Wang Mang, Human Powered Flight, and NCAA Cross Country Nationals 

In the first century AD, Chinese Emperor (and secretly amazing name for a rapper) Wang Mang took a soldier, covered him in bird wings, and told him to jump out of a tower. It’s claimed that he glided about 100 meters. This is one of the first instances of an attempt at a human-built flying machine. There really isn’t much record as to whether or not the guy actually flew 100 meters and survived, or if he was secretly a woman trying to honor her family by pretending to be Chinese soldier and falling in love with the voice of Donny Osmond, but what can be confirmed is that this anonymous soldier had bigger balls than most people to walk the face of the earth.

You see, there’s a lot to be said about a guy who can stand on top of a tower, covered in more feathers than a Coachella attendee, and attempt to take on the undefeated record of a little thing called gravity (not to be confused with the Sandra Bullock movie of the same name, which most certainly was defeated 3 times during the 86th Academy Awards, once by 12 Years A Slave, once by Cate Blanchett, and once by the Great Gatsby). Even if this Chinese soldier did actually glide, or more likely “fall with style” for 100 meters, he had to have known in the back of his head, he didn’t really have much of a shot.

In all honesty, that’s the same story for about 75 percent of the teams lining up for Saturday’s NCAA championship. While they won’t be wearing anything as ridiculous as a bunch of bird feathers and string (although the fact that Iona is sponsored by Brooks is kind of embarrassing), the fact of the matter is that realistically most teams entered have almost no shot at winning a national title in Louisville this weekend. That’s not to knock the teams that make it, as only 29 deserving teams plus 2 teams from the South Central region actually make the meet. It’s a fairly selective group and quite the accomplishment just to be on the starting line. It’s just that with the exception of a handful of teams at NCAA’s, most participants are looking at the Chinese countryside below their feet and hoping that a dude named Wang Mang is right.

In all honesty, picking the top 5 teams for each gender at this year’s nationals is about as difficult as predicting the bottom 26. While both genders have fairly certain locks at the top (Colorado for the men and New Mexico for the women), there’s strong contenders on both sides willing to challenge for the top spot. Combine that with Edward Cheserek making a go at 3 straight NCAA titles (never before accomplished) and Allie Ostrander looking to continue her tear through the college ranks, and Saturday is shaping up to certifiably be Not A Shitty Meet. The best part of it all will be that the meet is streaming live free of charge on, but to be fair, the NCAA doesn’t give you videos of idiots playing with magnets on a white board like other streaming sites, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Anyways, I figured rather than just predict how the meet will play out, I’ll just give you a quick look at all the teams. Some of these may be sentences, singular words, phrases, or links to YouTube videos, so I’ll just say they’re “something” and worry about labels later.


Arkansas – They won a South Central regional that was about as tough as Paul Giamatti’s character in Straight Outta Compton which for reasons beyond which I understand, qualifies you for the NCAA championship meet. But I don’t make the rules, I just claim to know them.

Colorado – The favorite of everybody and their mom to win the meet, mostly because they’ve looked untouchable all year and because no one’s mom is going to look deeper into the rankings than the tweet of the top 5.

Florida State – They won the Harry Mulenga contest by being one of the few schools he’d be able to run for and retain eligibility. The biggest knock on them would be that the South regional race was only 9725 meters. A lot can happen in the last 275 meters of a 10k, just ask Molly Huddle.

Georgetown – Gotta give them props for losing their coach before the season and imposing sanctions, one of which was “reducing competitive opportunities for the team” which I assume is just another way of saying “continuing to compete in the Big East Conference”

Iona – I already roasted them for being sponsored by Brooks earlier, so I’ll just say that their mascot is the Gaels and that there’s no way a team named after Oprah’s best friend will ever be more than second place.

Louisville – They’re the hosts of the meet which is kind of cool to see, given that Indiana State hasn’t done much beyond work the course in recent years.

Michigan – They’re the latest Flotrack darlings which has everything to do with how talented they are and nothing to do with an alum being on Flotrack staff. If Flotrack was biased, there would already be a series on whatever backwater D2 Lincoln ran for.

Michigan State – The fact that they’re not Michigan should be reason enough to root for them.

Minnesota – They got second to Oklahoma State at the Midwest regional and probably received muffin baskets from the large swath of teams they so graciously gifted Kolas points at Prenats. Watch out though, muffins have way more calories than you think and the week of nationals is not when you want to be packing on the pounds.

