Championship Field Is A History Lesson In Motion

Past dynasties contend for 2007 title

Nov. 16, 2007

By Brett Hess

Special to


Brett Hess

Brett Hess covers Cross Country for
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Scanning the deep list of potential champions at Monday's meet is like taking a walk through the annals of college cross country.


The names Oregon and UTEP jump right out at you from the 1960s and 70s. From the 1980s and 90s come powerhouses Wisconsin and Arkansas. Even Colorado, the most powerful program of this decade and the defending champion, will be a factor Monday on the hills of the LaVern Gibson Championship Course in Terre Haute, Ind.




On the individual side, Oregon's Galen Rupp, Northern Arizona's Lopez Lomong and Liberty's Josh McDougal will most certainly be in the lead pack. Then there is the late-season charge by Notre Dame's Patrick Smyth, inspired by the tragic and recent death of Irish legend Ryan Shay.


But all talk of deep fields, both team and individual, begins with Rupp and Oregon. The Ducks' star junior is the obvious favorite, yet Monday will mark only Rupp's third meet of the season. He virtually tied teammate Shadrack Kiptoo-Biwott at the Pac-10 Championships and then won the West Regional last week. Both races were on his home course. 


As for Rupp's teammates, Oregon has been perched atop the national polls from day one and despite not having Rupp, has proven it deserves the ranking. The Ducks are undefeated and unchallenged. But Oregon coach Vin Lananna knows that's about to end.


"I've been working with collegiate men's teams for a long time, and I don't remember seeing a race field with as much parity," Lananna said on "Typically there's at least one team that is capable of a low score. This year, I think it will be a high-scoring meet and one of five or six teams could win it, and the University of Oregon is one of those."


Yet, Oregon, until this fall, has been the least relevant of the championship favorites. It has been a full three decades since the Ducks' last national championship.


There was a stretch of time, from 1969 to 1981 where either Oregon or the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) dominated the sport. The two schools combined for 11 of the 13 titles; UTEP taking 7 and Oregon 4.


UTEP, now ranked No. 3, won four straight following Oregon's final win (1977) and then bounced back for its final title in 1983. The current version of the Miners is led by Stephen Samoei and Patrick Mutai, who finished second and fourth at last week's Mountain Regional.


It was the year before UTEP's final win (1982) that signaled the arrival of a new power: Wisconsin. The Badgers, ranked No. 4, followed up that championship with two more wins in the mid-80s (1985 and 1988) and have stayed a persistent player in the championships. Wisconsin, which also won again in 2005, currently has a five-year streak of finishing in the top two at the national meet.


UTEP's final win signaled the beginning of the great Arkansas Dynasty. The Razorbacks won in 1984, the first of 11 titles through 2000. In fact, Arkansas boasted championship streaks of four (1990-93), three (1998-2000) and two (1986-87) years.


This year's Razorbacks, ranked No. 7, may not have the upfront power of Oregon, but do have a very strong pack led by Tyler Hill and Scott MacPherson.


Colorado, ranked No. 2, ended Arkansas' most recent run by winning the 2001 championship. It would be the first of three titles for the Buffaloes. Colorado's pack is led by Stephen Pifer and Brent Vaughn.


The nation's No. 6-ranked team, Northern Arizona, does have a runner who can match up with Rupp. Or at least is planning to. While Rupp is known more as a 10,000-meter runner, Lomong is a 3,000- and 5,000-meter star.


"They need to take it from the gun," Lomong said in talking about Rupp, McDougal or anyone else. "If they don't, I just hang around with them. Then, the last 1,000 meters is going to be fun."


Lomong was not bragging about his kick; he doesn't need to. He won the 3,000 last March at the NCAA Indoor Championships and then won the 1,500 in June at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.


Said NAU coach Eric Heins, "If I were them, I'd take it out really hard and try to take the sting out of Lopez's kick. But I think he can handle whatever they throw at him the first 9K."


Among the favorites, Lomong was the highest finisher at last year's championship: he placed fourth. Rupp was sixth; McDougal was 27th last fall, but fourth in 2005.