Alicia Monson (Wisconsin)
Monson is the returning 5000 meter champion from the 2019 indoor season, but her path to the 2020 title will not be easy. Monson may potentially have to challenge the most recent NCAA cross country champion Weini Kelati, 2019 outdoor 5k champion Dani Jones, and a slew of women waiting in the shadows if she wants to defend her title from last year.
Monson had a breakout junior year during the cross country and indoor track seasons, consistently putting up solid finishes and jaw-dropping times. With a runner-up result at the 2019 cross country national meet now under her belt, Monson should be ready to defend her indoor title. Her 15:31 PR could (should?) fall this year as the Wisconsin senior has only gotten stronger.
If you were to watch Monson during the cross country season, she likes to bide her time before laying down the hammer, a tactic that seems to perfectly fit the championship racing tendencies of the 5000 meters. Her 8:45 3k speed from last year's Millrose Games will come in handy if she wants to try to take out Jones’ kick and Kelati’s early-race surges.
One thing to consider for the 2020 indoor season and championship meet is how well Monson will handle racing at altitude in Albuquerque. Madison, Wisconsin sits about 4,440 feet lower than the NCAA Championship location in New Mexico.
Weini Kelati (New Mexico)
New Mexico’s Weini Kelati won two individual titles during the 2019 calendar year, the outdoor 10k and the cross country title. During the 2019 indoor season, Kelati picked up a 3rd place finish in the 3000 meters and a 2nd place finish in the 5000 meters. The Lobo superstar likes to make a move early in her races (or at least near halfway) and most of the time, her opponents know it's coming...but very few can do anything about it.
Kelati owns the second best 5k time in the NCAA right now, only trailing Arkansas’ Katie Izzo after the Boston University Season Opener 5k. Her 15:14 also makes her the #3 all-time NCAA indoor 5k performer. Kelati will be a woman on a mission this winter as she will look to further establish her legacy in the long distance events.
And for a side note, Kelati will have the luxury of competing on her home track at the NCAA Indoor Championships in March.
Dani Jones (Colorado)
Jones knows what it takes to win a 5k title, as she did so during the 2019 Outdoor Championships. Although she does not have the fastest time in the field, she has to be one of the smartest and most patient runners in the NCAA.
Jones has a killer kick thanks to her 1500/3000 meter speed, and that makes her a favorite heading into the indoor season. Already a four-time NCAA individual champion (3k, DMR, XC, and 5k), Jones will be looking to add to her resume.
The Colorado senior owns a 5000 meter PR of 15:46, over 30 seconds slower than the current NCAA leader. However, Jones is not afraid to bump elbows with some of the nation’s best and her incredible understanding of tactical racing is unmatched. After running out of cross country eligibility, Jones has been able to train all fall for the upcoming indoor track season and could be primed to unleash something big over the next couple of months.
Obviously we can’t see into the future, but we expect Jones to challenge Monson and Kelati for the 5k title in Albuquerque if she ends up pursuing the event.
Fiona O’Keeffe (Stanford)
The 3rd place finisher in this event from last year's indoor national meet was Fiona O’Keeffe and she is back for yet another season, hoping to improve (both time and place wise) this indoor season.
O’Keeffe owns a 5k PR of 15:31, a time that keeps her in the mix among 2020 title favorites and a time that is actually the equivalent of Alicia Monson's PR. She is an experienced runner on the national stage and is consistently near the front in almost every race she toes the line for. O’Keeffe had a strong cross country season before the NCAA Championships where she was suffering from some back pain, but she still grinded through and posted an All-American finish in 27th place overall.
So long as O’Keeffe regains her strength, the 2020 indoor season should be fruitful for the Stanford runner. The 5000 meters is O’Keeffe’s sweet spot at the National Championships, earning All-American honors in both of those races.
What can we expect from O’Keeffe heading into her final go-around on the track?
Katie Izzo (Arkansas)
We had no idea what Katie Izzo was capable of on the track following this past cross country season. At Cal Poly, Izzo’s personal best in the 5000 meters was 16:08, but then she transferred to Arkansas to complete her eligibility and has crafted an entirely separate identity (as far as running goes) since then.
Izzo was a constant top five finisher during the cross country season before placing 3rd at the Cross Country National Championships. Coach Lance Harter has a knack for taking athletes and transforming them into national contenders.
