By Chris Lotsbom
(05-June) -- Here is our event-by-event preview for the NCAA Division I Championships which take place in Eugene from June 5 - 8. Enjoy!
800m, Final June 7:
The favorite has to be LSU junior Natoya Goule. The reigning NCAA 800m indoor champion has a seed time of 2:01.04, more than two seconds faster than any other qualifier in the field [Note: Seed times are from the Eastern and Western Preliminary Meets]. A native of Jamaica, Goule also ran 2:00.76 early in the outdoor season at the LSU Alumni Gold Meet in April. If she is going to be challenged down the homestretch, it could be from Oregon's Laura Roesler, who will be running in front of her hometown fans. Roesler was runner-up to Goule at the NCAA Indoor Championships, and has timed a season best of 2:01.75. Roesler's raw speed was good enough to earn her a spot on Oregon's National Champion 4x400m team both indoors this year and Outdoors in 2012. With the famed magic of Hayward Field, an upset is always possible.
Others to watch are Goule's teammate at LSU, Charlene Lipsey; Georgia's Megan Malasarte; and UC Davis's Lauren Wallace. If one was to chose a darkhorse for a podium finish, go with Stanford freshman Amy Weissenbach (veteran to the big stage having finished fourth at the 2011 IAAF World Youth Championships in the discipline), or Illinois's Samantha Murphy.
1500m, Final June 8:
When one thinks of coach Dave Smith's Oklahoma State middle distance team, many immediately call to mind German Fernandez, the 2009 1500m NCAA champion. Though Hernandez is largely regarded as Oklahoma State's best product in recent years, Natalja Piliusina has to be thought of in the same category. Though she hasn't earned any NCAA titles yet, the Lithuanian has consistently finished at the top of the NCAA rankings in both the 1500m and 800m. Heading into the NCAA Championships, Piliusina is the fastest at 1500m by nearly a second over Florida's Cory McGee. The third time should be the charm for Piliusina, who has finished second at NCAA Championships twice before in 2011 outdoors and 2012 indoors (both at 800m). If it comes down to a tactical race, watch out for her 2:03.80 800m speed.
A trio from Florida could play spoiler to Piliusina, though. At the Stanford Payton Jordan Invitational, McGee, a junior, timed 4:10.55, her season and personal best. Also from the sunshine state is Florida State's Amanda Winslow and Florida's Agata Strausa, boasting season marks of 4:10.79 and 4:11.27, respectively.
As mentioned in the 800m, never disregard the magic of Oregon's Hayward Field. Senior Anne Kesselring --the 800m NCAA Champion from 2011 outdoors-- could play a factor. Also don't forget Big East Conference winner Emily Lipari of Villanova.
5000m, Final June 7:
The women's 5000m should be one of the best races of the entire meet program. Here you have NCAA Indoor 5000m champion Abbey D'Agostino of Dartmouth, Oregon darling Jordan Hasay running her final race at her home track, Pac-12 foe Megan Goethals, Providence tandem Emily Sisson and Laura Nagel, as well as Kenyans Aliphine Tuliamuk-Bolton (Wichita State) and Betsy Saina (Iowa State). The favorite has to be D'Agostino, who leads the NCAA rankings with her 15:11.35 performance at Mt. Sac in April. D'Agostino is not attempting a 5000m/10,000m double, meaning her main focus will be this race. The question is will she take the pace out fast from the gun or let the contest play into a tactical affair?
Ironically, all of Hasay's eggs are in the 5000m as well. Having failed to qualify for the 10,000m, Hasay's final race as a collegian will be on her home track, the same track in which she was ushered in as an Oregon Duck in 2008 when she finished tenth --still as a high schooler-- in the Olympic Trials 1500m. As Letsrun.com wrote in their event preview, it would be a storybook ending worthy of a Walt Disney film if Hasay could take the 5000m title. Surely that would quiet all of her nay-sayers, walking off the Hayward Field track national champion to a standing ovation.
