* Versatile mid-distane recruit Reese Dragovich has signed with Hillsdale College
Photo Credit: Bobby Reyes/Colorado MileSplit
By Garrett Zatlin - MileSplit Recruiting Correspondent
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When it comes to recruiting, it's only natural that we see many of the top NCAA Division I track and field and cross country programs land some of the best recruits in the nation.
That is, after all, what makes those respective teams so competitive.
However, the Class of 2021 has seen more than a handful of elite-level athletes sign with the non-D1 rosters this year. Many in those cases have chosed to take the NCAA Division II route.
To say that the nation's top-ranked high schoolers don't ever go to Division II or Division III schools would be inaccurate. Just last year, Reagan Ulrich, the No. 41 ranked recruit from the Class of 2020, took his pole vault prowess to the University of Central Missouri, a D2 program.
Even so, it feels like this year's recruiting class has seemingly sent more top high school talents to the NCAA D2 level than usual.
* Surage ran 11:28.75 at the Pueblo Twilight Invitational in 2019
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Take for example Monument Lewis-Palmer's (CO) Aubrey Surage signing to run for Augustana. The Vikings are set to have one of the better cross country programs in Division II for the next year or two, but will now receive a major scoring boost by adding a Colorado native who boasts a personal best of 17:56 for 5,000 meters.
In an era of D2 women's cross country that feels relatively wide-open, the addition of Surage potentially gives the Augustana women enough of a scoring boost to challenge other D2 distance juggernauts such as Grand Valley State and pretty much any school in the RMAC.
Similarly, Uniontown Lake's (OH) Nathan Moore was Ohio's best distance runner in 2020. He will join the Walsh men starting next fall. Just like the Augustana women, the Cavaliers are a nationally competitive program which just earned a dominating win at the G-MAC Championships this past fall. By adding a 14:51 runner like Moore, Walsh could potentially climb up the NCAA's hierarchy of cross country teams and (maybe) put themselves in the podium conversation.
But let's forget about the distance events for a moment and look at the sprints. Fenton's Brandon Miller, a Michigan native who was ranked at US No. 17 for 200 meters during the indoor track season and is our No. 33 ranked recruit in this class, is headed to Grand Valley State.
* Miller recently ran 21.60 in the 200m at the VA Beach Club Opener
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With personal bests of 10.68 (100m) and 21.15 (200m), iller is someone who can instantly be one of the better sprints in D2 as soon as his freshman year -- those numbers are good enough to land on most NCAA Division I programs. You could argue he is arguably the best overall recruit from the Class of 2021 who will be joining the D2 ranks.
Those names, however, are athletes who we have already discussed in prior articles. What about the new names that have since committed to join D2 rosters in the fall of 2021?
East Central's (MS) Christian Balcer is a big-time talent who owns a personal best of 14:38 for 5,000 meters en route to a sixth-place finish at the ultra-competitive RunningLane National XC Championships in November. He'll be joining the men of Mississippi College, a decent distance program in the Gulf South Conference (GSC).
Balcer will be entering the GSC just as former high school distance standout and current D2 superstar Christian Noble (Lee, Tenn.) finishes his eligibility.
And how about the women of Western Colorado? They have put together a well-rounded recruiting class that still emphasizes their strength as a distance powerhouse.
The eventual addition of Allison Beasley -- who just ran 17:45 at the RunningLane National XC Championships en route to a 13th place finish -- along with a handful of other women, will help the Mountaineers maintain the grand success that they experienced this past fall.
* Valor Christian's Reese Dragovich ran 2:20 in the 800m this past January in Arkansas
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Meanwhile, 400 meter specialists such as Colorado native Reese Dragovich and Ohio native Deji'Ona Shurelds Simpson are heading to Hillsdale and Grand Valley State, respectively. They each boast personal bests of 57 seconds (and change) in the quarter-mile event.
And how about Belle Peters? The Kansas native is joining Pittsburg State University next fall with a pole vault PR of 12-0. She was just one of 39 women from the Class of 2021 to clear the 12-foot mark during the 2020 indoor track season.
The list of accomplished high schoolers heading to Division II programs is extensive and the names that we just mentioned are far from exhaustive. However, maybe the fact that we can't name each and every high-level D2 commit this year says something about the level of talent that these schools are receiving.
Are high school student-athletes beginning to realize how competitive and effective they can be when looking at their non-D1 opportunities? Is COVID-19 impacting the allocation of Division I scholarships? Or is this just an outlier class?
Who else will commit to a D2 program?
Could this become a growing trend over the next few years? Or is this just a pandemic-related anomaly?
Few things are far from certain this year, but if we had to make a prediction, it's that the NCAA D2 scene could be more competitive than it ever has been in a few years time.
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