#1 Sally Kipyego (Texas Tech ‘09)
#5 Emma Coburn (Colorado '13)
This matchup looks like it may have an upset in the works. Despite being a #5 seed, Emma Coburn has steamrolled through the first two rounds of competition. In the Round of 64, Coburn easily took down Arizona State alum Shelby Houlihan, and then swept Iowa State grad Betsy Saina by taking 90% of the votes.
That said, don’t count out top seed Sally Kipyego just yet. The former Texas Tech Red Raider has yet to face a challenge, cruising past Stephanie Cotter and Geena Lara in the first two rounds. While Kipyego’s victories haven’t been as substantial as Coburn’s, neither woman has faced yet to face a collegiate athlete with resumes of this caliber.
This matchup pits two of the toughest events against one another - steeplechase and cross country. Coburn holds multiple national titles in the steeplechase whereas Kipyego has numerous title in cross country. Both women have been atop their respective events, but who will come out as the victor in this round?
#2 Lisa Uhl (Iowa State ‘10)
#14 Alysia Montano (California '08)
Alysia Montano enters the Sweet 16 tied for the lowest seed (#14) of any remaining women in the field, but could still be considered the favorite in this round given her winning percentages in the previous rounds. Montano defeated #3 seed Johanna Nilsson narrowly in the first round and took down #6 seed Tiffany McWilliams handily (69% to 31%) in the second round. However, Montano will now face the biggest challenge of this bracket.
Lisa Uhl has barely squeaked by in the first two rounds. Uhl faced current superstar Nia Akins in the first round and then Hannah England in round two. Her largest margin of victory was 55% to 45% against England. Combining those first two rounds, #2 seed Uhl has the lowest combined margin of victory of any remaining athlete in the bracket.
Those stats should not imply that Uhl will lose this round, just that she will need to continue to battle to earn her spot in the Elite Eight as far as voting is concerned.
This battle is also a middle distance vs long distance affair. Montano holds the third best time over 800 meters of any collegiate athlete after she ran 1:59 at the Outdoor National Championships in 2007. Montano holds two NCAA titles at the 800 meter distance and is often remembered for her front-running style, having a flower in her hair, and running a professional 800 meter race at 34 weeks pregnant.
Uhl’s public image may not be quite as high as Montano’s, but her performances are. Uhl holds the collegiate record in the 10k at 31:18 and is the fastest combined 5k/10k runner in NCAA history. She also holds the NCAA's 5000 meter all-time record, but that was set in the summer after graduation. With four national titles, Uhl was nearly unbeatable her senior year.
#1 Sam Chelanga (Liberty ‘11)
#4 Clayton Murphy (Akron ‘16)
#1 seed Sam Chelanga has been holding steady while other top seeds have been falling, but he will face his toughest matchup yet as he goes up against Clayton Murphy. The former Akron Zip surprisingly had no problem taking down his last opponent (Eric Jenkins) on his way to the Sweet 16. In another long distance vs middle distance battle, the popular 800 meter runner will have a tougher time in this contest.
Although Chelanga has two more NCAA titles than Murphy, including two cross country titles, he may never have had a year as dominant as Murphy’s 2015-2016 seasons. The 2016 Akron graduate won the indoor 800 meter national title and the 1500 meter national title during outdoors, establishing himself as the best middle distance runner in the country.
As for Chelanga, he won the 2010 NCAA Cross Country Championships title before winning the outdoor 5k in 2011, but was not the same overwhelming favorite that Murphy was in his primary distances.
Both of these men against loaded fields during their eras.
Murphy came through the NCAA during the golden age of 800 runners while Chelanga had to go head-to-head with Galen Rupp. Top competition pushed them to top times as Chelanga took home the collegiate record in the 10k while Murphy ran 3:36 to win his 1500 meter national title.
Each runner left a significant mark on the NCAA and both are regarded as two of the best to ever do it.
#2 Galen Rupp (Oregon '09)
#6 Dathan Ritzenhein (Colorado ‘04)
This matchup pits two all-time greats from the 2000's against each other. Fans within the running community are plenty familiar with these names as they have six Olympic appearances between the two of them.
Galen Rupp has rolled over the competition thus far, which is not a far cry from how his collegiate career at Oregon was. In this bracket, he has taken down 2019 cross country champion Edwin Kurgat and the 2005 indoor mile champion Nick Willis. The Bowerman Award winner, Olympic qualifier, American collegiate 10k record holder, and five-time national champion has a resume that is loaded with impressive times and numerous All-American performances. He will look to take down the former Coloado harrier (Ritzenhein) in the Sweet 16.
Dathan Ritzenhein may have had the most difficult first two rounds out of anyone in this bracket, having to face both Ryan Hall and Simon Bairu to get to the Sweet 16. Now, he'll be going up against an even greater challenge in Galen Rupp. The 2003 cross country national champion helped lay an enduring foundation for the Buffaloes despite sustaining injuries and not using the entirety of his collegiate eligibility.