Written by Maura Beattie and Garrett Zatlin
With conference weekend upon us, it's time for athletes to get one last shot at nailing down qualifying times for the indoor national meet in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The BIG 12 Indoor Championships, hosted by Iowa State, should produce some fast times across both genders and all distances. There are a number of men and women already in the NCAA's top 16, but there are also some athletes on the outside looking in.
1. Can the Iowa State Men Win Both the 800 & 1000?
Iowa State’s Festus Lagat, Roshon Roomes and Daniel Nixon are all capable of winning either the 800 and 1000 meters this weekend. In the 800 meters, Roomes and Nixon have run 1:47 and 1:48, respectively, this season. While those times may not match their personal bests, it may be safe to say that their consistency and progress has been a big reason why they have stood out so far this season. Championship meets are nothing new for these two and it wouldn't be a shock to see them go 1-2.
The problem, however, is that they will face a very deep field. Guys like Sven Cepus (Texas Tech), Ackeen Colley (Oklahoma) and Juan Diego Castro (Oklahoma State) have made considerable leaps in fitness this year, each running under the 1:50 barrier.
Roomes and Nixon are talented, but in a field that will likely be crowded at the top, this ISU duo will have their work cut out for them.
At the Jimmy Grant Invite back in December, Lagat, Roomes and Nixon put together a trio of jaw-dropping times with Lagat leading the way en route to a time of 2:20. When you consider Lagat's incredible range, mind-blowing consistency and ability to double effectively, it's hard to think that anyone else is the title favorite in the 1000 meters.
However, if someone is going to break up a theoretical Cyclone sweep, it would be Texas Tech’s Takieddine Hedeilli. Hedeilli has a 1:48 PR from this indoor season and is coming off of a 3:58 mile performance at the UW Husky Classic. The Red Raider ace is gaining some serious momentum as we enter championship season.
Hedeilli jumped into the collegiate scene this year for graduate school. He is an accomplished athlete from Algeria, specifically in the 1500 meters. Hedeilli will also be running the mile (along with Lagat), so it will be interesting to see who handles double duty better.
2. Kurgat To Attempt Mile/3000/5000 Triple
Edwin Kurgat is currently ranked in the top 16 of the NCAA for the mile, 3000 meters and 5000 meters. Each time he has raced, he has set a new PR. Even so, it is crazy to think that he'll be attempting the mile/3k/5k triple this weekend.
Admittedly, Kurgat is the easy favorite to win the 3000 and 5000 meters. His greatest competition will likely be his own teammates and even an off day for him would likely end in a result that matches the next best runner's PR.
However, it's the mile where things get interesting.
No, we won't get to see Crayton Carrozza toe the line against Kurgat in the mile. However, we will get to see Takieddine Hedeilli (Texas Tech) battling Kurgat. The two men have run 3:58 for the mile distance this winter. Hedeilli is more of a middle distance specialist and while Kurgat focuses on the longer distances.
Both men will be doubling, leaving us to believe that this race could turn tactical.
If the race does turn tactical, what does that mean for Festus Lagat (4:00 PR) and Brendan Hebert (4:03 PR)? These two men are underrated talents at the mile distance, and Lagat has elite 800 meter speed which could be dangerous in a sit-and-kick race.
Regardless, Kurgat could realistically come out with three gold medals in the three longest distances...and that's crazy to think about for a Power Five conference meet.
3. Does Cailie Logue Secure 3k/5k Double Gold?
I feel like all we've done is talk about Iowa State athletes, but so far the distance races will be dominated by Cyclone runners. The women’s 3k and 5k is no different because Cailie Logue owns the fastest times in both events (and by a relatively comfortable margin). Logue is the top returner in both events from last year’s BIG 12 Indoor Championships and on paper, should be the clear favorite heading into this weekend.
In the 2020 season, Logue has raced four times, earning times of 9:18 and 15:50.
Logue, an All-American in cross country, has yet to qualify for the indoor or outdoor national meets in her career. She is currently ranked at NCAA #34 in the 3000 meters, but NCAA #13 in the 5000 meters. Even if a few women run faster than that 5k time this season, Logue still appears to be a comfortable national qualifier (especially after scratches). Assuming that's the case, then Logue will likely not have to chase a fast time this weekend. As a result, you can expect a somewhat modest pace (at least from Logue) on Friday and Saturday night.
As far as challengers are concerned, Logue seems to be soundly ahead of the field. However, the Texas trio of Madeline Vondra, Beth Ramos and Claudine Blancaflor all own PR's in the 16:40's while Iowa State's Winrose Chesang has a 16:45 PR of her own.
The 3000 meters is a similar story as Abby Caldwell (Iowa State), Taylor Roe (Oklahoma State) and Alex Cruz (Texas) are expected to battle it out for silver. Destiny Collins is also entered in the 3k and owns a career best of 9:19, so if she can replicate that kind of time this weekend, then maybe she can make things interesting against Logue.
4. Could Gillespie Earn Double Gold in the 800/Mile?
Kathryn Gillespie transferred to Texas this year after competing for Harvard. During her time in the Ivy League, she owned personal bests of 2:08 and 4:42. However, since arriving at Texas, she has dropped those times to impressive marks of 2:06 and 4:34.
Given her progression and experience, Gillespie is simply the class of the BIG 12 mile field this year. She has underrated race tactics and has a tendency to quietly pull away from her competition which leaves you asking, "How did she do that?".
An underrated talent in her own right, West Virginia’s Hayley Jackson is coming off of two back-to-back PR's (a 4:39 mile and a 2:08 800). Jackson's 800/mile combo leaves her as the only candidate (on paper) to realistically challenge Gillespie in the mile this weekend.
The 800 meters, however, is a different story.
Gillespie has one of the faster personal bests in the field, but women like Macy Heinz (Kansas State) and Kaytlyn Larson (Oklahoma State) have run nearly the exact same time this season while Texas teammate Valery Tobias has run 2:07.37.
When you consider that Gillespie will be doubling and facing a top-heavy field of 800 meter specialists, the idea of double gold may be a little more challenging than some of us initially thought. However, doing so would allow Gillespie to truly standout in a mile field that is, nationally speaking, very deep.
5. Quick Notes
Kansas State ace Kassidy Johnson, who has run 2:04 for 800 meters, is entered in the 1000 meters instead of the half-mile. She will have to battle with Ariane Ballner (Oklahoma State) and Larkin Chapman (Iowa State) who own personal bests of 2:46 and 2:47, respectively. Johnson has the better PR (2:45), but it looks like the 1000 meters won't be any less top-heavy than the 800 meters.
Texas has run 9:36 in the DMR this season, but that was with Sam Worley on the anchor leg who has since sustained an injury. At the moment, Texas is ranked at NCAA #14 in the distance medley. The middle distance trio Crayton Carrozza, Brendan Hebert and Sean Prendeville are all underrated talents, but they will need to put together a heroic effort to jump past NCAA #12 Washington who has run 9:35.64 this season.