We've talked all season about the tough schedule UB put together for both Cross Country groups this fall in an effort to take a step forward from past years. Combined with an infusion of freshman talent on both sides, so far we've seen strong results week in and week out.
Now, it's championship season. The MAC Championships are tomorrow in Canton, Ohio, with Regionals two weeks from now and perhaps Nationals the week following that.
Over the past few years, the men have been the slightly stronger of UB's teams, but we haven't yet seen a full consistent lineup, as they've raced one fewer than the women and have only been at full strength once. They will deal with the loss of Brian Crimmins to knee surgery, but looked good at Paul Short even without him.
2014 Championships. UB finished fourth, buoyed by strong performances from Barrett Kemp and Andrew Berge as Cameron Bruce struggled with a nagging injury. Just a three-second improvement from all but lead runner Alec Peinkofer would have given the Bulls a top-three finish.
Regional Rankings. The men have been in the rankings for much of the season, climbing as high as #9 following a fourth-place showing at Paul Short, but have dropped to #12 after missing a few key pieces as Pre-Nationals.
Against other MAC opponents. UB doesn't often get to compete against conference foes, since they stay in their Northeast Region while much of the MAC is in the Great Lakes Region. This year was a little different. UB beat Toledo by a 37-second average margin at the UB Stampede and finished behind Eastern Michigan and Akron in the seeded race at Pre-Nationals. In the other race at Pre-Nationals, Miami and Ohio both ran faster than the Bulls, while Bowling Green was slower. I wouldn't take much from that, as Jack Jibb and Andrew Berge both say out.
MAC in the Regional Rankings. Eastern Michigan is very good, #5 in the Great Lakes, where Akron (#9), Miami (#12), Ohio, and CMU (#14-15) also make an appearance.
Predicted Top 7. Last year UB entered nine runners in the championship, which offers some insurance if someone has a bad day. I figure Jibb, Berge, Cameron Bruce, and Kemp will all make an appearance. From there, it's a little tougher with little to go on. I think Derek Palafox and Justin Van Epps are likely in the field, and we'll get to the nine UB ran last year with Dylan Servos and Craig Kaiser. The key for Buffalo will be to run together and pull their fifth runner, whether it's Palafox, Van Epps, or someone else up closer to the front four.
I will note that Jibb's injury was a little more severe than Berge's, and may cause troubles like Bruce last year, but I don't want to think about it.
The women have finished seventh at the conference championships three years running (ha!) now, but have from the gun this season been much faster than in 2014.
2014 Championships. The women's average time was a 39-second drop over 2013, notable as many teams ran slower on a (I think) tougher course, and the team scored fewer points than their previous two seventh-place finishes.
Regional Rankings. The women are currently #14 in the Northeast. I think that's where they've been since the Meet of Champions or Paul Short. Maybe they've hit #13 and come back down, but I don't think so.
Against other MAC opponents. The women also beat Toledo (the reigning MAC Champion) at the UB Stampede (by an average of 12 seconds per runner), which is a bigger task on the women's side. Bowling Green topped the Bulls by 17 seconds a runner at Lehigh and by less than a second per runner in different races at Pre-Nationals. Eastern Michigan finished much higher up the ladder in Louisville, while UB did beat CMU, Miami, Ohio, WMU, Akron, and Ball State in the same race.
MAC in the Regional Rankings. Half the conference is ranked in the Great Lakes: EMU, Bowling Green, CMU, and Ohio sit #8 through #11, and WMU and Miami are #13 and #14.