Updated: Dec 20, 2019
Joe Klecker (Colorado)
It seems like only a matter of time before Klecker finally wins an NCAA title. The Colorado redshirt senior has come agonizingly close numerous times to taking home national meet gold after finishing in the top three twice last indoor season and runner-up in cross country this past fall. Klecker has great odds in both the 3000 meters and 5000 meters, but the prior may be his best chance at an NCAA title this indoor season.
A year ago, Klecker finished 3rd in this event behind the dominant duo of Morgan McDonald and Grant Fisher. Both of those men are gone, leaving Klecker as the top returner. Indoor racing tends to favor athletes who can hold a fast pace, but still find an extra gear at the end, and that style seems to fit perfectly for someone like Klecker. Race after race the Colorado man has shown his ability to fight to the finish and his 3:58 mile speed will certainly be essential in the closing laps.
Klecker looks to be the best he has been since coming to Colorado. His runner-up finish at Nationals this past fall was his highest yet, leaving us to assume that he could make a similar jump on the track. With McDonald and Hoare out of the picture, Klecker will be one of the clear favorites to earn his first NCAA title.
Cooper Teare (Oregon)
Cooper Teare is often written off when championship season rolls around. Throughout his career at Oregon, he has been wildly inconsistent, finishing 94th at the NCAA XC Championships one year, but rebounding to place 6th a month ago. His cross country season this past fall was the best sequence of collegiate performances he has ever had and things are looking up for talented Oregon Duck as we head into indoors.
Last year, Teare put together a fantastic indoor season where he earned with a 4th place finish in a loaded 3000 meter field at Nationals. In that same season, Teare ran sub-8:00 in the 3000 meters three different times, including his personal best of 7:50.66 at the Husky Classic.
He also managed to dip under the 4:00 barrier in the mile for the second time in his career, running 3:59.21 at the Razorback Invitational. Between his 3:59 mile speed and 13:32 5k PR from the spring, Teare should have the perfect mix of speed and endurance to become an elite 3000 meter runner this winter.
The one concern with Teare, as mentioned earlier, is his inconsistency at national meet. Last year he finished 4th at NCAA's in the 3000 meters and recently placed 6th at Nationals one month ago. In that same time frame, he also placed 94th at the Cross Country National Championships in 2018 and finished 22nd at the outdoor national meet in the 5000 meters last spring.
The easiest counter argument here is that sure, Teare has been up and down, but his entire indoor season in 2019 was great. If he can replicate that consistency yet again in 2020, he could be a legitimate title threat in both the 3000 and 5000 meters.
Conner Mantz (BYU)
Mantz is coming off a cross country season that started with four consecutive individual wins and ended with a 3rd place finish at NCAA's. His aggressive and fearless racing style has largely paid off and has made him an incredibly exciting runner to watch this past fall.
Outside of cross country, Mantz has found considerable success on the track as well - notching four top 10 finishes between the indoor and outdoor seasons during 2019. While his highest finish on the track was a 4th place run in the 10,000 meters last spring, he appears to have a great chance at bettering that finish this winter.
The BYU sophomore enters 2020 with an impressive 7:50.6 personal best in the 3000 meters which he set at the MPSF Indoor Championships last indoor season. During the outdoor season, he put himself in elite company in the 5000 meeters by breaking 13:30 with a 13:29 run at Payton Jordan.
His only personal best that could be concerning is his 1500/mile marks. The fastest he has run is 3:45 which is solid, but lacks in comparison to many others who will be contending for the 3000 meter title. Having a fast mile is certainly not necessary to win the event, but closing speed can be critical in tactical indoor racing.
There is a very good chance that Mantz will replicate 2019 and opt to race both the 3000 meters and 5000 meters at NCAA's this March. The 5k is likely his better event, but he will certainly be a contender in this event. If he can get the race out at an honest tempo, Mantz could have very good odds to win it all.
