Best Freshman Award
*Redshirt freshmen are not included in this award
Candidates: Ezra Mutai (American International), Adam Wright (Queens (N.C.)), David Cardenas (Adams State)
John: I don’t see how there can be much debate about this, but Ezra Mutai was easily the Freshman of the Season (and year) on the men’s side. Coming off of his impressive national title win in cross country, he followed up with strong performances on the indoor track. He ran 14:02 and 8:02 for 5000 and 3000 meters respectively, elevating him to the highest level of the D2 distance running ranks.
Eric: Mutai is my pick. He ran in elite races and held his own throughout the season. He was the winner over 5000 meters at the Northeast-10 Championships. After his title win during cross country, he proved that he has not lost a step on the oval and is a Division 2 star.
Quenten: I completely agree that Ezra Mutai should be the unanimous choice for the Best Freshman Award. Much like what John and Eric mentioned, he is the defending national champion in cross country, and has posted some fast times on the track this winter. Even as a freshman, he was a heavy title favorite for the 3000 and 5000 meters.
Grace: Going off of what the others said, Ezra Mutai is easily the winner for the Best Freshman Award. He has been wildly impressive since cross country and was the heavy favorite in the distance events this indoor season.
Candidates: Kelly-Ann Beckford (Lincoln (Mo.)), Katie Olding (American International), Chrissani May (Lincoln (Mo.))
John: There’s a case to be made between the three candidates we’ve listed, but I think Kelly-Ann Beckford has the upper-hand. She was an NCAA qualifier in three events and she was a big reason why the Lincoln DMR team was as good as it was. She’s a middle distance star and this is only the beginning of her talented career.
Eric: I’m going to go with Kelly-Ann Beckford who has been a star in Missouri. She was going to run the anchor leg on the DMR at Nationals as well as take on the mile and 800. Through three races of exposure, she was going to put Lincoln (Mo.) on the map.
Quenten: I am agreeing with John and Eric, this award goes to Kelly-Ann Beckford. Beckford is steadily establishing herself as a top runner and the face of Lincoln (Mo.). She has done this by sweeping the 800, mile, and DMR at the MIAA Championships. In the regular season, she shined by running PR’s of 2:09 in the 800 and 4:55 in the mile. Beckford’s improvement and stellar performances this season is why she is most definitely the best freshman in the country.
Grace: I have to agree with the others on Beckford. Her 2:09 800 meters and 4:55 in the mile were fantastic times for a freshman. She was going to double in both events at the Indoor National Championships before the cancellation, which shows that she has some guts and a big future ahead of her. Kelly-Ann Beckford is the up-and-coming middle distance star in Division Two.
Most Improved Award
*Focuses on athletes who were in the national picture, does not include freshmen
Candidates: Calahan Warren (Embry-Riddle), Connor Schwartz (Grand Valley State), Justin Crosswhite (Western Oregon)
John: I think Calahan Warren takes this award for me this season. Coming into the indoor season, we knew Warren was a good miler, but he really made a big leap this winter. He dropped his mile time by just over two seconds (down to 4:03) and then made a huge jump in the 3000 where he ran 8:08. Prior to that, he had run 8:13 (the first weekend of the season) and prior to 8:13 he had never run faster than 8:24. Warren clearly took the leap and it’s a shame we didn’t get to see him at the NCAA meet.
Eric: On the men’s side, Calahan Warren was much improved from last indoor season posting two new PR's. The first being in the mile where he asserted himself into the national title conversation and the second being the 3k where he cut 20 seconds off from his time from last season. The senior from Embry-Riddle was looking to end his final indoor season with a top eight finish in Birmingham.
Grace: Connor Schwartz deserves this award. He PR’d in three events by huge margins this indoor season. He won the GLIAC 3k title with an impressive time of 8:06 for the NCAA #8 time in Division Two. He ran a PR of 4:09 in the mile at the GVSU Mike Lints Alumni Open and a PR of 14:19 in the 5k at the GVSU Holiday Open. His previous PR's were 4:17, 8:42, and 14:39 which shows his vast improvement from last season to this season.
Quenten: Conner Schwartz takes home the Most Improved Award in my book. Schwartz has been nothing but impressive this season, dropping PR’s in three events and even placing his name in the top 10 for the 3000 meters in the NCAA. He improved drastically and finally made that jump and I see nothing but success for him in the future.
