NEW ORLEANS - The Eastern Kentucky University men's cross country team will begin the 2016 season ranked in the top-10 in the country.
The Colonels came in at No. 9 in the preseason national poll released by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) on Tuesday.
It is EKU's highest national ranking ever.
Defending national champion Syracuse (No. 1), Oregon (No. 2), Northern Arizona (No. 3), Stanford (No. 4), Colorado (No. 5), Arkansas (No. 6), Georgetown (No. 7) and Washington (No. 8) are the only teams ranked ahead of Eastern.
The Colonels are ranked just ahead of perennial national powers Wisconsin (national champion in 2011) and Oklahoma State (national champion in 2009, 2010 and 2012).
Rick Erdmann's EKU program has consistently been one of the best in the country over the last half-decade. The Colonels are one of only 10 teams to qualify for the NCAA Championships each of the last five years, joining BYU, Colorado, Iona, Michigan, Oklahoma State, Stanford, Syracuse, Texas and Tulsa.
Eastern finished 17th at last year's national championship meet; however, the Colonels return all seven of their top runners from that team, including Seniors Jaime Escriche (2015 All-American), Amos Kosgey (2015 NCAA All-Southeast Region performer), Ambrose Maritim (2016 regional qualifier in the 5,000 meters - 14:09) and Luis Luna (2016 regional qualifier in the 5,000 meters - 14:03), juniors Jakob Dybdal Abrahamsen (2016 second team All-American in the 3,000-meter steeplechase - 8:34), Jamaine Coleman (2016 regional qualifier in the 3,000-meter steeplechase (8:55) and Sergio Mena (2015 first team All-OVC performer in cross country) and sophomore Erick Rotich (2015 OVC Cross Country Runner of the year and 2016 regional qualifier in the 5,000 meters - 14:05).
The USTFCCCA had this to say about EKU's ranking:
"This is a particularly impressive jump in class for Eastern Kentucky, which notched its first-ever single-digit rank in the history of the USTFCCCA polling archive (dating back to 1996). The previous bar of excellence for the Colonels had been a streak of three weeks at No. 11 to kick off the 2013 campaign.
"In fact, no other NCAA Championships-qualifying team from a year ago made a bigger leap in the preseason poll than did the Colonels."
EKU was picked as the preseason NCAA Southeast Region favorite by the USTFCCCA on Monday.
The Colonels open the season on Friday, September 2, at Morehead State's Eagle Opener.