qualifying berths to the NCAA Championships, several other conferences are represented in the field and have talented runners striving to earn all-region honors and perhaps one of those four coveted individual berths into the NCAA field.
Missouri Valley Conference runner-up Drake is led by two seniors who recently earned all-conference accord: Nick Cooper (7th) and Skyler Neshiem (9th).
Illinois-Chicago’s lineup is highlighted by three runners who garnered Horizon League honors two weeks ago. Junior Joseph Mbari finished seventh in the conference, while senior Jim Sulzberger was 13th. Nic Aubert placed 20th and was named the Horizon League Newcomer of the Year.
Tulsa is the lone representative of Conference USA in the Midwest Region. The Golden Hurricanes feature two runners who posted top-5 finishes in the conference championship meet. Sophomore Edwin Henshaw finished third and junior Brett Turowski contributed a fifth-place effort. Junior Joel Stansloski added a ninth-place C-USA finish.
Southeast Missouri brings two of the top Ohio Valley Conference runners to the Midwest Region Championships. Junior Kevin McNab ran to OVC runner-up honors, while fellow junior Brandon Karcher finished seventh.
Other all-conference performers in the Midwest Region field are Eastern Illinois’ Brad Butler, who placed fifth in the OVC, Wichita State’s Girts Azis, who finished sixth in the MVC; UMKC’s Jimmy Koewn, who finished ninth in the Mid-Continent Conference; Bradley’s Chris George, who placed 12th in the MVC; and Missouri’s Tim Ross, who finished 15 in the Big 12.