Aside from D'Agostino and Hasay, there is a deep list of athletes who could well finish in the top two. NCAA Division I Cross Country champion Saina and fourth place finisher Tuliamuk-Bolton have the credentials to rightfully do so. The one thing possibly holding them back is their entry in Wednesday's 10,000m. Also entered in both events is Washington's Goethals.
Ray Treacy always has his Providence Friars ready for the post-season; the veteran coach has Sisson and Nagel in the event, two athletes who have shown promise throughout their careers. Two others worth noting are Columbia's Waverly Neer and Kentucky's Chelsea Oswald.
10,000m, Final June 5:
As mentioned in the 5000m capsule, Iowa State's Betsy Saina (NCAA Cross Country Champion) and Wichita State's Aliphine Tuliamuk-Bolton are two favorites that are entered in both the 5000m and 10,000m. Kentucky's Chelsea Oswald and Washinton's Megan Goethals are also entered in both distance events.
One that we didn't mention in the 5,000m but must mention in the 10,000m is Arizona's Jennifer Bergman, who has timed 33:04.58 this season. The senior could be the next one in Arizona's long list of recent champions (think Stephen Sambu and Lawi Lalang) to top the podium. Like Lalang, she is coached by James Li.
Last year's fourth place finisher Meaghan Nelson will return to try and better her finish from a year ago, as will Cornell's Katie Kellner. In 2012, the Ivy Leaguer placed 21st nearly two minutes behind the winner. But this year, Kellner has been on a roll, winning the Eastern Regional on May 23 in 33:17.39.
Not to be forgotten are Risper Kimaiyo of UTEP and Boston University's Katie Matthews, both of whom could finish on the podium if they have a good day.
3000m Steeplechase, Final June 8:
Reigning champion Shalaya Kipp of Colorado is red-shirting this year, leaving teammate and fellow Olympian Emma Coburn the easy favorite. Coburn is perhaps the best NCAA steeplechaser since Jenny Simpson was at Colorado, running to a season best of 9:28.26 in April.
While Coburn should be the easy victor (after all, she has the fastest time in the NCAA by more than 20 seconds), look for a number of sub-10:00 athletes to battle it out for All-American honors. Florida State's Colleen Quigley, Cornell's Rachel Sorna, Weber State's Amber Henry, Michigan State's Leah O'Connor, UMKC's Courtney Frerichs, and Nebraska's Jessica Furlan have all run under 10:00 this season.
Two names that should be in the mix as well come from the Big East in Providence's Shelby Greany and Syracuse's Brianna Nerud.
800m, Final June 7:
This event has been an exciting discipline to watch on the NCAA level in recent years. Guys like Andrew Wheating, Robby Andrews, Charles Jock, and Erik Sowinski have emerged from the collegiate ranks to establish themselves on the professional circuit. Next up on the list will likely be Elijah Greer and Cas Loxsom. From Oregon and Penn State, respectively, the duo have captivated the nation with their times and dramatic finishes over the last few years.
At the NCAA Indoor meet in Arkansas, it was Greer who took the win one-tenth of a second ahead of Loxsom. In this year's outdoor final, look for Loxsom to give every last ounce trying to earn the title and prevent Greer from winning on his home turf.
While Greer and Loxsom have been the big names atop the leaderboard all season, 19 others clocked times under 1:48.50. Among them was Declan Murray, a senior at Loyola of Illinois. Much to the chagrin of track fans across the nation, Murray has the same season best as Loxsom -- 1:46.77; both ran the time at Mt. SAC in April.
While Greer, Loxsom, and Murray are the only ones to go under 1:47.00, a number of others could very well finish in the top three. Penn State's Brannon Kidder, Western Kentucky's David Mokone, and Georgia's Charles Grethen are the next three fastest on the NCAA list. It will be very interesting to see who advances from Heat 3 of the preliminary round, as Greer, Kidder, Mokone, and Grethen are all in the section. Keep in mind the top two from each heat plus the next best two athletes from all three heats advance to the final.
1500m, Final June 8:
The men's 1500m really is a toss-up with about three quarters of the field having a realistic shot of winning the national title. Among them are Oklahoma duo Riley Masters and Patrick Casey, defending champion Andrew Bayer, and Notre Dame's Jeremy Rae, who has the fastest seed time.
