Preview: Bill Dellinger Invitational

Preview:  Bill Dellinger Invitational

Friday's Bill Dellinger Invitational will be the fourth annual cross country meet at the Springfield Country Club. Once again this meet will feature a strong field of teams and individuals from across the country and will include a team from Hawaii and indoor track powerhouse Villanova.

This is a good test for the teams as past winners at the Dellinger have also been finishing no lower than fifth at the NCAA meet. With the exception of the 2007 Dellinger Invite men's winner, Matt Withrow (11th at the NCAA meet in 2007) of Wisconsin. The individual winner has also been the top finisher at the NCAA meet even though the Bill Dellinger men's distance of eight kilometers (8k) is shorter than the NCAA meet distance of ten kilometers (10k). Every winner except for Withrow in 2007 has finished in the top eight at the NCAA meet (current Portland resident Josh Rohatinsky of BYU won in 2006).

Two-time defending NCAA champion Oregon men are currently ranked first in the nation and have a three-year winning streak in this meet. Unfortunately Oregon is missing six-time NCAA champion Galen Rupp and three-time Cross Country All-American Shadrack Kiptoo-Biwott (two top ten NCAA finishes and top five in the Dellinger Invite in each of the three years). Fortunately for the Ducks they return the second-best returner from the NCAA meet (fifth overall), sophomore Luke Puskedra, three-time cross country all-American (all-American is top-50 or top-50 Americans) Diego Mercado, and cross country all-Americans sophomore Matthew Centrowitz, junior Danny Mercado and senior Kenny Klotz. Diego, Danny, and Kenny went 30th, 37th, and 41st, respectively, at the 2007 NCAA championships and may need to run that well again for the Ducks to win the NCAA championships this year. Since five runners score and Oregon has five cross country runners that have been all-American in the past they have a solid foundation but cannot count on their past laurels to defeat the competition.

Junior AJ Acosta is a four-time track all-American and seniors Jordan McNamara and Jon Thomas (won this year's Pre's Trail Run cross country meet) will try to establish themselves on the cross country team (seven runners make a team) in this race. Between Centrowitz and the three runners recovering from injuries in 2008-2009 (Acosta, McNamara, and Thomas) the Ducks will need to find a solid number two runner or at least runners to help the more experienced and successful four runners (Puskedra, the Mercados, and Klotz) to win the Dellinger meet and defend Oregon's two NCAA cross country titles. Redshirt junior Andrew Wheating competed at the NCAA cross country meet last year but was on crutches at the Pre's Trail Run cross country meet and will not likely contribute as significantly as last year.

The Oregon women are two-time NCAA runner-ups and senior Duck Nicole Blood will attempt to add to her two straight top-ten NCAA finishes. Last year junior Alex Kosinski was the top Duck in eighth place at the NCAA meet last year. Oregon lost their third through fifth runners from last year's NCAA meet. The top freshman distance runner is expected to be Jordan Hasay. She was an Olympic Trials finalist in the 1,500 meters and set the national high school record at 4:14.50. She won the Footlocker cross country championship last year to go along with her win as a freshman. Last year she became the first Californian to win four 3,200 meter titles and four state cross country crowns. At the end of the season she won every national track award possible. There are high expectations that she will finish in the top-10 in the NCAA meet as a freshman.

Oregon has a talented group of fourth-year runners that didn't run in the first Bill Dellinger Invitational in 2006 but this group will attempt to get their third straight team win. Senior Bria Wetsch was 76th at the NCAA meet in 2007 and had a rough year last year as she fought injuries. She did run well on the track for the first time and is set to have a great year in cross country. Redshirt junior Keara Sammons was the top freshman in the country in 2006 over 10,000 meters and was eighth in this meet in 2007 but has battled foot problems since. She is not entered in the Dellinger Invite due to lingering problems with that foot. Senior Zoe Buckman was an all-American in 2007 with her 39th place finish but fell to 100th place last year. Senior Brooke Giuffre (2007 NCAA cross country competitor), redshirt sophomore Claire Michel (2008 NCAA steeple finalist), sophomore Bronwyn Crossman, and senior Lauren Zaludek (won this years' Pre's Trail cross country meet) are poised to make an impact on the top seven and possibly the top five. Freshmen Taylor Wallace of Klamath Falls and Anne Keselring have international experience and may also make an impact along with high school cross country all-American Melanie Thompson from New Jersey.

Challengers to the men's title will be headed by eighth-ranked Portland. Portland was the 2008 NCAA seventh place team finisher and lost NCAA fourth-place individual finisher Michael Kilburg to graduation (Portland's only top-five loss from the NCAA meet) but still have 18th-place finisher junior Alfred Kipchumba and added the top cross country recruiting class in the nation. Last year they lost to the Ducks 49 to 56 points (Oregon was without Rupp). Freshman Joash Osoro was the runner-up at the Foot Locker (national cross country championships) last year, Norwegian Lars Erik Malde was the top Norwegian junior last year, and Travis Dunbar was one of the top American high school distance runners last year.

Early this season Alabama is ranked ninth nationally. Newcomers Fred Samoei and Moses Kiptoo have beaten all members of last year's NCAA tenth place team except for all-American Tyson David. Samoei and Kiptoo are showing they will make up for the loss of two of Alabama's top five from the tenth-place NCAA performance. Recently they easily defeated Auburn (only two of their top five ran in the race), fifth at last year's NCAA meet. Alabama may have returned to the form of 2007 when they finished sixth at the NCAA meet. In 2008 it was surprising that so many Alabama runners did not run close to their 2007 form at the NCAA meet. Alabama is likely to make it closer than the 2008 Bill Dellinger Invite seven point win by the Ducks over Portland.

BYU was ninth at the NCAA meet last year but will have to make up for the loss of tenth-place NCAA finisher and steeplechase champion, Kyle Perry. BYU is ranked 12th this year even though they lost their top four runners from their team at last year's NCAA championships. This year they have already had two meets with their top runners and they have won two straight weeks, most recently at the UC Riverside (UCR) Invitational. At the UCR invite BYU sophomore Miles Batty set a course record.

At the NCAA championships last year the Villanova women finished sixth and returned six of their top seven (missing their top runner, 20th at the NCAA championships last year). Their top three runners this year have all finished ahead of 35th place finisher at the NCAA meet last year, Amanda Marino. Two of the runners, Sheila Reid and Nicole Shappert, are redshirt seniors and will likely improve their performance at the NCAA meet significantly. Baylor enters the meet 14th ranked in the country. Senior cross country all-Americans Nicole Jones and Erin Bedell lead an experienced Bear team. Freshman Stephanie Morgan was an Ohio State cross country and 1,600 meter champion and has run well for the Bears early in the season.

This has always been a high level meet featuring exceptional competition and this year should be no different. Both Oregon teams have a lot to prove and a lot of questions to be answered but both are expected to win due to the high quality of coaching by Vin Lananna and distance coaches Andy and Maurica Powell and the high level of talent the coaches have recruited.

Notes:

* Oregon will once again be joined by Portland, Alabama, BYU, and Cal Poly (participants all four years).
* Three-year participants include UTEP and Colorado State.
* Missing for the second straight year is Washington.
* The Arkansas and Wake Forest women will not make this meet for the first time.
* The 14th-ranked Baylor women will make their first appearance.

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