In her first indoor track season of 2020, Izzo raced at the Boston University Season Opener and was the first attached collegiate across the line, finishing 2nd overall behind teammate Taylor Werner. Her time of 15:13 (which was a 58 second PR) was enough to take down Weini Kelati and it places her at #2 on the NCAA indoor all-time list for the 5000 meters, only behind Emily Sisson.
If Izzo continues to refine her racing tactics, she has the ability to threaten the likes of Monson, Kelati, and Jones for the 5k title this season.
Erica Birk-Jarvis (BYU)
Birk-Jarvis has only run two 5000 meter races on the track during her career at BYU. During the 2019 outdoor season, Birk-Jarvis ran 15:38, her current personal best. Following the 2019 cross country season, the BYU athlete recently traveled to the Boston University Season Opener and raced unattached in the 5k, recording a time of 16:08 in what simply an off day for her.
Her recent 5k does not reflect her credentials and surely does not take her out of the conversation for a top five finish in this event come March. However, after running unattached in Boston, it may be possible that she ends up redshirting this winter.
Anna Rohrer (Notre Dame)
Rohrer is no stranger to the NCAA Indoor Championships in the 5k. During her freshman year (2017), Rohrer placed 4th. One year later in 2018, Rohrer one-upped that performance and placed 3rd. She did not compete during the 2018 or 2019 indoor seasons due to injury, but she will look to return to the NCAA Championships this winter in her ideal event. She owns a PR of 15:29 and can easily challenge any competitor in the field when she's at 100%.
If Rohrer follows her trend of placing one spot higher in each appearance, could she be the runner-up this winter? She is one of the more aggressive runners in the NCAA and can make races incredibly fast, but will need to take a measured approach at Nationals this year given that the race is at altitude.
Makena Morley (Colorado)
Morley of Colorado will begin the 2020 indoor season after training through the fall due to exhausted eligibility in cross country. Even though she did not race in an NCAA-sanctioned event this year, Morley competed at the USATF 10 Mile Championships in October and left with a runner-up finish amongst professionals.
During the 2019 indoor season, Morley was a double All-American after placing 6th in the 3000 meters and 7th in the 5000 meters. Coaches Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs know how to train Morley to succeed at the championship meets. There aren't many women in the NCAA who not only have the experience that Morley has, but the proven accomplishments that she does.
Whittni Orton (BYU)
Orton has already been talked about during our mile and 3k previews, but here she is again in our 5000 meter preview and rightfully so. Orton was undefeated during the cross country season before finishing 6th at NCAA's. She has speed from the 1500 meters, but now some newfound strength in the longer races.
Following the cross country season, Orton traveled to the Boston University Season Opener and ran the first collegiate 5k of her career, recording a 15:22 and a 4th place finish in what was a phenomenal transition from the grass to the track.
Orton could sneak up on her competitors in the 5k this indoor season thanks to her potentially lethal range.
Elly Henes (NC State)
NC State’s Henes qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championships in the 5000 meters during the 2018 season and then doubled up for 2019 in the 3k and 5k. Her 2018 performance has been the highlight of her indoor career with a 7th place result. However, a disappointing 14th place finish (5k) and 15th place finish (3k) last year were not what Henes was looking for.
While she was redshirting the outdoor track season, Henes ran a huge new personal best of 15:31 which would act as an indicator that her best results were still to come. Sure enough, she then turned in her best cross country season to date this past fall by finishing 10th in a deep individual field at Nationals.
An improvement from her 2019 indoor championship trip will surely be expected, but that is only if she doesn't the redshirt the upcoming indoor season. In the Boston University Season Opener 5k (where she was a DNF), Henes was running unattached.
Charlotte Prouse (New Mexico)
Kelati will get most of the attention when it comes to New Mexico distance running, but Prouse is one of the more underrated talents in the NCAA. She ran 15:26 for 5000 meters in last year's Boston University Season Opener 5k. She toed the line for the same race this year, but seemingly struggled a bit and recorded a DNF.
Despite not running this past cross country season, Prouse is arguably as good as any other woman in this "Contenders" section. She was runner-up in the steeplechase last spring and was the 5th place finish in the 5000 meters at last year's indoor national meet. Between her experience, personal bests, and a proven national meet success, Prouse has all of the tools needed to succeed in 2020.
Bethany Hasz (Minnesota)
After redshirting the 2019 cross country season, Hasz is already off to a strong start for the 2020 indoor season. She used the fall to prepare for a fast winter, and that is very evident after she ran a huge 20 second personal best in the 5000 meters at the Boston University Season Opener.