Amon Kemboi (Campbell)
The Campbell junior became one of the fastest NCAA men of all-time last February when he ran a blistering 7:44.77 in the 3000 meters at the Millrose Games. Kemboi has historically thrived in races that are honest from the gun and has proven that he is capable of running fast if the field is up for it.
However, just because he can run fast times does not mean Kemboi always does well in championship settings. He finished 13th in the 3000 meters at NCAA's last indoor season (albeit, due to a mid-race fall), although he did manage a 6th place finish in the 5000 meters the day before.
Kemboi has a tendency to get dropped in the closing laps due to his lack of a kick (relative to other top talents) - something that could become his Achilles' heel this indoor season.
Despite what you think of him tactically, there is plenty of reason to think that Kemboi could change things up this year. For one thing, if Conner Mantz is in the race and takes the same approach he did with cross country, the race is much more likely to get strung out earlier on (which would benefit Kemboi).
Another point to emphasize is that Kemboi does have some speed. He has gone run 3:59 in the mile and owns a personal best of 3:39 in the 1500 meters. That mark is very similar to guys like Joe Klecker and Cooper Teare.
To top it off, Kemboi had another solid cross country season this past fall, placing 8th at NCAA's.
Amon Kemboi has all of the tools to get to an NCAA title. He has put down incredible times and is relatively consistent regardless of the surface or distance. If he is able to refine his finishing ability, he could be in the hunt for his first NCAA title this indoor season.
Oliver Hoare (Wisconsin)
If you were to preview Oliver Hoare’s 2020 indoor season with one word it would be “redemption”.
A year ago, Hoare looked like guarantee to win the indoor mile. He opened his season with a 7:48 3k at Indiana and then ran an NCAA-leading 3:54 mile at Millrose. In what might have been the biggest indoor upset since Edward Cheserek vs Kennedy Kithuka, Hoare was beaten by Geordie Beamish and Casey Comber at NCAA's and ultimately finished 3rd in the mile.
Hoare hasn't always looked invincible, finishing 4th in the 1500 meter at the Outdoor National Championships last spring and placing 18th at NCAA's this past fall. With only track remaining, will Hoare be able to win another NCAA title?
Hoare’s best chance to win an event this indoor season is likely the mile. He is the fastest returner from 2019 and should continue to run well despite hitting some bumps in the road. The 3000 meters is an intriguing event choice for the Wisconsin senior because if he qualifies, there is really no reason not to race it.
He will have already run the mile final (assuming he makes it) and can leave whatever is left on the line for the 3000 meters. He has faster finishing speed than anyone else in the field, but will certainly be worn down if he also races the mile.
Whether or not Hoare makes a big impact on the 3000 meters will largely be dictated by what event(s) he focuses on. If he goes all in for the mile, then it will be much harder to bounce back for the 3k, especially since the championships are at altitude which will make recovery between events increasingly more difficult.
There is a chance that Hoare opts for only the 3000 meters in which case he should be considered a favorite based on his personal bests.
Without knowing his plan, it is a bit early to really predict where Hoare will land.
Kyle Mau (Indiana)
If there is any question as to what kind of fitness Mau has right now, just look at the Hoosier Open results. In his first indoor meet of the season, Mau ran what was essentially a solo 5k in 13:44.47, only 0.04 seconds off of his all-time personal best in the event (from outdoors). The Indiana senior also had an outstanding cross country season where he finished 12th overall in only his second time running at the Cross Country National Championships.
Mau finished 9th in the 3000 meters at NCAA's last year and has a great chance to better that this indoor season. The Hoosier Open indicated that his fitness may already be better than where he was at last season - a year where he ran his personal best of 7:50.17 in this event.
Similar to many others on this list, Mau is very capable of doubling in both the 3k and 5k this year. However, with a 3:57 mile PR and the potential to do some damage in the DMR, Mau's event selection is not a given.
Given that the 3000 meters takes place after the 5000 meters, Mau would likely have better odds at an upset victory if he focuses on only one race, but it all depends on what other events he chooses to focus on this winter.
