Updated: Jun 11, 2019
What should we make of BYU's overall performance?
The BYU men made headlines when they were able to put six men in the top 12 of the West Region 10k and then four men in the top 12 for the steeplechase. Along with a handful of other entries in the 5000 and 1500, the sheer dominance of BYU in the West Region set high expectations for when they toed the line at the national meet.
The end results? Mixed.
After such an abysmal performance that the 2018 Outdoor National Championships, the BYU men had the opportunity to make a statement in the 10k...and they did just that. Clayton Young out-kicked Alabama's Gilbert Kigen in the final 200 meters of the race to take home gold. Meanwhile, teammates Conner Mantz and Connor McMillan were close behind in 3rd and 4th. It was a wildly successful race for the men from Provo, Utah who were able to give Ed Eyestone yet another national champion. Even the 5k produced some encouraging performances as Young and Mantz bounced back two nights later to finish 6th and 7th, respectively.
But while the long distance crew thrived, the steeplechasers struggled...mightily. The prelims started out great as all four of BYU's men were able to qualify for the finals. That, in and of itself, was a win. Unfortunately, Friday failed to yield the same success. Despite making up a third of the entire field, the Cougars only produced one All-American (Matt Owens) who finished in the last All-American spot available (8th). The final three finishing spots all went to BYU. For a team that boasts the fact that they are, without question, the collegiate standard for producing elite steeplechasers, they have failed to make any significant on the national stage as of late.
Did BYU do enough to avenge last year's performance? Truthfully, I don't know the answer to that question as it depends on how much emphasis you put on events like the steeplechase and 1500. Still, we would be lying if we said that the 10k and 5k weren't the main focal points for the Cougars this weekend. In what is arguably one of the deepest distance rosters we have seen, Coach Eyestone's group finally capitalized on their depth and overall firepower.
Where do Dani Jones and Allie Ostrander go from here?
Both Dani Jones and Allie Ostrander did something incredibly special this past weekend.
For Ostrander, she became the only woman in NCAA history to win three straight steeplechase titles. No one on the face of the Earth can say that.
For Jones, she has cemented her greatness by winning what was arguably the most important national title of her collegiate career. Despite battling numerous injuries throughout the winter and only racing three times before the National Championships, Jones still emerged as the 5k champion in an event that most would say isn't even her best racing distance. If no one could beat Jones now, they certainly aren't beating her when she has an entire block of uninterrupted winter training under her legs.
So...what else is left? What else do these two women have left to accomplish in the NCAA? Jones still has indoor and outdoor track eligibility left while Ostrander is only junior. Both of these women could very easily return to the NCAA next year and continue building their trophy collection. But is that a good enough reason to return?
Could it possibly be time to see these women go pro? Outside of Jessica Hull (someone who is strongly considered by many to forgo her last year of eligibility), there are very few graduating women who can dictate the sponsorship market like Jones and Ostrander could. With the 2020 Olympics fast approaching, top brands are likely eager to sign the NCAA's most elite women in hopes that they can make it onto Team USA.
There may not be a better time to sign on the dotted line than now...
Is Bryce Hoppel a Bowerman candidate now?
Two national titles.
1:44.41 personal best.
Undefeated with 19 straight wins.
What more does Bryce Hoppel need to do to get on the Bowerman Watchlist? Entering this weekend, you could find Devin Dixon listed among the Bowerman nominees while Hoppel was not. The sole difference at the time was that Dixon had a faster mark this season.
That, however, all changed this past weekend when Hoppel beat Dixon twice - once in the prelims and once in the finals - en route to a time of 1:44.41 and his second national title of the year. Of course, the real x-factor in this entire discussion is the undefeated streak that the Kansas ace has been able to maintain since the beginning of indoor track.
The past few years have been headlined by superstar 800 runners like Isaiah Harris, Michael Saruni, Emmanuel Korir, Donavan Brazier, and Brandon McBride. All of those men were named to the Bowerman Watchlist at some point during their collegiate careers. Now, it should be Hoppel's turn as he has crafted a resume that rivals even those all-time greats, especially when you factor in the winning streak.
If we're being brutally honest, I've never been a fan of The Bowerman award. The award is understandably subjective, but the inconsistencies with some of their criteria is an issue in my eyes (i.e. Cheserek). While I am certainly not proposing that Hoppel should win The Bowerman (which should likely go to Holloway), he should at least be considered as a nominee after being robbed of a spot in their latest Bowerman Watchlist release.
Bigger deal: Johnson's 1500 win or Nuguse's 1500 win?
In my eyes, Jessica Hull seemed like the undeniable favorite to win the national title. I even suggested that she was the heaviest favorite to take home a title on the distance side in our championship preview. However, some of my fellow writers told me otherwise, suggesting that Oklahoma State's Sinclaire Johnson was a legitimate contender to the Oregon superstar in our predictions.
On paper, it was a difficult argument to make.
Johnson had fewer wins, less pronounced range, a slower personal best, and no national title. It was understandable why everyone had Hull taking home gold before this past weekend.
Yet, the reason why Johnson was a threat to Hull in the eyes of many is because of her intangibles. She had defeated numerous top talents before and had displayed underrated consistency while quietly progressing over the past two seasons. But what really made her so dangerous was her ability to compete in any kind or race. Whether it be tactical or all-out from the gun, Johnson was a serious contender whenever she toed the line.
So when Johnson hung onto Hull's shoulder while whipping around the final curve and into the lead, it became a moment of clarity for everyone who picked against her (myself included). The Oklahoma State superstar was for real and her NCAA #2 All-Time mark of 4:05.98 further confirmed that. For Johnson, this win was her introduction into the upper-echelon of elite collegiate talents.
Funny enough, the story is oddly similar for Notre Dame sophomore Yared Nuguse who won his second national title (first individual title) of the year. The Fighting Irish youngster has rapidly evolved into a superstar this year. After out-kicking Grant Fisher to win the DMR national title during indoors, Nuguse would go on to run 3:38 at Bryan Clay where he finished 3rd overall. Much like Johnson, he wasn't the favorite to take home NCAA gold, but he was also viewed by many as someone good enough to do just that.
While it may not have been as beautifully executed as Johnson, Nuguse's final kick was enough to will him across the line barely in front of Justine Kiprotich by .003 seconds. I will maintain that it is the greatest finish to a race that I have ever seen.
For Nuguse, his win is monumentally huge from a legacy standpoint. Capturing the outdoor crown validates his DMR win from indoors and makes him the undeniable king of the 1500 in the fastest year ever recorded for the event.
But for Johnson, her win carries nearly an equal amount of weight. The win has put her in a class of her own and it helps that she was able to defeat one of the best collegiate distance runners of this millennium in the process.
Much like the BYU question, I don't know which performance is a "bigger deal". Regardless, the point of this is to emphasize just how incredibly valuable each of these wins are to the respective champions. One day, we will look back at this championship meet and recognize it as the weekend that put both Johnson and Nuguse on the track towards becoming all-time greats.