By: Garrett Zatlin
Reminder of the list so far...
#17 NC State Wolfpack
17. North Carolina State Wolfpack
Flotrack’s #17: Southern Utah Thunderbirds
Coach: Rollie Geiger
Notable Departures: N/A
Notable Additions: Meron Simon (transfer)
Notable Additions: Meron Simon (transfer)
Projected Scoring Five: Sam Parsons (JR) [ET#35], Graham Crawford (SR) [ET#50], Meron Simon (SR), Bakri Abushouk (SO), Sebastian Hanson (SO)
When I look at this squad, it shocks me that they weren’t ranked better in Flotrack’s rankings (but we’ll get to that later). The team was going through a transition period last fall trying to put the pieces of the puzzle back together after losing some crucial pieces to graduation. Luckily, their top guys stepped up and savored what could have been a disappointing season. The experienced veterans that return to this team as well as the new faces and young potential put this squad at #17 spot.
The Wolfpack entered last season with some rebuilding to do. Their leader, Andrew Colley, graduated, and left NC State with a big hole up front as well as plenty of depth to make up. The team began last season by attending the Covered Bridge XC meet. The Wolfpack would take it as a workout and get the first race jitters out of their system to prepare them for the Adidas XC Challenge in their home state. That said, the competition wasn’t that strong and NC State would take four of the top five spots to win the meet. Another two weeks would pass until the Notre Dame Invite. NC State would need to show that they could still be competitive despite losing top names. While it wasn’t the most beautifully executed race, NC State sneaked out with a respectable 9th place team finish. While it wasn’t a flashy finish, you had to commend the Wolfpack for their efforts especially considering that Graham Crawford had a very off day and finished as the team’s 6th man. Pre-Nats would be the next race on the list for Coach Geiger’s squad. Many were patiently waiting to see if the Wolfpack could all show up and race well on the same day. The result, however, was the complete opposite. NC State failed to place anyone in the top 30 with Parsons leading the squad at 32nd place. Crawford was the second man, but feel way back to 85th. The rest of the scorers all finished between 106th and 117th. The team would finish a disappointing 13th place. Now it was the post season, and the expectations for the Wolfpack were low at ACC’s. Many dismissed the team as being inconsistent and left them out of their predictions. NC State had something to prove. The Wolfpack came thundering out of the gate and surprised the entire conference by stealing the runner-up spot from rival, UNC by five points. Parson and Crawford finally clicked by finishing 4th and 5th overall. Third and fourth men Sebastian Hanson and Bakri Abushouk all cracked the top 30 while fifth man Sam Roberson was 31st. It was a good day to be part of NC State. Now it was regionals and all eyes were on the Wolfpack to perform. The field was incredibly deep with each team holding huge amounts of depth. It would be an all out fight for an NCAA bid…and what a fight it was. Sure enough, the top four times were all known for their excellent depth. UVA, Furman, UNC, and Eastern Kentucky all got bids to NCAA’s while NC State was the first squad out, 35 points out from the 4th place squad. Parson’s would finish 4th overall and be the lone wolf to make NCAA’s. The rest of the pack would return home.
Many are probably surprised by NC State being this low (and I can’t blame them). But when you return two top veterans who have established themselves in a deep region and conference AND an experienced veteran from Washington (Meron Simon). That is a scary top three. As I’ve said before, I really like steeplechasers during XC season and Simon is a perfect steeplechase addition to NC State. A big weakness of NC State was trying to close the gap between the top two and the rest of their scorers. Meron will be the man to close that gap and bring forward the rest of the scorers. That of course, is the biggest weakness of this squad. While their top three are great, the younger guys are inconsistent. Luckily, Abushouk and Hanson will have gotten over that freshman year hump and go into this season most likely much more improved. Just think about some of the outstanding individuals NC State has had recently (Colley, Thomson, Parsons, Crawford). It’s a risk putting NC State this low with so much of their potential on two sophomores. Still, the potential is too high and the front-runners are too strong. Considering they bring back their entire top seven with an additional front-runner, you can’t help but really like this squad.
I remember looking at Flotrack’s rankings and think “Did they make a typo”? I’ll admit that my ranking of NC State at #17 might be generous, but 30th is just ridiculous. I’m not sure how returning all of those guys and adding a solid transfers puts them that far back. Their conference and region is still extremely difficult, but I think the 22nd/21st spot would be a more reasonable compromise between our rankings. I’m hoping the Wolfpack backs me up on this.