The DMR season is typically dominated by two meets – the Alex Wilson Invitational and the NCAA Championships. Of course, the NCAA Championships is important because it provides the title, but the Alex Wilson Invitational serves as the NCAA preliminary round in the DMR. At least, in most years. 2018, was not most years. Last year, only five teams qualified from that meet. Nevertheless, five is a huge number, but 2018 showed a greater diversity in qualifying procedure, especially in teams attempting qualifying times from championship meet.
Still, only one qualifying team used a time from January, while everyone else used conference weekend or the week prior. So no matter which meets hold the best races this year, DMR qualifying will be a stressful procedure in the final weekends. (And, pay attention to Alex Wilson)
The Best of the Best...Theoretically
The New Mexico Lobos are an odd team to find at the top of the rankings, but their depth should easily put them in contention. New Mexico were the third qualifiers for the NCAA meet last year after Kurgat and Ostrander battled in the anchor during the Mountain West Indoor Conference Championships. Kurgat opted to run the 3k/5k double at NCAA's and Charlotte Prouse stepped in to anchor their team to a 10th place finish.
Prouse only ran 4:46 though and a 4:40 would have moved them into 8th. Their other three legs – Kieran Casey, Shalom Keller, and Alondra Negron – all had respectable performances that put them a few seconds out of contention. It’s safe to assume that each athlete should improve at least a little bit this season and the addition of Kurgat or Kelati on anchor could be a total game changer.
The most likely scenario though is that Adva Cohen moves into the anchor position. Cohen has run 4:15 for 1500 and 4:42 for the mile indoors last year. Cohen’s improvement at New Mexico, and after last outdoor season more generally, could leave eventually lead to her running 4:35. This alone could put the Lobos at the top. Now just imagine what Kurgat or Kelati could do with a big lead...
Boise State could also position themselves as a favorite. Their cross country finishes at NCAA's were not inconsistent across the team, but their fire power shows that they can be a force to be reckoned with. Allie Ostrander anchored the fastest qualifying team in the nation last year when she beat Kurgat to close out the Mountain West Indoor Championships in a time of 10:57 (converted). That team also included Sadi Henderson who has now graduated. Alexis Fuller, Maxine Paholek, and Clare O’Brien should be able to hold down the 1200/800 positions to put Ostrander in contention for the win.
Unlike New Mexico, Boise State has gone all-out in the DMR before and they may want to try that again in 2018 with experience on their side. Then again, Ostrander already ran 15:16 for 5k this indoor season. If Ostrander runs, they’re a possible favorite; otherwise, they’re out.
Oregon returns from 2018 as the defending champions and were the only team to qualify for the NCAA meet in January after running 11:00 at the Armory. Their biggest issue in 2019 will be restructuring their lineup after losing anchor leg Lilli Burdon and NCAA champion Sabrina Southerland on the 800 (for qualifying). Jessica Hull, their 1200 leg, does return to the team as the 2018 outdoor 1500 meter champion and was the 3rd place finisher at the Cross Country National Championships this past fall. She is the easiest bet to become the anchor in 2019.
Oregon also returns a number of sub-54 400 meter runners who could open up a gap on the shortest leg. Looking to fill the open roles will be Susan Ejore who ran 4:38 indoors last year and ran the 800 leg at the NCAA Championships to allow Southerland more rest for her open event. NCAA All-American Ruby Stauber is also slated to return to competition for the Ducks after transferring from LSU in 2017. Oregon has shown deep commitment to the DMR in that past and with such an experienced team, 2019 could easily be a title defense. Still, there’s more uncertainty that you would like with a coaching change, transfers, and new legs to be as comfortable as you’d like with a defending champion.
The Real Favorites
With the teams above holding uncertainty in their orders (or even if they'll stack their relays), these squads clearly have the pieces in place to qualify for NCAA's and compete for a national title.
The Stanford Cardinal lost one of the most consistent 800 meters runners in the NCAA last year in Olivia Baker. Then again, they might have gained one of the greatest 800 meter runners ever. That athlete is Caitlin Collier. Collier has yet to race for the Cardinal, but Collier has run 2:00 as a high schooler and is ready to make an impact on the NCAA scene after challenging Sammy Watson last year at the USATF Junior Championships and IAAF Juniors. Collier on the 1200 or 800 could drop the field almost immediately.
Christina Aragon has a 4th place individual 1500 meteer result from NCAA’s last year and recorded the fastest anchor leg of anyone in 2018 at NCAA's in 4:33. Missy Mongiovi, a sophomore, ran sub-54 on the 400 leg to put the Cardinal in 1st after she passed off the baton. Ella Donaghu and Julia Heymach can also step into roles as Heymach has run 2:08 and Donaghu has run 2:52 for 1000 meters. Carolyn Wilson is also ready to make an impact after running 2:08.31and 53 mid for 800 and 400, respectively. With so many options and such fire power, Stanford shows off as a force to be reckoned with.