Thomas Ratcliffe (Stanford)
Ratcliffe is definitely the wildcard of this group. Both times he has raced at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, things have gone terribly. He didn't even qualify for the Indoor National Championships last year despite running 7:54, and yet he was 3rd in the 5000 meters outdoors after running 13:32.
It would be equally surprising to see Ratcliffe get last as it would be if he won.
On paper, nothing necessarily jumps out about the Stanford redshirt junior. His personal bests of 4:04, 7:54 (7:53 if you count an unattached performance), and 13:32 are all very solid, but do not necessarily differentiate him from the other elites within the NCAA.
The one thing that has seemed to make (or break) Ratcliffe is his ability to finish. Last spring, the rising Stanford star was able to position himself just right to kick for 3rd at the National Championships. The trick this indoor season will be getting into a fast meet to run a qualifier and then putting himself in mix during the final moments at NCAA's.
If he can do that, it would not be shocking to see him near the top of the podium.
Alex Ostberg (Stanford)
In contrast to his Stanford teammate, Ostberg has been the definition of consistency throughout his collegiate career at Stanford. This year was his third consecutive season earning All-American honors in cross country, only missing out his freshman season.
Earlier this year, he finished 5th in the 3000 meters at the indoor national meet and was also a member of Stanford’s runner-up DMR team. One of the top returners heading into 2020, Ostberg will almost certainly be mixing it up in New Mexico this March.
The 3000 meters might be the perfect distance for Ostberg. His personal best of 3:59.31 in the mile is solid, but not quite fast enough to make him a true miler. He has run 13:42 in the 5000 meters - which is certainly good, but not quite on the same level as the NCAA's best.
However, his time of 7:51.20 in the 3000 meters was the 12th fastest time in 2019 and four of the men in front of him are gone. Barring disaster, it would be surprising if Ostberg is not on the starting line in Albuquerque contending for an All-American finish.
Robert Brandt (UCLA)
If it were not for an injury that forced Brandt to sit out of the NCAA West Regional Championships, the UCLA senior likely would have been one of the top runners at this years NCAA XC Championships.
Brandt was having the best season of his career this past fall, placing in the top six at all three (major) meets he ran in. Assuming he is able to get back to full strength over the next couple of months, Brandt could be a key player in the 3000 meters come March.
In his first Indoor National Championship, Brandt placed 8th in both the 3000 meters and 5000 meters. His mark of 7:50.27 in the 3k was the seventh fastest time in the NCAA last year and his 5k mark of 13:40 was 14th. In his three national track meet appearances, Brandt has finished 7th, 8th, or 9th each time he has raced. There is a good chance that he equals or betters those marks this winter with the departures of numerous top-tier runners from last year.
Andrew Jordan (Washington)
If you ignore the fact that Jordan did not start at Nationals, his first cross country season at Washington went incredibly well. He started a bit rocky, finishing 26th at Beantown, but ended the year with a win at the West regional meet. If it were not for his 7:51.29 personal best in the 3000 meters, Jordan would likely be considered a dark horse rather than a contender. He enters 2020 on the heels of his best cross country season yet and is the 10th fastest returner in this event.
Over the past three indoor seasons, Jordan has made solid progress over each season. As a freshman he ran 8:07 in the 3000 meters which he dropped down to 7:56 his sophomore year. In his junior year, he brought another five seconds off that mark, leaving a potential sub-7:50 on the table this winter.
Outside of his 3000 meters, Jordan’s personal bests on the track do not hold much weight against his NCAA counterparts. He has run 4:08 in the mile and 13:55 for 5000 meteres - both solid marks, but certainly slower than one would expect for an NCAA contender.
Assuming Jordan comes into this season healthy, there is a great chance that he can better all three of his personal bests and earn a trip back to NCAA's.