Candidates: Clarissa Morales (Stanislaus State), Ida Narbuvoll (U-Mary), Jennifer Comastri (Southern Indiana)
Eric: I'll go with Ida Narbuvoll from U-Mary. The Marauder improved her 5k time by nearly 40 seconds and shaved nearly 20 seconds off her 3k time. Narbuvoll was a regular at NCAA's, just never an All-American (on the track). However, nobody expected this kind of jump from the senior. This would have been a very good opportunity for her to earn her first top eight finishes indoors.
Grace: Ida Narbuvoll went from a regular NCAA qualifier to a national title contender, but I can’t say I didn’t expect that from the U-Mary senior. If you look at her previous seasons and times, it was only natural that her progression led her to the top. For me, Clarissa Morales showed dramatic improvement this season and deserves the Most Improved Award.
Clarissa Morales was having the season of her life and qualified for her first national meet with the NCAA #7 time in the 5k with a 16:38 and the NCAA #6 time in the 3k with a 9:35. She also ran a 4:56 in the mile at the Seattle Pacific Final Qualifier. To go from never qualifying for a national meet to having two top 10 times in the country is wildly impressive, and to attempt the 3k/5k double at her first meet of that caliber is brave.
Her PR’s improved from 5:06 to 4:56, 10:06 to 9:35, and 17:10 to 16:38. This brought her from being a decent Division Two runner to an All-American ace.
Quenten: Ida Narbuvoll has been a household name and one of the top runners in the NCAA for years. Although she made huge improvements this season, I am going with someone who hasn’t always been a household name and Clarissa Morales takes home that crown.
Morales has made improvements this season to become a runner everyone now knows, owing two top 10 marks in the 3k (9:35) and 5k (16:38). As mentioned, she went from having never qualified for the National Championships to having two top 10 times in multiple events and being a legitimate dark horse in both.
John: I’m going with Jennifer Comastri. She flew under the radar for most of the season because of all of the other names, but she still finished with the NCAA #4 time in the 3000 (9:34) and the NCAA #5 time in the 5000 (16:31). She also posted the NCAA #24 fastest mile in the country with her converted mark of 4:53. She went from never qualifying for an NCAA meet (on the track) to being a legitimate threat to finishing in the top three in both of her events.
Best Performance Award
*Must have run attached
Candidates: Marcelo Laguera’s 13:59 at Husky Classic, Benoit Campion’s 4:02 mile at Boston, Derek Holdsworth’s 1:47 at Washington, Christian Noble’s 8:05 at Camel City
John: I’m going to go with Marcelo Laguera’s 13:59. I mainly think this was huge because it legitimized most of what Laguera ran at altitude. He had never broken 14:00 before that, and it likely meant that he was going to break it again during the outdoor season and do so by more than just a mere second. It’s also one of those milestones that every runner is looking to achieve and that holds more weight than some of those he was against.
Eric: Although his NCAA journey is over, I have to go with Derek Holdsworth’s 1:47. He won that race and separated himself from a deep field, nationally. He was a dominant middle distance force all season and would have been the favorite to win the 800 meters in Birmingham. For that effort, Holdsworth is my pick after having a very unique career that featured stops in Alamosa, Colorado, Washington D.C., and Monmouth, Oregon
Grace: I’m going to have to go with Marcelo Laguera’s 13:59 at the Husky Classic. He was the only person to dip under 14 minutes in the 5k and he placed 21st overall in the event against pro runners and Division One’s best talents. This was a PR and a big milestone for the senior.
Quenten: Christian Noble’s 8:05 at Camel City was the best performance of the season to me. Noble went against top professional runners in Paul Chelimo and Brian Barraza and he was able to hold his own, running a new PR and finishing just 15 seconds behind the winner (Chelimo - 7:50). This performance definitely meant a lot to Noble because it gave him the confidence that he could run against anybody and made him a heavy favorite in the event for NCAA’s.