In the metric mile, anything can happen. It's near impossible to eliminate from contention any of the 24 entrants, but here's our best shot at selecting the true contenders.
Aside from the four standouts mentioned above, North Carolina State's Ryan Hill and Boston University's Rich Peters should be in the mix at the front of the pack. Peters, from Great Britain, could carry on the recent NCAA success of Brits in the mile/metric mile: in 2012, Tulsa's Chris O'Hare (Scotland) took the mile title (O'Hare is redshirting and concentrating on the World Championships, thus is not competing this week).
Wisconsin is typically thought of as a longer distance school. After all, the Badgers have produced 10,000m Olympian Mohammed Ahmed and were the NCAA Cross Country Champions in 2011. But the middle distance duo of Austin Mudd and Alex Hatz could make waves in the 1500m. Both are sophomores and were national title holders in high school.
The University of Oregon has three athletes in the discipline: Chad Noelle, Mac Fleet, and Patrick Todd. With a little boost from the home crowd, any one of them could be taking a victory lap around Hayward Field.
Stanford's Tyler Stutzman and Penn State's Robby Creese are also entered.
Right there, we mentioned 13 of the 24-man field. Only 12 advance to the final; someone's bound to be left out.
5,000m, Final June 8:
Similar to the women's 5000m, the men's 5000m will certainly be the most anticipated race of the distance program. Here you have Lawi Lalang, the odds on favorite, taking on Olympian Diego Estrada and rising star Eric Jenkins. Throw in Oklahoma State's Girma Mecheso and Kirubel Erassa, Big East Conference champion Andrew Springer, and last year's runner-up Paul Chelimo, and you have a star studded field. Not to mention NCAA 3000m Indoor runner-up Kemoy Campbell and indoor 5000m fourth place finisher Maverick Darling.
What more can you say? This is going to be an epic battle.
Lalang is attempting the 5000m/10,000m double, but that shouldn't be a problem for the 21-year-old. The 10,000m final is on Thursday, while the 5000m is on Saturday.
Surely there is extra motivation for Estrada, who finished second over 5000m indoors. He's accustomed to the big stage --he ran for Mexico in the London Olympics-- and won't be intimidated by Lalang.
Jenkins also has motivation of his own after being disqualified from the NCAA Indoor 3000m for impeding another runer. The junior from Northeastern --not known as a distance running school-- has a personal best of 13:18.57 set in April.
Lalang, Estrada, and Jenkins should round out the top three, but any of the aforementioned other contenders could finish on the podium.
10,000m, Final June 6:
Like in the 5000m, Arizona's Lalang is the favorite, having run 28:14.63 this year. This will be Lalang's first race of the weekend and could set the stage for how he does in the 5000m.
Ironically, Lalang does not have the fastest time in the NCAA this year. That belongs to Oklahoma State's Girma Mecheso. Mecheso timed 27:52.38 at Stanford's Payton Jordan Invitational, finishing as the top collegian in a field of professionals.
Others to look out for are UNC-Greensboro's Paul Katam, Georgetown's Andrew Springer, BYU's Jared Ward, and hometown favorite Parker Stinson of Oregon. Ward is the top returner from last year's 10,000m, while Katam finished ninth a year ago. Springer may be a darkhorse, though he has shown great improvement in the distance events over the last year, winning both the 5000m and 10,000m at the Big East Conference Championship.
3000m Steeplechase, Final June 7:
A pair of Kenyans look to be the favorite in this discipline. The top returner from last year is Texas A&M's Henry Lelei, who holds the fastest time in the NCAA, while fellow Kenyan Anthony Rotich --who placed sixth in 2012-- will race as well. The only other top-10 finisher from last year is Colorado's Aric VanHalen. He won the Pac-12 Championships with a time of 8:41.73.
Others to keep an eye on are Florida's Zak Seddon, North Carolina State's Brian Himelright, and Arkansas's Stanley Kebenei. All have run under 8:41 this year.
Louisville's Mattias Wolter, winner of the Big East Conference crown and top finisher at the Stanford Invitational, could also be a factor.