James West (Oregon)
James West is one of those ideal mile/3k hybrids who is perfectly suited for the middle-to-long distance events. He ran 3:57 for the mile last year, but also popped off a 7:51 3k prior to NCAA's.
West has admittedly struggled a bit when it comes to performing on the national stage, failing to earn an All-American honor in his past five seasons (although he was an All-American in this event back in 2018). If West can find some consistency on the national stage, his personal bests will likely translate into yet another All-American finish and maybe a top three placement.
Edwin Kurgat (Iowa State)
I know what you’re thinking. How could we put the NCAA cross country champion as a dark horse in the 3000 meters? Well, let us explain.
Kurgat has only raced two 3000 meters races during his time at Iowa State, but he does have a PR of 7:56, a time that put him on the bubble of qualifying for Nationals last year. Kurgat is more known for track success in the 5000 meters as he has placed 9th (2019 indoor), 5th (2019 outdoor), and 7th (2018 outdoor).
During this past cross country season, Kurgat unleashed a new finishing kick which should surely come in handy in the shorter 3000 meter distance.
There is no question that Kurgat is a big-name talent who can contend a top finish at Nationals this year in the 3000 meters. However, even with his significant improvements in cross country and the 5k, the 3000 meters requires more speed, something that may still be in development for Kurgat.
Peter Seufer (Virginia Tech)
Seufer had a lot of courage at the 2019 NCAA XC Championships when he led the field for a heavy portion of the race, making himself extremely vulnerable, but giving himself a chance to contend with the elites. His valiant effort earned him a 4th place finish, his highest finish at a National Championship.
Transitioning to the indoor track, the Virginia Tech senior should see himself qualify for his first indoor national meet this winter. His 7:59 PR will improve this winter because regardless of race tactics, finishing 4th at the NCAA XC Championships often proves that you have enough talent to at least drop close to a national qualifying time.
Cameron Griffith (Arkansas)
Griffith was the 3rd place finisher in the 3000 meters during the 2018 indoor season, but he failed to return to the event in 2019. The Razorback, however, used that as motivation to secure a top finish in the 1500 meters during outdoors, finishing 3rd overall in what was one of the deepest fields in NCAA history. With personal bests of 3:39 (1500) and 7:49 (3k), there is no doubt that Griffith can compete for a top three finish yet again. There aren't many men in the NCAA who have the elite times and significant postseason success that Griffith does.
Geordie Beamish (NAU)
Beamish, the surprise 2019 mile champion, quietly has very strong race from the 1500 meters to the 10k. He has yet to actually break four minutes in the mile without an altitude conversion, but he tops the list this year as a big-name dark horse.
Naturally, we have Beamish listed in the mile preview, but he also belongs in this 3000 meter discussion. After running 7:56 and 13:31 last winter and spring, it's hard to envision him not being a part of this field in March (if he wants to be).
With NCAA's being at altitude, Beamish will have the advantage of knowing how to race in this environment.
John Dressel (Colorado)
Between redshirting the 2018 indoor season and then only qualifying for Nationals in the 5k last winter, it's easy to forget that Dressel is a legitimate threat when it comes to the 3000 meters. But with a 7:51 personal best, a never-ending list of national meet appearances, and a handful of All-American appearances, you can never leave out this Colorado veteran from the national conversation.
Jonathan Davis (Illinois)
We'll keep this short since it seems like we've already talked about Davis a handful of times. He ran 7:49 back in 2018, but after focusing on the mile and DMR last winter, he has been absent from racing in the NCAA. If he's healthy, he can be a top contender in this event.
Others to Watch
Isai Rodriguez (Oklahoma State)
Drew Bosley (NAU)
Kashon Harris (Colorado)
James Sugira (Eastern Kentucky)
Dylan Jacobs (Notre Dame)
George Kusche (Nebraska)
Luis Grijalva (Northern Arizona)
Olin Hacker (Wisconsin)
Ben Veatch (Indiana)
Emmanuel Roudolff-Levisse (Portland)