With the Razorback Invite having a televised portion of the meet, the fields in the invitational sections of the distance races are prepped for fast times and NCAA leading marks.
With only a seven person field, almost every entry has a shot to win. Jasmine Staebler of Iowa State is probably the slight favorite given her experience at NCAA Championships. In fact, Staebler has been to the last four national meets, a sign of impressive consistency. However, her 2019 season has gotten off to a slow start with an 11th place finish at the Larry Wieczorek Invitational 600. Iowa State teammate Erinn Stenman-Fahey set her mile PR last weekend with a 4:46 and could challenge as well with her 2:05 800 PR. Oklahoma State’s Kaitlyn Larson also comes in with a 2:06.60 PR after a 1:34 600 race two weekends ago.
The LSU duo of Ersula Farrow and Katy-Ann McDonald should also contend for a top finish. Farrow established an NCAA #7 result at 800 last weekend with a 2:06.90 and has run 2:03.66 in her career. McDonald has not yet raced an 800 during her freshman year, but ran 2:03.20 during the IAAF U20 World Championships for England. Florida freshman Gabrielle Wilkinson ran 1:34 for 600 meters at the Clemson Invitational, but has a 2:05.72 PR from high school.
Rounding out the field is Arkansas’s Alexandra Byrnes. Her best performance in 2019 is a 1:32 for 600 and she brings in a 2:07 PR. Every single one of these athletes could come out on top if the race goes their way and no matter the results, each one should benefit from this race in their season progression.
1. Katy-Ann McDonald (LSU)
2. Ersula Farrow (LSU)
3. Erinn Stenman-Fahey (Iowa State)
4. Gabrielle Wilkinson (Florida)
5. Jasmine Staebler (Iowa State)
6. Alexandra Byrnes (Arkansas)
7. Kaitlyn Larson (Oklahoma State)
McDonald might not be known well in the United States (and I even missed her in my 800 NCAA preview), but her PR is too good to leave her off the top spot. McDonald should also be confident based on her teammate’s effort from last week. Farrow will obviously benefit from her own effort as well. LSU is known to push the pace early in the 800 and even if they fade, I think they might push the race fast enough to gap some of the other athletes. Staebler would normally be a top three lock in this type of race, but an 11th place finish last week really gives me a lot of pause in considering her for a victory. I still feel confident in her ability to pull it together later in the season for Iowa State, but don’t think she’ll be able to hold it together quite as well as her teammate Stenman-Fahey and Wilkinson from Florida.
Jessica Hull returns to action after her 3rd place finish at the NCAA Cross Country Championships and her first track race since her title in the 1500 last June. Without going even further into Hull’s credentials, it is clear that this Oregon ace is a threat (if not the favorite) in any race she enters.
Hull will be joined by Susan Ejore and Amanda Gehrich. Both are important for the Ducks as they need more distance depth after the departure of Lilli Burdon and Katie Rainsberger. Ejore could be an outside challenger for the mile at NCAA's and should definitely benefit from her teammate being in this race. She was 29th on the NCAA list last year and ran 2:44 for 1000 meters last weekend. That speed could allow her to challenge in a kick if it comes to that. Regardless, Ejore should gain confidence as a DMR leg with a good result if she does not quite move into individual an NCAA qualifying position.
Gehrich will be making her 2019 debut and is slightly further down the Oregon depth chart. Gehrich would need a 10 second PR to push herself into legitimate NCAA qualifying contention, but like Ejore, might be an important DMR piece depending on how the rest of the team plays their hand.
Arkansas will look to bolster their strength at the mile after losing Nikki Hiltz to graduation. Carina Viljoen is the most likely to pick up the slack after a 4:39 personal best last year and a 4:47 this season. Viljoen and teammates Taylor Werner and Lauren Gregory were all part of a Razorback top four in XC which looked like a formidable force until a fluke race at NCAA's. Werner and Gregory are in this race as well and could make the Razorbacks the best NCAA squad at the mile this indoor season.
Gregory has run 2:44 for the 1000 meters in her freshman season while Werner will be making her season debut. Werner has run 4:39 before as well, but should benefit more in the longer events with her 15:51 PR. Devin Clark will also represent the home team. She is primarily a steeplechase specialist and should be at the back of the pack here.
Oklahoma State’s trio of Ariane Ballner, Molly Born, and Montana McAvoy all have PR's in the mid-to-high 4:40's and could play a factor late in the race if it runs slow. They could also be pulled to some quick PR's. Florida’s Jessica Pascoe burst onto the NCAA scene this past fall and should begin her assault on the track and field rankings as well. She has only broken 4:30 in the 1500 during high school, but had also never broken 16:55 in the 5k before running 15:34 at Boston off of her XC fitness. Thus, the prediction window for Pascoe is basically thrown out the window. The only thing you should expect is that Pascoe will not want to allow the Arkansas group to establish a stronghold on the event.