Oklahoma State – Kind of being ignored because they’re not Colorado or Syracuse but they’re still probably a lock for the podium.

Ole Miss – Kind of like a 1500 runner trying to succeed in cross country, they’re just falling apart as the season goes on.

Penn – They’re the token Ivy League team of the year, earning them the title of “underdog,” a title that will immediately be lost the instant they graduate and start a six figure job and have a boating based reason to wear boating shoes.

Stanford – Huge comeback for these guys to grab an auto out of the West region, proving that you can’t write off ALL Stanford runners who seem to have already hit their peak but continue to receive massive amounts of hype, just one of them.

Syracuse – They’re everybody’s “edgy” pick to beat Colorado and to be honest, that opinion is as edgy as a marble.

Texas – They got second in the South Central which is like being Paul Giamatti’s character in Lady in The Water, aka the second least shitty character in the shittiest M. Night Shyamalan movie.

UTEP – They’ve got a roster made up of 6 Kenyans, so you can pretty much guarantee a Letsrun message board shit storm if they end up winning.

Virginia – They’re gonna be someone’s hot take pick to win next year so you can either hop on the hype train now or regret it 12 months from now. Your call.

Washington – They were the surprise winners of their regional meet which was a moment they got to celebrate with the throngs of 2 people who stayed around after the meet for the awards.

Boise State – They’re gonna be someone’s hot take pick to win two years from now so you can either hop on the hype train now or regret it 24 months from now. Your call.

Brigham Young – There’s going to be a lot of guys on the line, 4 years removed from their last high school race, looking at the final race of their collegiate career, and then there’s the BYU freshmen, 4 years removed from their last high school race, looking at the final race of their freshman season.

California – I gotta admit, I really didn’t think Cal was going to do anything this season, but they qualified for nationals which is a pretty big accomplishment for them. But to be honest, the highlight of the year for Cal in my eyes was discovering Bethan Knights’ Twitter page. I’m not sure if it’s a parody account or an experimental art project but it’s everything a Twitter account needs to be.

Eastern Kentucky – Probably the most excited team at the meet as they get to spend the weekend in a Kentucky city other than their own which trust me, is pretty big for this bunch.

Furman – Paladins are what they call Nissan Xterras in China, you dingus.

NC State – I don’t know much about NC State but to fear them.

Oregon – They’re the favorite team of every kid on your high school team that went D3 and has #Rio2016 in their Twitter bio. They lost Parker Stinson to graduation so they clearly have no shot at a team title this year, but at least they’re gonna give it a shot.

Southern Utah – Weird that a team who named their mascot after a British tv show is headed to nationals, but I’m not one to judge.

Tulsa – One of three teams from Oklahoma to make it to the NCAA meet and their mascot is a hurricane. I just want to clarify that as far as I could tell, a hurricane hasn’t hit Oklahoma in recent history but then again, USC’s mascot is a Trojan and the only Greek dudes you see on their campus is the dude with the weird voice that’s on Fox Sports College football coverage. I won’t judge them on this one.

UCLA – UCLA and Cal making the Nationals meet in the same year is considered in some religions to be a sign of the end times.

Virginia Tech – They’re just there to make sure Thomas Curtin has people to hang out with at the hotel.

Washington State – I would make fun of Washington State, but I wanna give a shout out to John Whelan who was second at West Regionals and the only person defending holding PAC-12s in Colfax, WA. Clearly this guy is into uphill battles. As far as I know, Nationals is not uphill. Not sure how this will affect him.

And now time for the ladies…

Arkansas – My weights coach once told me that if I’m ever looking for a wife, I should start my search in Arkansas. He was talking about Dom Scott right? He was probably talking about Dom Scott. Dom, call me.

Boise State – Allie Ostrander won a mountain running world championship, which is something they give out, but more impressively has been on a tear this fall, outside of a loss to Bethan Knights at Griak. Actually probably 90 percent of what Allie Ostrander does on a daily basis is more impressive than a mountain running championship so let’s just get on with it.

Colorado – The Colorado women are the biggest threat to New Mexico but have already won the “Girls Team That Has A Team Twitter Account” competition which was just them and Columbia as far as I can tell.

Georgetown – See their men’s team.

