What is the race that you are most looking forward to at the NCAA Championships in March?
Grace: I’m most excited for the 5k because I'm predicting that it will be an exciting race with multiple people fighting for the championship title. It's not even January and there are five women who have run 16:35 or faster. They were running with their cross country fitness and were all in the same race pushing each other, but this is still extremely impressive for how early in the season it is.
They’re all coming off fantastic cross country seasons. Ida Narbuvoll of U-Mary was 4th at NCAA's this past fall and then opened up her indoor season with a 16:14. Lauren Bailey of Indianapolis was 9th in cross country before running a 16:17. Hanna Groeber of Grand Valley State was 14th and then ran 16:30. Jennifer Comastri of Southern Indiana was 23rd at Nationals and ran 16:31. Jessica Gockley of Grand Valley State was 18th and ran 16:35.
Again, it's only December.
Narbuvoll is aggressive and goes out hard, Bailey and Comastri aren’t afraid to follow, and although Groeber and Gockley are a little more conservative in their race tactics, they are still strong veterans who can contend in any race they toe the line for. Needless to say, I think this will be an exciting race to watch.
On the men’s side I have to go with the 3000 meters. Five men have already run at or under 8:13 this year. Leakey Kipkosgei and Benoit Campion of American International will push each other and could potentially finish with a gold and silver come March if a tactical race breaks their way. Callahan Warren (Embry-Riddle) and Christian Noble (Lee) ran fantastic times to put their names out there as well, while Joshua Chepsekir of UNC-Pembroke also opened his season with a PR.
Now add in some other top-ranked runners like Taylor Stack, Gidieon Kimutai, Grant Colligan, Ezra Mutai, Felix Wammetsberger, Tanner Chada, and Marcelo Laguera.
That sounds like one heck of a race.
Sam: The indoor 800 meters is already one of the most chaotic events and when you consider that only two women are returning that qualified for either the indoor or outdoor finals in 2019, this season is set up for complete madness.
Bailey Sharon of Western Colorado is the only woman to make the indoor final in 2019 who has eligibility for 2020. Yasmine Hernandez of CSU-Pueblo was the only underclassman to qualify for the outdoor final and will also return for indoors in 2020. Addy Townsend was the fourth fastest woman in 2019, but did not appear at NCAA's.
Five other women - Stephanie Cotter, Elysia Burgos, Andra Lehotay, Jessica Cusick and Ashleigh Macleod - have all run 2:10 or faster indoors. There are at least 10 women who could potentially win this event at NCAA's which should make it one of the more interesting races heading into 2020.
John: I personally think that the men’s 5000 meters is going to be one of the most interesting races heading into the NCAA meet. A large part of this is because of how I think the race will be run. Given how the NCAA cross country meet played out, I expect a whole lot of the same for these guys when they get on the track. Ezra Mutai, Gidieon Kimutai, and Joshua Chepkesir all hammered from the gun and are capable of running under 14:00 this indoor season. Add in potentially Leakey Kipkosgei, Taylor Stack, Charlie Sweeney, Marcelo Laguera, Tanner Chada, and Karim Achengli (just to name a few) and we have one of the most top-heavy races in the country. This is likely a repeat race of 2019 where it was won in 13:47 last winter, but the question at hand is how many go under that 14:00 mark?
I have to agree with Sam here on the women’s 800. There is just so much uncertainty with the number of qualifiers from the finals last year. There will be seven new names most likely in the indoor final this year and with just Sharon having the experience there, she’s probably the favorite. However, as Sam mentioned, the 800 is absolute chaos, especially on the indoor track. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in March.
Quenten: For the men, the race I’m really looking forward to isn’t always the most eye-catching and that’s the 3000 meters. The reason for this is because the top four finishers from last year (Elias Gedyon, Sydney Gidabuday, Zach Panning, Victor Moreau) all graduated or are out of eligibility. This means that this race is completely wide-open compared to previous years, maybe the widest ever.