Hasz traveled to Boston and finished 5th in a deep field full of All-Americans who have built their reputations on both the grass and track. Her new PR of 15:25 is also a Minnesota school record. The Gopher veteran has clearly made a jump up in fitness over the past year and that may be enough to put her in the upper-echelon of the NCAA's best distance running talents.
Ella Donaghu (Stanford)
Donaghu has never raced a 5k on the track, but we're not counting her out this winter after putting together an outstanding cross country season. The Stanford runner was an All-American in the 1500 meters during the 2019 outdoor season and recently finished 8th at the NCAA XC Championships. For someone who has not raced lap after lap on the track, we think her cross country season this fall may make Donaghu reconsider her event choices for the 2020 indoor season.
Aubrey Roberts (Northwestern)
Roberts redshirted the 2019 cross country season, but that may have been an attempt to have her and her teammates ready for a promising 2020 season.
Roberts ran extremely well after the 2018 cross country season, picking up a 15:32 PR at the Boston University Season Opener, a time that eventually qualified her for Nationals. Not only did she shave time off of her 5k personal best, but she also ran her best marks in the 800 meters, mile, and 3000 meters. Roberts placed 10th last year in the 10k and if Coach Miller can work her magic with the Wildcat star, bigger things could happen this winter.
Dorcas Wasike (Louisville)
Although we have not seen Wasike compete since the outdoor track season, she is an established runner who could surprise a few this winter in the 5k. Wasike popped onto the national scene after finishing 2nd in the 10,000 meters during the 2018 Outdoor National Championships. Her 15:25 5k PR matches the times of many of the top women in this year's 5k field.
So long as she doesn’t redshirt another season, Wasike could improve off of her 2019 season. However, her recent absence and inability to replicate her breakout performance from 2018 will keep her as a "dark horse" candidate in our eyes...for now.
Carmela Cardama Baez (Oregon)
Oregon’s Carmela Cardama Baez almost pulled off one of the more thrilling comebacks in National Championship history when she made a late surge and almost caught Weini Kelati on the homestretch of last spring's 10,000 meter race. Although Cardama Baez was less than one second shy of the title, she enters the 2020 indoor season on a new level of talent.
After exhausting her cross country eligibility, Cardama Baez trained through the fall and has already raced an indoor 5k. At the Boston University Season Opener, the Oregon senior broke the Oregon school record after running 15:25 to finish 6th. She has yet to qualify for an Indoor National Championship, but that should change this winter after her recent result at Boston.
Courtney Wayment (BYU)
Wayment put together an extremely consistent cross country season and ran the race of her life at the 2019 NCAA XC Championships where she placed 5th. The BYU Cougar has never qualified for a national meet on the track, indoors or outdoors, but 2020 should be different.
Wayment raced at the Boston University Season Opener in the 5k and ran a 32 second PR, earning a time of 15:37. However, it should be noted that the recent breakout star was running unattached in that race. After redshirting the 2019 outdoor season due to injury, Wayment may be taking another redshirt this winter to balance out her eligibility and return in 2021. That, however, is just speculation.
Jessica Pascoe (Florida)
Florida was unable to replicate their team success from 2018 this past fall, but the one constant has been Jessica Pascoe being a top-ranked talent in the NCAA. She ran 15:34 at the Boston University Season Opener 5k last year, but opted not to race in Boston earlier this month. Pascoe hasn't had the most success at national meets, recording a DNF at last year's national meet and placing 9th (one spot out of All-American honors) last spring.
Even so, Pascoe is too talented to not be a part of this conversation.
Jessica Drop (Georgia)
Drop hasn't always been the most consistent when it comes to postseason competition, but with her personal best of 15:38, it would be a crime to not talk about her. Despite a few off races over the past year, Drop still has a pair of All-American results in the outdoor and indoor 5000 meters. After an encouraging resurgence this past fall (where she grabbed the last All-American spot at the NCAA XC Championships), the Georgia ace seems to be trending upwards.
Others to Watch
Devin Clark (Arkansas)
Melany Smart (Washington)
Megan Hasz (Minnesota)
Joyce Kimeli (Auburn)
Abbey Wheeler (Providence)
Cailie Logue (Iowa State)
Adva Cohen (New Mexico)
Emily Venters (Colorado)
Savannah Carnahan (Furman)
Jessica Lawson (Stanford)
Sarah Feeny (Utah)
Lauren Gregory (Arkansas)
Claire O'Brien (Boise State)
Hannah Steelman (Wofford)
Esther Gitahi (Alabama)
Abby Nichols (Ohio State)