Iowa State – They were second last year but it really wasn’t close. They lost talent while other teams gained it. When asked why they didn’t want to go to school in Ames, Iowa, most high school recruits responded “Where?”

Michigan – They’re actually realistically your best pick at a dark horse for the title if you consider a team ranked 6th in the nation with only one loss to be a dark horse.

Mississippi State – Someone had to get second at South Regionals. It was Mississippi State.

New Mexico – They’re no longer the undisputed favorite to win the team title, given that they lost to Colorado at regionals. They’re either going to run away with the title or blow up and make a lot of people look dumb. The second option seems like more fun.

NC State – You know how I feel about NC State at this point. Just know that I’m not lying. NC State gives me nightmares. I don’t need to explain why.

Notre Dame – Sucks that this is Molly Seidel’s last XC nationals. Oh shit, they’ve got Anna Rohrer too? Who knew the Catholics were so prepared when it came to succession plans.

Oklahoma State – I’m getting tired so for the next group of teams I’m just gonna pick the songs I’m listening to the most this week
Oregon – Put Em On The Glass – Sir Mix A Lot

Penn State – Knuck If You Buck – Crime Mob –

Providence – Down and Out – Cam’Ron

Syracuse – Rhymes Like Dimes – MF Doom

Texas – Looking For Trouble – J. Cole

Vanderbilt – Caroline Pietrzyk is the truth and we are all Pietrzyknesses

Virginia – Their 2-3-4 finished together at regionals and 5 wasn’t too far behind. If they can repeat that at nationals, they’ve got a solid shot at the podium. If they don’t repeat it at nationals, not a lot of people will notice.

BYU – They lost on a tiebreaker with Gonzaga at WCC’s which helped push Gonzaga to an at-large berth to nationals which has made a lot of people upset for reasons they probably shouldn’t be upset about.

Gonzaga – They didn’t beat anybody, but they also didn’t lose to anybody, and as mentioned before that’s making a lot of people mad. Whether or not the reason those people are mad being that they were wrong on a public forum and refuse to admit it is another story entirely.

Kansas – Basketball season is starting in Lawrence this week so the fact that their women qualified for nationals is gonna get buried until they recruit a 6’7″ kid with a solid post game to join their women’s cross country team.

Michigan State – Lady Sparts Nation STAND THE F UP! (Lady Sparts nation is us, the Michigan State women and their families, and Jonny Stevens)

Minnesota – This is the 12th straight time they’ve made the NCAA championship meaning that the last time Minnesota didn’t make Nationals, those stupid “hover board” things didn’t even exist yet. Really puts things in perspective.

Princeton – The other part of the whole Kolas wackiness that went on this past weekend, they already won the Ivy League World Championship so really they couldn’t care less about this meet.

San Francisco – One time their coach made me cry. I don’t wanna get into it but just know that the slow knife cuts the deepest.

Stanford – I had a dream once where not only did Stanford have the male Rosa twins, they also had the female Rosa twins, who ended up being two women that looked like Brenda Martinez and had the first name Rosa, which looking back makes me realize that no one would give their twin daughters the same name.

Tulsa – I’ve also been listening to the song “Benz Friendz” by Future feat. Andre 3000

Utah – When I was a kid, we took this big long family road trip and passed through Salt Lake City, shortly after they hosted the Olympics. We stayed in a hotel and left the next morning. Years later I spoke with a friend who attended Utah and was told I didn’t miss much. Those last couple sentences are going to get some people angry on Twitter. I’ll probably turn off notifications for a bit.

Villanova – It had to be really awkward at the regionals party when the girls team was celebrating making nationals and the guys team was celebrating sending 3 individuals to nationals but missing out as a team.

Washington – Remember when there used to be Krispy Kreme donut shops EVERYWHERE. It seemed like in every town there was at least 2 locations and they always seemed busy, and then Krispy Kreme stopped getting all the top recruits and developing talent and lost their assistant coach/recruiting mastermind to another school and suddenly Krispy Kreme wasn’t as dominant as they were? That’s sorta like what’s happened with the Washington women’s team.

Weber State – Best team on the whole list named after a grill. Hands down.

As for the order the teams are gonna finish? Probably looking at Colorado winning on the men’s side and Cheserek taking the win because time is a flat circle and me refusing to predict the women’s side because the men’s team of whichever team ends up winning is gonna go on Twitter and harass me about how wrong I was. For the record, there are more impressive ways to impress women.


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