1. Jessica Hull (Oregon)
2. Carina Viljoen (Arkansas)
3. Jessica Pascoe (Florida)
4. Susan Ejore (Oregon)
5. Lauren Gregory (Arkansas)
6. Taylor Werner (Arkansas)
7. Montana McAvoy (Oklahoma State)
Hull is simply too good for this field and should be able to break away in the last 400 of this race if she wants to. Viljoen and Pascoe will likely have the best likelihood of sticking with her until that point and should get pulled to times near 4:36 if this race goes all out from the gun. Ejore is a major wildcard since she seems to alternate between good and mediocre races during XC. Still, Ejore’s 800 speed is one of the best in the field and that could lead to an upset if it comes down to a kick. Gregory and Werner are really a toss-up and could be as high as 2nd or 3rd on a great day, but I think they’ll fall slightly off the pace when the rest of the field goes to kick.
Lauren Gregory and Taylor Werner will both be returning to the mile after racing the 3k. Their strength should be able to keep them in contention and if they are at their bests, they can certainly threaten for the win. However, with a second race coming only an hour later, this may not be a 100% effort.
Maddy Reed was the consistent fifth/sixth XC scorer for Arkansas this past fall and will be gunning to improve on her 9:30 3k PR. Rachel Nichwitz enters with a similar PR, but less speed at both the mile and 5k as compared to Reed. Sydney Brown also enters with a 9:31 PR. Brown and Nichwitz should stay in contention throughout the race, but will probably be behind their other three teammates. All of the Razorbacks will be running fresh (with the exception of Nichwitz who will have run the open mile). Purdue’s Emma Benner will join in the race as well with a PR of 4:54 last weekend in the mile. She will need to improve greatly to prove a threat for the victory.
Almost all of Iowa State is entered in this race as they have six of the 13 athletes. Callie Logue and Anne Frisbie are the two to pay close attention to as they led the squad throughout XC. Logue has never raced a 3k in college, but does have a sub 16-minute 5k and a 4:49 mile to her name from last weekend. Frisbie beat Logue just last weekend in the mile running 4:48.55. Her best at 3k is 9:23 and she could absolutely lower that time this weekend.
Karly Ackley enters with a 4:49 from last weekend as well and is on an upward trajectory based on her 2019 results. Kelly Naumann ran 9:40 for 3k last weekend for Iowa State and will likely not be a major factor. Amanda Vestri could be, however. She ran 9:29.66 last weekend as well, only a half second off her PR. Vestri was finishing behind her teammates in XC, but her return to PR shape should be a major sign in preparation for a great race Saturday. Gwynne Wright will also be racing for Iowa State.
I’ve been saving the best athlete for last in Weronika Pyzik. Pyzik was 12th at the NCAA XC Championships before earning a podium finish at the European U23 XC Championships. This will be her first track race for Oregon. Pyzik has never had the same strength in track as she has had in cross country throughout her career, but I believe 2019 will change that. Her speed is slightly lesser than most of the field, but Pyzik’s strength will be there. Expect her to try to lead early and set a blistering pace to benefit her stamina.
1. Weronika Pyzik (Oregon)
2. Taylor Werner (Arkansas)
3. Maddy Reed (Arkansas)
4. Callie Logue (Iowa State)
5. Amanda Vestri (Iowa State)
6. Lauren Gregory (Arkansas)
7. Anne Frisbie (Iowa State)
Pyzik is probably too strong for anyone in the rest of the field to handle and should be attempting to jump into the NCAA Top Five with this result. Werner has the greatest strength of the rest in my opinion and should be able to hold off the rest of the field, although there’s much more uncertainty here than at #1. Vestri is a wild card who could certainly upset the rest, but I think the 2nd through 7th positions will all be quick in the 9:20's or below, so Vestri ends up in the middle with a new PR. Of the group, I suspect Gregory will be looking forward more to the mile than this race and falls back in a sprint. Reed should be looking to finish strong in her only race of the weekend on her home track.
Only two teams here: Oregon and Florida. The best team for Oregon is probably Ejore-Waller-Stauber-Hull which should beat any team Florida can construct. Remember in 2018, Oregon used the Dr. Sander Invitational as their NCAA qualifying mark run on this exact weekend. Oregon is probably going to try to do the same thing here and cement their qualifying mark to focus on individual events through the end of the season.
Ejore is an almost perfect 1200 leg with her combo of 800 and mile speed while Hull is debatably the best anchor in the NCAA. Waller has run 51 seconds for 400 and Stauber has yet to debut for Oregon, but this could be her coming out party in a Ducks uniform. My bold prediction? Ejore (3:23), Waller (53.5), Stauber (2:06.3) and Hull (4:36). This equates to 10:58.8 and would likely cement their NCAA placing. Obviously, the team could be completely different, but with UW also hosting a quick DMR, I think Oregon will want to put a quick time on the board. Waller is scheduled to run the 200 as well on Friday night, but Oregon has a number of sub-54 400 legs they could substitute.
Florida’s best team is probably Wilkinson – Barnett – Harrelson – Pascoe. Barnett, like Waller, is scheduled in the 200 and I cannot foresee Florida using Barnett here unless they believe they can challenge Oregon (which I doubt). Due to this, it is tough to predict any rationale for the Florida team order.
If Wilkinson does run the 1200 leg, Wilkinson should challenge Ejore. Florida could surely stay with Oregon through the 400 leg as well, but at 800 Florida could lose four or five seconds. With Pascoe on anchor, she could run 4:38 most likely. This predicts a maximum result of 11:06 approximately. That time would probably be on the outside looking in come NCAA qualifying, but could inspire a faster run later in the season. This would be Florida’s best plan, but again predicting this team is much more difficult than Oregon’s.