I expect the front-runners as of now to be Luke Julian (Colorado Mines), Taylor Stack and Charlie Sweeney (Western Colorado), and one of the top guys from the cross country national meet this past fall. Each individual has a legitimate shot at winning this race and it’s going to be a crazy one.
For the women, I’m with Grace on this one, the 5000 will be one for the books. With the top seven finishers from last year graduating or leaving, this will set up to be just like the men’s 5000 meters, a race that has many uncertainties about who will claim this title. As mentioned earlier, I think Hanna Groeber and Ida Narbuvoll have earned the right to be the favorites thus far, but it will be very interesting to see who steps up as the season progresses because this will be anyone’s race.
There are two returning champions (Felix Wammetsberger and Stephanie Cotter) in 2020 for the distance events. They both happen to be the mile champions from last year. What is the likelihood that either of them repeat as champions in 2020?
Grace: I think Cotter will win the mile again. She won last year and she has improved drastically since then. Based on her dominating cross country season and her outstanding closing speed, I doubt that anyone else can keep up with her when it comes down to the last 400 meters.
I don’t think Wammetsberger will win again. He’s a talented runner, but he barely won last year and he’s just one of several men who could take home the title this year in what may end up being yet another tactical race.
Sam: I give Cotter around 40% chance and Wammetsberger about a 10% chance. Cotter looks capable of repeating in the mile, but she also has potential in the 3000 meters and 5000 meters. I give her 80-90% chance of winning at least one event, but whether or not it is the mile depends on what she focuses on.
As for Wammetsberger, I would not be surprised if he won, but I also would not be surprised if he did not. Although he is certainly talented, he has not been nearly as dominant as Cotter over the past 12 months. Could he win the mile again? Definitely. It is just not nearly as safe of a bet.
John: I believe that Cotter would be the safest bet to repeat. She has the chance to win the mile/1500 four times in her career (if she is at Adams State for all four) and that would be quite the feat. I think her running the 1500 last year at outdoors shows us that she wants to stay in the middle distance world and can be quite successful at it. I’m not sure how many challengers she will have, but Allie Ludge (3rd in 2019) will be the biggest threat to her. Addy Townsend (if she opts for the mile), Andra Lehotay (5th in 2019), Stefanie Parsons (6th in 2019), and Elysia Burgos will all be strong runners who could (at the very least) make the race interesting.
As for Wammetsberger, it will be tough. Repeating is extremely hard, but he has the ability to do so. I think the field is much closer to the level of Wammetsberger than the field was for Cotter. He’s run 4:04 before, but Calahan Warren (9th in 2019) has run 4:05, Benoit Campion (5th in 2019) has run 4:07 and was just a freshman last year. Terrell Patterson (6th) and Jerod Broadbooks (8th) were the other runners in that race and have both run 4:10 or faster in their career.
A name worth watching would be Luke Julian as he opted for the 3000 meters during last year’s indoor meet, but ran 3:44 during the outdoor season.
Wammetsberger will certainly have his work cut out for him in 2020.
Quenten: This a no-brainer for me, Stephanie Cotter will repeat as national champion and easily. She has shown immense range after winning the most recent NCAA XC Championships and became the first woman to ever break the 20 minute barrier at the national meet. She is a complete runner who can (and will) win over any distance. I just don’t see anyone challenging her and she will continue to prove her dominance one again in the event.
Realistically, there is slim to no chance that Felix Wammetsberger repeats in this event. He is an incredibly talented runner, but he seemed to have his best day ever, along with everything perfectly falling into line tactically. As a runner, that only happens once in a blue moon, especially on the national stage. I think he will be in contention no doubt, but I just see so many other individuals who can win.
With Thomas Staines redshirting the indoor season, who has the greatest chance to take home the men’s 800 meter indoor national title in 2020?
Grace: Dennis Mbuta of Grand Valley State.
John: I definitely agree with Grace here. He was 2nd last year at the indoor national meet and then followed that up with a 3rd place finish during the outdoor season. But you all already know that. What I think makes him the most dangerous to take home this title is because of his ability to run the mile. I think that favors him in a fast race or a tactical one against the rest of the field.
