Our picks are finally here! Myself, along with some of the other site contributors, have gathered together for a prediction contest in an attempt to flex our NCAA distance running knowledge. We have also added Flotrack's picks for the sake of comparison. Throughout the rest of the week, we will update the scores as the preliminaries are finished.
So how does our scoring work? It goes something like this...
-Lowest score wins
-Correctly predicting the winner will be result in a bonus of -3 points.
-The difference between where a runner was predicted to finish and where they actually finished is the score that athlete earns for the predictions contest. For example, if Josh Thompson was predicted to place 2nd, but actually places 6th, the score he earns for the predictor is 4 points. However, if were to place 1st, then he earns only 1 point.
-No athlete can earn a score higher than 12 points in one event.
*Despite a busy schedule, my hope is to have analysis of The Stride Report's predictions by tomorrow! If that doesn't happen, then check this post for more updates throughout the week for day to day commentary on all of the action!
DAY ONE ANALYSIS
1500 Prelim: Ivy League Stars Falter; New Sleeper Picks Emerge
The big story in the 1500 this year was the incredible strength of the milers in the Ivy League. After big names like Chris Hatler (Penn) and James Randon (Yale) failed to advance out of regionals, fans turned to experienced veterans like Napolitano (Columbia) and Gowans (Cornell) to earn All-American spots. Unfortunately, those two along with Yale sophomore Trevor Reinhart failed to qualify for Saturday's final round.
Lost in all of this madness was William Paulson (Princeton) who is now listed at the bottom of the results as a DNF. Despite the disappointing season finish, you have to commend Paulson (along with the rest of the Ivy League milers) for stepping up to a completely new level this spring. The Heps men were almost undoubtedly the best milers from any conference this season.
Aside from the Ivy League, I was a bit surprised to see Matt Dorsey (Air Force) and Chase Horrocks (BYU) also not make it to the final. Both are experienced and seasoned milers that have shown that they can thrive in tactical races. Not having them in the NCAA final will be a touch disappointing as I predicted they would finish among the All-Americans.
While there were some names that left us wanting more, there were others that kept us excited. Andrew Dusing (Miami-Ohio) has to be one of the greatest post-season stories of the year. The man just ran a four second personal best to advance to the NCAA final! That is absolutely incredible when you think of the odds that were against him. He surprised us by making it out of regionals and he continues to surprise us now.
Joining Dusing on Saturday will be Portland's Jeff Thies who never seemed like a 1500/miler type to me before this season (but he has of course proven me wrong). The junior just ran a lifetime personal best of 3:40 in the preliminaries and will look to take down four others for a spot at All-American glory.
3000 Steeple Prelim: Veterans Struggle In Prelim; Tooker Ends Cinderella Season
It's almost impossible to guess how these steeplechase races will play out. With such an elite group of athletes jumping over hurdles and into water pits for nearly two miles, things won't always be perfect. Sure enough, that was the case in the preliminary round as established front-runners like Dyland Lafond (Illinois), Willy Fink (Eastern Michigan), Robert Murphy (IUPUI), and Johannes Motschmann (Iona) all failed to make the final despite being some of the most experienced distance runners in the NCAA.
Austin O'Neil (UCLA) and Jamaine Coleman (EKU) were also big names that fell victim to the elite steeplechase field as they placed outside of the qualifying positions. Yet, the biggest miss in my eyes was freshman Aidan Tooker (Syracuse) who could very well be the best freshman distance runner in the NCAA this season (if we exclude mid-distances like the 800) after a huge personal best of 8:39 at East Regionals two weeks ago. Like Bailey Roth of Arizona was last year, Tooker is looking like the future of collegiate steeplechasing.
Notable qualifiers to make Saturday's final included Noah Schutte (Portland), Jacob Heslington (BYU), and Dylan Blankenbaker (Oklahoma). All three of these men have had strong and consistent performances all season. They've consistently improved throughout both the spring and they have now separated themselves as emerging sleeper picks in an unpredictable steeplechase final.
