It's Wednesday afternoon and for many of us at TSR, we are still digesting this past weekend's results. The second-to-last week of January almost always produces high quality performances and despite plenty of warning, we always end up surprised.
Why? I have no idea.
Allie Ostrander just shook up the national qualifying picture this past weekend after a pair of match-ups against Sinclaire Johnson and Oklahoma State. No, she didn't run an absurd time or even leave Seattle with a win which is a rarity for Ostrander.
But somehow, none of that really matters.
What does matter is the DMR performance that we saw on Friday night. On a day where Stanford's bus caught on fire and Indiana's men ran an NCAA #6 DMR, the best highlight was arguably the relay battle we saw at the Dempsey indoor facility.
With Oklahoma State securing the victory by a margin of less than half a second (in a time of 10:55.92), the Pokes have effectively laid claim to the DMR as national title favorites, especially when you consider that the time is an NCAA #10 All-Time performance.
However, that result is not what complicates this year's qualifying picture. With Boise State's DMR finishing close behind in 10:56, Ostrander's future plans for NCAA's have suddenly become less concrete in a season where she ran one of the fastest 5k races in NCAA history. Even so, there's an argument to be made for Ostrander returning to the DMR at Nationals...
At the moment, competition in the women's distance events is at an all-time high, specifically for 5000 meters. If you don't believe me, jump back to what we saw at Boston University in December where four women ran NCAA Top 10 All-Time marks for 5000 meters. If the season ended today, the top 14 women from that race would qualify for Nationals. Only two women who did not run in that race would make it into the national meet.
In 2019, talent in the 5000 meters will likely be at it's pinnacle. The field will be increasingly crowded with numerous women who could walk away with a national title. Is it unrealistic to think that either Kurgat, Kelati, Lokedi, Ostrander, Finn, or even Wasike could be a 5k national champ? I think there's an argument for each of these runners and a maybe a few others if the race turns tactical.
So why would Ostrander subject herself to a race where the fitness for an NCAA Top 10 time may not even be enough to secure a top three finish for that same event at Nationals? Why not choose to run the DMR where there are far fewer title contenders? That's not to say that Ostrander can't win a national title in the 5000 meters (heck, she's already run 15:16 this season), but if her goal is to walk away with her first NCAA indoor gold medal and/or secure as many points for her team as possible, then Allie and the Boise State coaching staff may want to consider making another effort at the DMR, an event they finished 5th in at last year's indoor national meet.
Obviously, the season is still young and we have yet to see how certain fields for certain events will look at the National Championships. That said, it's hard to imagine a ton of new names or relays climbing to the top of the NCAA leaderboard in either the 5000 or DMR. When you compare the current standings to the final list we saw in 2018, there is plenty of parity between the top five times.
New Mexico could run something fast in the distance medley, but it's far more probable that the Lady Lobos pursue open events. Oregon always has the potential to turn heads, but if Jessica Hull were to enter the mile instead of the 3000 this year, then she'll likely have to run on tired legs. If Oregon does run the DMR, it will almost definitely be with Hull and Susan Ejore on the double.
Outside of Arkansas and Stanford's "A" lineup, I'm not sure who else could join Oklahoma State, Boise State, BYU, and Villanova as title contenders. Maybe a reorganized Washington relay where Rainsberger and Burdon are switched? It's tough to say...
If Ostrander did opt to choose the DMR, then a double in the 3000 meters would be inevitable. After all, I think most would agree that it's easier to double-back in a 3k after racing a mile compared to racing a full indoor 5k.
Not only that, but Ostrander hopping out of the 5k would also open up a qualifying spot for teammate Emily Venters who seems to be a borderline qualifier in both the 3k and 5k distances. If she does earn a trip to Birmingham, Venters will be someone who can score in the open events for Boise State without having to worry about the DMR.
When was the last time a Top 10 All-Time performer didn't run that respective event at Nationals that year? No, seriously, when was the last time that happened? I don't know if anyone would be able to find that answer.
Regardless, history still sides with the 5000 meters on this one. Of the six remaining women on the All-Time Top 10 NCAA 5k list (with a time that was run prior to this season), five of them went on to become national champions in that same year. Only Sarah Disanza (#10) did not (she finished 3rd). Of course, we've never been in a situation where four different women clocked an All-Time Top 10 5k mark in the same year...
While it may seem overly dramatic, Ostrander stepping away from the 5000 meters could wind up being a subtle indicator (whether we realize it or not) of how top athletes will weigh their options in this continuously evolving and growing era of elite competition.
As for right now, Ostrander choosing the DMR could open up a national qualifying spot for her teammate, force other programs to realign / reconsider their current relay lineups, and even give Erin Finn one less roadblock towards her first NCAA gold.
And most importantly?
It could give Ostrander the best chance of winning her first indoor national title.