The only true distance race of the indoor season is the 25 lap tango. Of the 16 women from last year’s NCAA 5000 meter race, 10 are slated to return (barring redshirts). Karissa Schweizer, the 2018 national champion, is now with Bowerman Track Club which means there will be a new name atop the podium come March. The question on everyone’s mind is...who?
Weini Kelati looked like she was going to run away with the NCAA cross country title after she made a big move in the late stages of the race, but was caught by eventual winner Dani Jones in the last straightaway. Despite coming up short of a national title, Kelati looked dominant for most of the season and won every race except NCAAs and Nuttycombe.
Last year, she finished 5th indoors and 9th outdoors over 5000 meters. She has already raced one 5k this season, making the most of her cross country fitness at the BU Season Opener on December 1. There, she was runner-up to Kurgat in a blazing-fast 15:15, less than a second off Kurgat and only three seconds off the NCAA record.
Kelati will be tough to beat indoors, but she could struggle if the pace starts off slow (a commonality of championship racing). As seen at the cross country national meet, Kelati does not have the kick of some of the other top women and a race with a fast finish hurts her chances at a national title.
Ednah Kurgat is the other New Mexico Lobo who will be looking for a national title this indoor season. She struggled a bit this fall compared to her season in 2017, but she still made a big statement at BU when she was only 2.5 seconds short of the NCAA record for 5000 meters.
Kurgat comes into the 2018-19 season as the top returner indoors after finishing runner-up to Schweizer last year. Similar to Kelati, Kurgat does not have the same speed over shorter distance and would benefit from a faster overall pace. Given teammates Kelati and Charlotte Prouse should also be in the race, the Lobos could easily choose to make it a honest race from the start which would benefit all three ladies.
Sharon Lokedi is the reigning national champion over 10,000 meters and also ran 15:15 at BU to start her indoor season. Lokedi was somewhat inconsistent during cross country, but historically performs better on the track than grass. The Kansas Jayhawk was 3rd at the indoor national meet last year which she then followed up with her big outdoor season.
This year, another 3rd place finish could be very likely given how good Kelati and Kurgat are up front. While she ran a great race at BU, she never looked ready to make a big move from the group and eventually had to settle for 3rd. Lokedi seems to be a better fit for the 10k, but she should still be mixing it up for an NCAA title this indoor season.
Allie Ostrander finished right behind Lokedi at BU, running 15:16 in only her second indoor 5k. Surprisingly, Ostrander has never actually finished an indoor 5k at NCAA's. Her freshman season she DNF’d due to injury after running a stellar 15:21 earlier in the year. In 2017, she redshirted the entire season and last year she opted to focus on the 3000/DMR double rather than the 5000.
Is this the year she writes her name into the record books? Maybe, although it could be a bit of a stretch. Ostrander had a solid cross country season, but has yet to look as dominant as her freshman year when she finished runner-up to Molly Seidel. One thing Ostrander has going for her over some of the other women is her speed. While the likes of Kelati and Kurgat have 1500 PR's in the 4:20s, Ostrander has run 4:15 which gives her the best closing speed amongst the top group. That said, she also has the slowest personal best for 5000 meters, so her chances at winning could rely heavily on how the race plays out.
Even with how fast she has already run this season, there is a chance Allie O does not even run the 5k at NCAA's. Given she focuses on the steeplechase during outdoors, racing the 3000 and mile during indoors give her a better chance to work on her speed which translates better to the steeple.
Alicia Monson had a huge cross country season and will be looking to carry that momentum over to indoor track. She surprised quite a few people when she took the individual title over a loaded Nuttycombe field and then followed that up with wins at BIG 10's and the Great Lakes regional. This XC season she proved that she can compete with the best women in the country and should be much higher up than she was at indoors a year ago.
Although Monson ran the 5k at both indoor and outdoor Nationals last year, she was never really competing with the leaders. Indoors she finished 12th, 36 seconds off the winner, and outdoors she finished 24 seconds back in 18th place. It would be shocking if she does not dramatically improve this year. Last year, she ran solid times (15:47 indoors / 15:38 outdoors), but struggled when it came to competing on the national stage. Now she comes into the season with plenty of front-running experience and should be a threat on the national scene.
Even with Monson’s great cross country campaign, there is still some uncertainty if it will translate to the track. After how strong she looked this fall, it’s hard to picture her anywhere but up front.
Dorcas Wasike has an interesting case. She is coming off a phenomenal cross country season and opened up her indoor season with a 15:25 showing at BU. She also was runner-up to Lokedi in the 10k during outdoors in 2018. All three of those seasons should indicate a strong indoor campaign for 2018-19.
However, Wasike has never made an NCAA indoor meet and has never raced 5k (or anything shorter) at a national meet. Should her inexperience leave reason for concern?
In short, no. She only has one indoor season under her belt and her recent performance at BU shows us that she is in great shape already. Her time should easily qualify her for NCAA's which leaves less weight on her shoulders going into the winter months. She has also proven to be a strong frontrunner on the national scene and that should translate well to the indoor 5k.
It’s hard to see Wasike winning the title with how dominant some of the other women look, but keep on eye on her as March gets close.
Lilli Burdon has an equally as interesting case. Burdon did not race the 5k during indoors last season, but was 3rd in the event at the Outdoor National Championships. Over the summer, she transferred from Oregon to Washington and spent most of the cross country season in the shadows before finally making her debut at PAC-12's.
Burdon was an XC All-American in 2017, but was finishing well back on Washington’s roster at PAC-12's and the West regional before a huge showing at the national meet gave her All-American status once again.
Based on recent results, it seems that Burdon is trending upwards and looks well on her way to the fitness that got her a national title during outdoors. With the success she had back then, it would be surprising if she chose not to race the 5000 meters this winter.
Last year she opted for the 3k/DMR double, but given Washington's lack of shorter-distance talent, it would be a stretch to see her do the same this year.
As we enter the new year, Burdon appears to be the biggest wildcard. She had a great outdoor campaign and a strong finish to cross country, but also spent much of the fall out, presumably due to injury. Don't be surprised if she makes headlines in March.