Heppenstall Set To Be 4/4 In All-American Attempts; Arroyo Makes Final; Joseph & Rutto Miss
The 800 field has now been narrowed down to eight individuals. Barring any fluke circumstances such as a DQ or a DNF, Robert Heppenstall (Wake Forest) will once again become an All-American for the fourth straight time. This guy has to be one of the most clutch athletes in the NCAA as he never disappoints on the big stage. It's unlikely that he wins, but you can bet that he'll put up a respectable fight on Saturday.
I will admit, Florida's Andres Arroyo has taken a heavy load of criticism from yours truly after his consistent failures to have an impact on the national level. Despite personal bests of 1:45 (in two separate seasons) Arroyo has only walked away as an All-American once in his six races at NCAA's (which was an unexciting 8th place finish). That doesn't even count last year where he completely missed qualifying for Nationals. Now, Arroyo has secured himself one of the eight spots to Saturday's final which should technically guarantee him All-American honors as long as he finishes the race / doesn't get disqualified. Would there be any better way for him to end his collegiate career than by upsetting Korir for the national title? A man can dream...
I suppose we do have to talk about the big misses in the field which include Eliud Rutto (Mid. Tenn. St.) and Patrick Joseph (Virginia Tech). Admittedly, these two do have a history of struggling in the national preliminaries (at least as of late). Joseph took a nasty spill during NCAA's this past winter and did not move on to that final. Rutto also failed to make that same final after poor race execution left him as the first man out. While Joseph still has another year of eligibility to make some minor adjustments, Rutto's collegiate career is done. He will finish as a four-time All-American and be remembered as one of the key names to lead the elite half-milers of the 2010's.
Scott Secures First National Title; Tactics Trump Time
If we're being honest, the top result isn't that surprising. Scott was clearly better than every other athlete in this field. No one was consistently racing at the level Marc Scott was this season. His proven versatility, lethal kick, championship experience, and ability to adjust his race tactics made him the no-brainer to take this win. It was a well deserved victory for the Tulsa senior, but he now faces a much tougher challenge in the 5k where he will have to take on the likes of Justyn Knight and Grant Fisher.
But Scott is a different story. The rest of the field? They surprised me.
Of my eight picks to become All-American, only two of those guys walked away with that honor (Scott & Peterson). The Colorado State duo of Jerrell Mock and Grant Fischer just missed out on the top eight after throwing down NCAA #4 and NCAA #11 times earlier this season. I felt that at least one of them would make it through to the top eight.
And how about Hassan Abdi (Oklahoma State)? His personal bests in the 5k and 10k this season made him seem a bit more versatile than some others in this field. In fact, you could make the same argument for George Parsons (NC State) and Jacob Choge (Mid. Tenn. St.). None of them had a "poor" race all season so it's surprising to see them outside of the All-American positions.
Yet, the biggest surprise miss has to be Alfred Chelanga of Alabama who currently holds the top time in the NCAA 10k. After a mind-blowing 28:04 at the Stanford Invite, Chelanga was immediately thrown into the discussion as a name that could potentially challenge Edward Cheserek at NCAA's (before he withdrew due to an injury). Some even believed that Chelanga could have won once Cheserek was out of the picture. Unfortunately, tactical races do not seem to suit to the former Division 2 distance star as he fell out of the top eight to finish 11th overall. After such high expectations earlier this season, it was difficult to see Chelanga's season end like that.
But as much as I like to harp on the negative, I do have to give credit where credit is due. The guys who knew how to RACE stepped up to the plate and had some outstanding performances. One of those guys was BYU sophomore and Canada native Rory Linkletter. He was a second behind Marc Scott to place second overall in what was one of the biggest surprises of the meet so far.
And how about Lucas Stalnaker (Navy)? He was able to do what former teammate Stephen Schroeder couldn't do, by becoming an All-American with his fifth place finish. He was just behind Arsene Guillorel of Samford who seems to be thriving under head coach Pat McGregor after his fourth place All-American finish.
It just goes that no matter how fast you've run during the regular season, if you can't adjust to mid-race surges or stay competitive in a kicker's race, then you'll struggle on the big stage. Then again, we are just getting accustomed to life after Cheserek. If he was in this race, would the results be similar? I like to think so, but...