Updated: Feb 28
Note: Due to the late release time of the MPSF entries, the below analysis is only speculation as to what certain athletes will run.
Although some would argue that the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) Championships should really be the PAC-12 Championships, a better name might be “Last Chance NCAA Qualifying Meet”.
In fairness, every conference championship is technically a last chance qualifying meet, but the talent level at the MPSF Championships tends to outweigh that of other meets. Athletes from Colorado, Washington, Oregon, BYU and a handful of other top distance destinations will toe the line at the Dempsey this weekend looking for a last ditch effort to get them to Albuquerque.
Below, we highlighted five key storylines to watch for in Washington over the weekend.
1. Can the MPSF Women Go Five for Five?
*Note: Moments after the publication of this article, the New Mexico women ran 11:12 in the DMR at altitude which converts to 11:02.10. The new NCAA #12 team in the DMR is Michigan (11:05.89).
As it stands, the top three teams on the NCAA Performance List for the women’s distance medley relay are BYU, Stanford and Washington. All three schools are from the MPSF. Two other MPSF teams, Utah and Oregon, currently sit at NCAA #16 and #20, respectively. While the first three are all but guaranteed entry for the Indoor National Championships, Utah and Oregon will be left to chase times this Friday.
Currently, Utah sits four seconds out while Oregon is seven seconds behind. Those numbers likely hold little weight heading into the meet as there will be other teams from around the country aiming to better their marks as well.
The MPSF teams do have one benefit over other Friday schools and that is the time of competition.
The DMR is the final event on Friday for the MPSF meet, taking place at 7:10PM. At that point, any other conference racing a DMR will have likely raced, which means that Oregon and Utah should have an idea of what they will need to run in order to qualify.
There is always the chance that DMRs competing after Friday will run even faster (i.e. BIG East Championships), but it at least provides a rough target for the Utes and Ducks.
Most of the Washington women will be in Boston this weekend while Whittni Orton will be running the 800 meters. However, if Stanford opts to run at a semi-competitive relay, they could help drag the Utah and Oregon women to a fast time.
So why will either team run faster this weekend?
Oregon ran their mark at the Razorback Invitational in January. Not only was that meet a month ago, but their only competition was Arkansas, who absolutely destroyed the Ducks (18 second victory), leaving them in no man's land with no one to chase. This weekend stands to be much closer which could give Susan Ejore someone to chase on the anchor leg.
As for Utah, they ran their 11:10 mark without Sarah Feeny on the team. While Feeny has not looked fantastic this season, she has run 4:13 for 1500 meters and would be a huge addition if she finds her form. Utah has also seen Sarah Newton running stronger since her anchor leg of the DMR, clocking a 4:42 mile personal best on February 15th. Newton is better than she ever has been in college and could be the spark to get Utah to the National Championships on Friday night.
2. Will Washington or Stanford's DMR Hold Up?
Right now, the Washington men sit at NCAA #12 in the DMR. Similarly, Stanford sits at NCAA #11. Both teams should not feel safe about qualifying for Nationals heading into this weekend. A handful of programs may aim to run faster at their conference meet while Georgetown and Middle Tennessee State are running top lineups of their own in Boston this weekend.
That, however, doesn't seem to phase the Huskies. As of right now, they won't be racing in the DMR with most of their top guys running open events in Boston. That's a bold move, but it seems like they are taking their chances and are looking to solidify their individual qualifiers.
Stanford is a bit of a different story. Sure, they sit at NCAA #11, but they are much safer than Washington given that their time is considerably faster (9:32 vs 9:35). That doesn't necessarily mean their totally safe, but it definitely means that they are safer.
If Stanford runs another top DMR, then Alex Ostberg is the likely candidate to anchor the team again. Brandon McGorty has looked solid in the 800 meters, but the missing link for the Cardinal may be Thomas Ratcliffe.
The Stanford junior debuted this season with a personal best in the mile of 4:00.04 at the UW Preview back on January 18th, but has since been absent from the track. Ratcliffe is more than likely hurt given his history and is likely not to compete as a member of the Stanford DMR team. The Cardinal may be in jeopardy if they cannot find another gear this weekend.
3. Whittni Orton to Drop Down in Distance
In an interview with BYU Sports Nation, Orton informed viewers that she will likely be running the 800 meters at the MPSF Championships.
This likely won't have a major impact in the grand scheme of things, but her event choice does let us know that Orton will likely not be running in any other (distance) events this weekend. As a result, that likely means that a Jones vs Orton matchup is off the table for another week.
While this is likely an speed-refinement workout for the National Championships, it will be fascinating to see just how fast Orton can go given all of her recent jaw-dropping performances.
4. Will Jones Make it a Quadruple?
* Note: A TSR reader pointed out that Jones (among others) is not listed as an entrant on Colorado's website for this weekend. Based off of this information, it is unlikely that she will race at the MPSF Championships.
The top-ranked woman in our TSR Top 25 is Dani Jones of Colorado. The redshirts enior is currently qualified for NCAA's in four events - the 800, mile, 5k and DMR. This meet will be her one and only chance to qualify in the only remaining distance event...the 3000 meters.
On paper, this event figures to be her ideal distance. Jones is the top-ranked miler in the country and NCAA #3 in the 5000 meters. She has won a 5000 meter national title last spring, won the cross country national title the fall before that, and has also won the 3000 meter national title in the winter of 2017 (along with the DMR).
The timing of events at the NCAA's is also a big consideration for Jones. Of the three events she is currently qualified in, all of them take place on Friday (the mile final would be Saturday). If Jones were to run two of them, it would almost certainly be the DMR and mile as the DMR and 5k are back-to-back.
However, the 3000 meter final is the last (distance) event on Saturday. That means Jones could either double in the DMR and 3k, or triple in the mile, DMR and 3k.
Of course, all of this is dependent on Jones actually running a qualifying mark on Saturday. On paper, it would take faster than 9:10 to qualify, assuming no one else runs faster than NCAA #16 Kelsey Chmiel this weekend.
Jones has a personal best of 9:02, but her other times indicate that she should/will be able to smash the 9:00 barrier with ease. It would be shocking if Jones does not race the 3k this weekend, even if she ultimately decides not to run the event at Nationals.
Colorado is already safely headed to the National Championships in the DMR and Jones is a lock for the mile and 5k. This weekend will allow her to throw down a national qualifying time and then make a decision after the fact.
5. Fridays are for Fast 5k's
At least that’s what the MPSF men are banking on.
While the women’s 5k national qualifiers are largely decided at the Boston University Season Opener in December, the men’s side is much more open throughout the season. As it stands, there are four or five men from the MPSF who will be looking for a last chance national qualifier...and one who will be looking to fend them off.
Tanner Anderson of Washington (who is not listed in the entries for Boston) is currently sitting at NCAA #14 in the 5000 meters. The top 16 runners in each event qualify for Nationals. Barring any athletes ahead of him scratching the event, Anderson sits in a somewhat vulnerable position coming into conference weekend.
Right on his heels will be Brandon Garnica (BYU), Evert Silva and Michael Teran-Solano (Portland) and Colin Burke (UCLA).
Looking at the NCAA performance list for 5000 meters, Garnica is listed at NCAA #19, Evert is at NCAA #20, Burke is at NCAA #21 and Teran-Solano is at NCAA #22.
The NCAA #16 mark from Emmanuel Cheboson is 13:41.
All four MPSF men have run between 13:45 and 13:47 this season. If the pace is honest from the gun, this race could produce a handful of national qualifiers, especially if Anderson betters his previous mark.