The other contenders here are Ayman Zahafi and Derek Holdsworth. Zahafi has run 1:48 as has Holdsworth. Mbuta has run 4:07 over the course of a mile and 3:46 for 1500 meters while Zahafi has never raced further than 800 meters. Holdsworth has run 1:48 and 3:46 for 1500 meters. Both can utilize their to a favorable finish at the national meet this year.
Quenten: I’m going to say that Ayman Zahafi has the slight edge over Dennis Mbuta on this one. The last time these men met at the outdoor national meet, Zahafi finally got the better of Mbuta and I truly believe this trend will continue into this year’s Indoor National Championships.
Derek Holdsworth is another big name who could be in the title conversation. He has some strong accolades from his time Trinidad State JC and has toed the line against some respectable competition so far in his career.
Sam: Copy and paste what John said. Mbuta is definitely the favorite and Holdsworth is a very legitimate, overlooked contender. Their range gives them more options when it comes to the tactics of the 800 meters which is something that goes a long ways during indoors.
Which athletes do you think are going to double and in which events?
Grace: I think Stephanie Cotter will run the mile and mile leg of the DMR. I can see Ida Narbuvoll running the 3000 meters and 5000 meters. Lauren Bailey has run impressive times in the 3000 and 5000 already, so I assume she plans on doubling as well.
I think Allie Ludge will either run the 3000 and 5000 or the 3000 and either the mile or 1200 leg of the DMR.
Ludge’s teammates Jessica Gockley and Hanna Groeber will probably both run the 5000 and one of them in the DMR as well. Elysia Burgos could easily double in the 800 and mile based off of her best 800 meter time (2:10) and 4:47 season opener in the mile.
On the men’s side, I think Taylor Stack of Western Colorado will double in the 3000 meters and 5000 meters. Leakey Kipkosgei could possibly double in the 800 and mile, or maybe mile and 3000. Charlie Sweeney of Western Colorado and Gidieon Kimutai of Missouri Southern will most likely join Stack in the 3000/5000 double.
Quenten: Western Colorado teammates Charlie Sweeney and Taylor Stack both have good chances at being top contenders in both the 3000 and 5000. Both did this same double last season and with a year of experience under their belt, this year’s outcome will be much different.
I do agree that Stephanie Cotter will double in the mile and DMR again like last season, but what if she wants to stir things up and opt out of the DMR to run the 800? She does have experience in the event running a PR of 2:09 last year at the Husky Classic. She has the speed along with being the most dominant runner in the NCAA. Not saying this will happen but...what if?
John: I think it’s safe to say that Stack and Sweeney are doubling given their history. Add Dennis Mbuta in there with his ability to run the 800 and the mile in the DMR. Luke Julian has that option as well (both the open mile and DMR mile) and his teammate Grant Colligan should likely join him in the 3000/5000.
Leakey Kipkosgei is the wild card here as he can run essentially any event he wants and be successful. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the DMR team anchoring the mile and running the open mile as well as the 3000 meters if he really wanted to go out with a bang.
Cotter and HaLeigh Hunter-Galvan will both double as they should be on the DMR team that is looking to repeat as national champs. Multiple Grand Valley State women including Allie Ludge, Jessica Gockley, and Hanna Groeber all have legitimate shots at doubling and they’ll be featured in the mile/3000/5000 races.
Sam: Cotter could do any number of the mile/3000/5000/DMR. I likely see her running some combo of a DMR leg plus the 3000 meters and the mile. Ida Narbuvoll will definitely do the 3000/5000 double, as will Allie Ludge of GVSU. If I am anyone in the women’s 800 meter, I would definitely not double as the event is so wide-open that it seems like it makes the most sense to go all-in.
On the men’s side, Stack and Sweeney are almost guaranteed to double again. It will depend who qualifies for both the 3000 and 5000 meters, but four to five guys will almost certainly run both. Among them will be Missouri Southern freshman Gideon Kimutai.