Candidates: Lauren Bailey’s 16:21 (solo) at GLVC Championships, Allie Ludge’s 4:39 mile at Meyo, Allie Ludge’s 9:18 3000 at GVSU
Grace: While Allie Ludge’s performances in the mile and 3k were impressive, I think Lauren Bailey’s solo 16:21 in the 5k deserves this award. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t expect Allie Ludge to run those marks this season, she was arguably the best Division Two runner across the distance events this winter. What makes Bailey’s performance special is that she ran a converted 16:14 5k by herself for the top time in Division Two. She broke the GLVC meet record by 45 seconds and won the race by over 30 seconds. She was a title favorite in the 5k heading into the national meet based on this performance.
Eric: I agree with Grace and will go with Lauren Bailey. She had the race of her life during the GLVC Championship 5k, smoking NCAA qualifier Jennifer Comastri by a full 30 seconds. She soloed this race and raced herself into the 5k national title conversation. NCAA's would have been interesting as she would have gotten a rematch of the 5000 meters at the GVSU Holiday Open back in December.
Quenten: Lauren Bailey’s 16:21 (16:14 converted) was super impressive at the GLVC Championships. Bailey ran this race entirely by herself and managed to run the nation's fastest time. With this performance, she put herself in the argument for being one of the title favorites in the 5000 meters at NCAA’s.
John: I’m a big fan of Lauren Bailey’s 16:21. Like everyone else, what she did was absolutely spectacular. She left the field in the dust and set a conference record in the process...and it was SOLO! Ludge was spectacular all season, but I thought this set Bailey apart from her at the end of the season.
Best Distance Coach/Team Award
Candidates: Leo Mayo (American International), Chris Siemers (Colorado School of Mines), Jerry Baltes (Grand Valley State)
Eric: Colorado School of Mines and distance coach Chris Siemers are my picks. Simply put, they had a very impressive distance group. Mines had five men in the top 20 (nationally) for the 3k and five in the top 21 for the 5k. That depth was a huge exclamation point after their cross country title win, showing that they own the longer distances (3k, 5k).
Grace: I agree with Eric on this one. Putting that many runners in the top 20 in the 3k and 5k speaks for itself. Colorado Mines continues to dominate the men’s distance scene under the leadership of Chris Siemers.
Quenten: Personally, I think this award goes to coach Leo Mayo of American International. Coach Mayo was able to lead the best freshman and one of the best runners in the nation in Ezra Mutai. Not only did he find success in Ezra, but also their DMR team, which held the NCAA #3 time of 9:46. With Mutai and their DMR, American International definitely had the chance to put their school on the map of distance running if the championships commenced. Add on the range and dominance that we saw from Campion and Kipkosgei (both ranked inside TSR's Top 10) and Coach Mayo gets the nod.
John: I’m with Quenten on this one. What coach Mayo was able to do with those athletes from American International is something else. He had a stacked DMR team, and multiple title contenders across all four individual events. The future will continue to be bright for them as long as he is in charge.
Candidates: Jerry Baltes (GVSU), Darren Holman (Stanislaus State), Caleb Morgan (Lee (Tenn.)), Damon Martin (Adams State)
Eric: I’ll go with Stanislaus State and coach Darren Holman. I had never heard of Stanislaus State before working for TSR, but they got two athletes to NCAA's. Those athletes, Cynthia Mejia and Clarissa Morales, were going to compete in both the 3k and 5k. Additionally, the Stanislaus State women ran a 10k (outdoors) the week before NCAA's were supposed to be held and they had six runners break their school record. Those six runners ran NCAA outdoor provisional qualifier times in the 10k and rewrote the Warrior record book.
Grace: Grand Valley State and Jerry Baltes. With Allie Ludge, Hanna Groeber, Jessica Gockley, Natalie Graber, Klaudia O’Malley, and the NCAA #2 DMR team in the country, it is pretty easy to see why he deserves this award. Ludge is an experienced veteran who had a phenomenal season. Klaudia O’Malley and Natalie Graber had amazing freshmen seasons. Hanna Groeber and Jessica Gockley continued to improve in the distance events. They were looking at winning the team title at NCAA's if the meet had not been cancelled.
Quenten: Yes, this award goes to Jerry Baltes of GVSU. There is no denying that the team consisting of Allie Ludge, Hanna Groeber, Jessica Gockley, and Klaudia O’Malley is the most dominant and strong distance team this season. They are right ahead of Adams State in my mind and it would have been interesting to see them battle the defending DMR champs. With Allie Ludge leading the way and how great she's been, this award goes to coach Baltes this season.
