The NCAA Division II men’s steeplechase will have a new champion this year. In fact, with seniors taking all top five spots at last year’s national meet, we will have a completely new group at the top of Division II this season. With only two athletes from last year’s final returning to Nationals this season, and the steeplechase already being one of the most unpredictable events in track and field, the outcome of this race is up in the air.
If we take a look at just seed times alone, two individuals automatically stand out. Leakey Kipkosgei of American International and Jackson Sayler of Adams State lead the field as the only two athletes to break the 8:50 mark this season. Kipkosgei picked up his time at Penn Relays a few weeks ago, running a PR of 8:44.13, while Sayler picked up his time in his only steeplechase of the season thus far, running a PR of 8:45.39 at Payton Jordan earlier this month.
Behind that duo is Alaska Anchorage’s Wesley Kirui as he comes in with the #3 time in the field running an 8:52.35 at the West Coast Invitational just two weeks ago. The Hampton transfer competed in the steeplechase at last year’s NCAA Division I Championships, so he is no stranger to running against the best of the best. He is a legitimate contender for a national title, and someone who could completely take over the steeplechase in the next couple of years.
Jonah Theisen of Black Hills State also has a strong case for bringing home a national title after running an altitude converted time of 8:52.81 at the RMAC Championships. Theisen took home the steeplechase crown during his freshman year back in 2016, so him being the only person in the field with that experience of a steeplechase title may give him a mental edge over everyone else.
Sitting right behind Theisen is Walsh’s Jacob Kernell. Kernell made Nationals last year, but did not have a good race and was far from making the final. However, he PR’d by eight seconds this year, running an 8:52.87 at the G-MAC Championships where he took down fellow steeplechase qualifier Trent Classen (Cedarville). Another PR from Kernell could put him right in the mix to end up on the podium.
Then there are runners like Lee’s Christian Noble, the aforementioned Trent Classen, Alaska Anchorage’s Edwin Kangogo, and Chico State’s Jack Johnson - all of whom have qualified for a steeplechase final in year’s past, but have yet to grab a top three (or even a top five) spot. They will look to change that this year.
Taylor Stack could have a key role in this field, especially after his 13:58 5k from Oxy two weeks. It's clear that his fitness is top-notch, but will he be able to handle doubling back from what will likely be an ultra-competitive 5000 meter race?
It will be interesting to see the strategy for the field going into prelims and then the finals. With Theisen and Western Colorado’s Taylor Stack being the only athletes doubling back for the 5k, there should not be any holding back from the rest of the field. This steeplechase will probably be the least tactical race of any of the races this weekend.
With the field being so tightly bunched from top to bottom, along with the unpredictability that comes with the barriers, seeing how this race unfolds is going to be quite spectacular.
Leakey Kipkosgei, American International
Wesley Kirui, Alaska Anchorage
Jackson Sayler, Adams State
Edwin Kangogo, Alaska Anchorage
Jonah Theisen, Black Hills State
Christian Noble, Lee (Tenn.)
Jacob Kernell, Walsh
Taylor Stack, Western State
Unlike the men’s steeplechase, the women’s race does not have as much depth, as there is a clear hierarchy of three women at the top - two of whom came into the season as favorites - and one who burst onto the scene this season.
Alijca Konieczek of Western Colorado comes in as the two-time defending national champion in this event, and goes into this weekend as the favorite with a Division II leading time of 9:52.32 which she ran earlier this month at Payton Jordan. However, unlike the past two years, this year she has chosen to double with the 1500 instead of the 5k, which adds a prelim race before her prelim of the steeplechase. It will be interesting to see if that affects her at all.
Coming in as the defending runner-up is Adams State’s Eilish Flanagan who has been right there with Konieczek this season. She comes in with a time of 9:55.25 which she picked up at Payton Jordan, finishing right behind her main rival (Konieczek). Eilish has looked as good as any runner in Division II so far this season as she also goes into the 5k with the #2 leading time in that event. She has to have the confidence that she can dethrone the two-time champion and take home the steeplechase crown.
The newcomer to the event this season who is a real threat to take down both of the women mentioned above is Simon Fraser’s Julia Howley. In her first ever season running the steeplechase, Howley comes in with a time of 10:02.45 which she picked up at the GNAC Championships. She has run four steeplechase races, all of which she has won by more than fifteen seconds. It will be very interesting to see how fast she can run when she has competition to push her.
After those three, there is a large drop in time to the fourth spot which is occupied by Grand Valley State’s Hannah Groeber who, along with Megan Wenham of Colorado Mines, is one of two women returning who ran in last year’s final. Groeber picked up a PR of 10:23.52 in early April at the Bison Outdoor Classic while Wenham picked up a PR of 10:29.23 at the Stanford Invitational in March. Both women will try to grab that All-American spot that they narrowly missed out on last year.
Joining Groeber are her teammates Holly McKinney and Madison Goen. This is Goen’s first season running the steeplechase while McKinney, a transfer from Central College, will compete at her first Division II National Championship. This group from Grand Valley State could get big points in a chase to a team national title.
The most underrated name in the field is probably HaLeigh Hunter-Galvan of Adams State. She has only run the steeplechase once, running a 10:35.58 at Oxy just two weeks ago. Who knows how much steeple practice she had before then, but now that she knows what the race feels like, she may be able to make some noise this weekend.
Other top names coming in are Tusculum’s Nicole McMillen, Hillsdale’s Allysen Eads, and Point Loma’s Zita Molnar - all of whom are going to be battling for their first outdoor All-American finish.
This steeplechase will probably be a tale of two races. The first being what is happening at the front, and the second being what is happening behind them for the rest of the top eight spots as the rest of the top 10 is separated by only ten seconds.
The showdown between Konieczek, Flanagan, and Howley is going to be one of the most exciting things we see all weekend.
Julia Howley, Simon Fraser
Alicja Konieczek, Western State
Eilish Flanagan, Adams State
Hanna Groeber, Grand Valley State
Allysen Eads, Hillsdale
Haleigh Hunter-Galvan, Adams State
Nicole McMillen, Tusculum
Megan Wenham, Colorado Mines