Virginia Tech also enters this indoor season with plenty of fire power in Rachel Porcrastsky, Sarah Edwards, and Laurie Barton. In 2018, Virginia Tech actually qualified for Nationals with two different relay set-ups, the only women’s team to accomplish that feat. If all three end of those aforementioned women end up running the relay in 2019, they could have a 4:34 anchor in Porcratsky, a 2:03 800 leg from Barton, and a 1200 leg led by 2:45 1000 meter runner Sarah Edwards who has also run 4:42 and 9:18 throughout her career. With 54.6 400 runner in Arlicia Bush, the Hokies have to be one of the strongest all-around squads. Their experience finishing 3rd last year, even without Porcratsky, is a huge boost to this team. The Virginia Tech dominance in the DMR for men and women will likely continue as they go for a title in 2019.
Oklahoma State returns all of their 6th place team from last year with the exception of their 400 leg and should look to return to the top six in 2019. Kaylee Dodd is a 2:03 800 runner and was one of the top lead-off legs in 2018. Abbie Hetherington ran 2:06 in her 800 portion at the Indoor National Championships and will be looking to continue building on her fitness this season.
The mile leg in 2018 was run by Ariane Ballner who ran 4:43 on the anchor leg and 4:46 over the full mile. While a couple seconds improvement from Ballner could make a difference, Oklahoma State also has other options for improvement. Molly Sughroue ran 4:37 for the full mile last indoor season and Sinclaire Johnson, who broke out this past cross country season, has run 2:04 and 4:11 (1500) during outdoors. Either one could establish themselves as a lock-down anchor who could stay with the likes of Hull and Aragon.
Indiana also returns from their 4th place finish, but will have to replace lead-off runner Brenna Clader. At the anchor, the Hoosiers sport Katherine Receveur who has been dominant during indoors over the past couple of years, but she was unable to pull out a victory in the four team race at the front in 2018.
Kelsey Harris ran 2:03 on the 800 leg last year as well and is off to a fast start this season after running 2:45.95 in the 1000 meters for the fastest time in the NCAA so far. Natalie Price ran the 400 leg last season, dropping a 53 in her freshman campaign. Indiana is missing the final 800 or 1200 replacement to seem like a sure bet to return to the NCAA meet, but Margaret Allen, Haley Harris, and Grace Walther could all step in with a solid mark to keep things interesting.
This section represents the teams that jump into the meet after missing out in 2018.
Michigan has to be mentioned here after running the 16th, 17th, and 18th fastest times in the nation last year. The Wolverines have some flexibility in setting up their lineup with Haley and Hannah Meier, Claire Borchers, and Erin Finn all returning with marks of 4:45 or faster for the mile. Jade Harrison can also be a difference maker on the 400 leg with a PR of 52.84. Guessing who will run where seems like a fruitless endeavor with this team, but if 2018 was any indication, Michigan will run multiple fast DMR's to maximize their chances of qualifying.
Villanova’s loss of Siofra Cleirigh Buttner might be hard to overcome, but the Wildcats should still challenge in 2019. Rachel McArthur had an amazing cross country season to become the Mid-Atlantic Regional champion and has fantastic track prowess based on . her 2:04 800 PR. Kelsey Margey ran the 19th fastest 1000 meters in 2018 with a 2:46 and backed that up with a 2:06 800. Nicole Hutchinson will enter her last season of indoor eligibility with a 4:36 mile PR and an All-American finish in XC.
Also entering the relay conversation is Caroline Alcorta who should have one more indoor season of eligibility after missing the entire 2016 season while at North Carolina. Alcorta is known more for her capability at the longer distances, but still has a PR of 4:45 for the mile and could be used in the DMR if necessary.
Colorado, the 2017 Indoor champions, could also return in 2019 with Dani Jones at anchor. Jones has been incredibly successful throughout her career and won the DMR and 3k titles indoors in 2017. Sage Hurta has a 800 PR of 2:04 and mile PR of 4:38. She could very easily run a lead-off or anchor leg if Jones saves herself for an open event.
Elissa Mann ran 2:07 in the 800 last season as well. Colorado’s depth drops off from after those three in the shorter distances, but the Buffaloes national title win in cross country should continue to build momentum toward a stellar track season.
Texas A&M just missed the 2018 meet and will rely on half-mile stars Jazmine Fray and Sammy Watson on their longest legs. The team should be able to drop an amazing time, but their doubling at the NCAA meet might cause them to reconsider the relay if they feel they can’t win.
Arkansas losing Nikki Hiltz deals the Razorbacks a big blow. However, Taylor Werner and Carina Viljoen return as sub-4:40 milers and Joy Ripslinger ran 2:07 during her 2018 indoor season. Katrina Robinson’s arrival could provide an additional element to the Razorbacks title attempts.
Notre Dame was the last qualifying team in 2018, but they did not give the NCAA Championships a convincing effort. The Fighting Irish gain 2:07 800 runner Mikayla Schneider from Penn to go along with 2:05 runner Kelly Hart and mile specialist Jessica Harris. Harris opted to go for the mile individually in 2018, but might want to carry her team to the top of the podium in the DMR if that’s an option.
Washington gained the duo of Lilli Burdon and Katie Rainsberger from Oregon over the summer and that duo alone makes them a dangerous team in 2018. Hannah Derby also returns with a 2:04 800 PR.