John: I really want to give this award to Darren Holman or Caleb Morgan, but it’s extremely hard to pass on Jerry Baltes. His women are ALWAYS part of the NCAA field and there is always someone competing for national titles. Is it absurd to call him and his team underrated? Because year after year, it seems like we take for granted how good the GVSU team is.
Most Valuable Runner Award
*Must have run attached this season
Candidates: Marcelo Laguera (CSU-Pueblo), Christian Noble (Lee (Tenn.)), Derek Holdsworth (Western Oregon), Dennis Mbuta (Grand Valley State)
Eric: My MVR is Christian Noble of Lee (Tenn.). The winner of four events at the Gulf South Championships, Noble ran the fastest 3k and second fastest 5k times in the nation this winter. His most impressive races were in Boston for the 5k and at the JDL Fast Track for the 3k. He proved that he can race with the best of them when he ran his PR's against elite competition across all three divisions and top professionals.
Quenten: It is very hard for me to pick between Marcelo Laguera and Christian Noble. Both had fantastic seasons and each one could have been national champions in their respected events. Laguera was the only runner in the NCAA this year to go sub-14 in the 5000 (13:53 converted) and he was also one of six people to run 8:05 or faster in the 3000.
The argument for Noble is his impressive 3000 meter time of 8:00 and his 5000 meter time of 14:01. To me they are neck and neck, but I am giving the Most Valuable Runner Award to Christian Noble. He is the heart and soul of that team and I think he was as hungry as ever to secure that first national title.
Grace: Similar to Quenten, it is hard to choose between Marcelo Laguera and Christain Noble. Laguera had the faster 5k, but Noble had the faster 3k. Laguera won two RMAC titles while Noble won four Gulf South titles. Overall, I think Noble had the most consistent and shocking season and for that reason, I’m also going to choose the Lee veteran. He’s really stepped up his game this past year and had a phenomenal season overall.
John: I thought that his pick was going to be harder for everyone than it actually was. Everyone picked Christian Noble and I will be doing the same. It’s hard to argue against his nation leading 3k time from his race at Camel City along with his NCAA #2 time for the 5k. You could debate that Laguera is just as valuable given his performances through the season, but Noble is just as fast as Laguera and has greater range.
I also think it should be noted that Mbuta had an excellent season and likely had an argument for this award.
Candidates: Allie Ludge (Grand Valley State), Addy Townsend (Simon Fraser), Berenice Cleyet-Merle (U-Indy), Ida Narbuvoll (U-Mary), Stephanie Cotter (Adams State)
Eric: No question about it, Allie Ludge was the Lakers top star for a reason. Ludge had the nation's fastest 3k, second fastest mile and sixth fastest 800 meter time. Her best performances were at the Meyo Invite where she ran her 4:39, the GVSU Holiday Open where she ran 9:18 and 2:09 at the GVSU Big Meet. She also took home two GLIAC titles. She never wavered as a dominant athlete this season and was my pick to win any race she was entered in.
Grace: No questions about it, Allie Ludge deserves the MVR Award. She had the NCAA #6 time in the 800 with a 2:09, the NCAA #2 time in the mile with a 4:39, the NCAA #1 time in the 3k with a 9:18 and the NCAA #2 time in the DMR as the anchor for Grand Valley State. She pulled off impressive performances throughout the season and was set up for an impressive triple in the mile, 3k, and DMR at Nationals. There isn’t another athlete that showed this level of range and dominance this indoor season.
Quenten: This is Allie Ludge’s award and there is no argument. Grace mentioned her impressive times and performances this indoor season and the numbers speak for themselves. I truly believe she was in that good of shape to pull off that impressive triple at Nationals, but we will never know. What I do know is that she was the most dominant distance athlete of the regular season this year and for that reason she is the Most Valuable Runner.
John: It’s really hard to argue that the MVR is not Allie Ludge. She had the fastest non-converted mile time in the country along with the fastest 3000 meter time by eight seconds. She elevated the Lakers team to another level when she competed and was almost a lock for providing 30 points for the Lakers team at the NCAA meet. That being said, I think you could also make cases for both Addy Townsend and Ida Narbuvoll.