Depth has been the theme among Minnesota's top Division III cross country teams this year.
At the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships two weeks ago, the top-three women's teams were separated by a scant five points. The top-four men's teams all bunched within 21 points of one-another.
As Minnesota's top D3 schools motor down to Grinnell, Iowa for Saturday's NCAA Division III Central Regional meet, they can expect more -- and more -- of the same.
Adding strong Iowa squads and perennial contenders Nebraska Wesleyan to the competitive mix only makes the depth, um, deeper. Close battles are likely not only for the Central Region's titles, but also for its two automatic and up to five total national meet qualifying spots. Last year the region sent a full complement of five men's and five women's teams to nationals.
The women of #3-ranked Wartburg College of Iowa appear the sole "prohibitive favorites" in the meet. Behind Wartburg, however, # 12 St. Thomas, the MIAC champs, #13 Bethel, MIAC runners-up by 2 points, #17 Luther, #21 Nebraska Wesleyan, and #24 Carleton, 3rd at MIAC, are tightly clustered.
With a maximum of five berths for NCAA Division III National Championships on offer, at least one strong team is going to get left behind.
In the men's race, #19. St. Olaf, the MIAC champs, head a tight pack of contenders. Nebraska Wesleyan is ranked #24, Grinnell College of Iowa is ranked #28, while Hamline, which finished just 12 points behind the Oles at MIAC, is ranked #32.
St. Thomas, 3rd at MIAC, and Bethel, 4th there, are un-ranked nationally, but they are tabbed as the #5 and #6 teams in the region, and, along with strong-finishing Luther College of Iowa, expect to put themselves in the mix for national meet berths.
Find full D3 Central Regional rankings HERE.
Find full D3 national rankings HERE.
The D3 cross country handbook is HERE, see page 10 for qualifying rules.