The BIG 10 Outdoor Track & Field Championships will be hosted this weekend at the University of Iowa, where a collection of some of the nations best athletes will face-off with conference titles and regional qualifiers at stake. The meet will feature six defending national champions, three for each gender.
On the men’s side the athletes are Obsa Ali of Minnesota (2018 steeplechase), Morgan McDonald of Wisconsin (2019 indoor 3k and 5k), and Oliver Hoare (2018 1500), also of Wisconsin. The women are headlined by Julia Rizk of Ohio State (indoor mile), Danae Rivers of Penn State (indoor 800) and Alicia Monson of Wisconsin (indoor 5k).
Heat sheets for the meet have yet to be released, so all athlete event entries are speculation based on past performances. Below, we break down the biggest headlines heading into this weekend and highlight the athletes to watch at Iowa.
Will the Badgers run qualifiers?
Alicia Monson and Morgan McDonald both won the indoor 5000 meter title this past winter. Right now, both are qualified for the NCAA West Regional meet in one event (McDonald 5k, Monson 10k). Monson has yet to post an outdoor 5000 meter mark and similarly, McDonald has not run a 10k. This meet will essentially be their last chance to run either event if they want a shot at doubling at the national meet.
For McDonald, the logical move would be to run both. He doubled down during indoors and came away with national titles in the 3000 and 5000. Not only that, but he is coming off a national title in cross country as well. The heat in Austin should prevent anyone from trying to make the 10k a time trial which plays out perfectly if McDonald is hoping to conserve some energy for the 5k. Assuming he wants a shot at two more titles, he will need to race the 10k at BIG 10s this weekend and put down a decent enough mark to qualify for the regional meet. He should also be able to come away with the title en route to a qualifying time.
The choice for Monson is a little more vague. Although she also ran the 3000 and 5000 at the indoor national meet like McDonald, she was never really in contention to win the 3000 after claiming a title in the 5000 the night before. The double at NCAAs would certainly be more challenging given the added volume, but the schedule of events could play out in her favor. Monson currently has a qualifying mark in the 10k which means it is likely her primary focus at NCAA's. Given that the 10k is run before the 5k, she could easily qualify in both events and see what’s left in the tank by the time she gets to the 5k. If she does race this weekend, the 5000 seems like the most logical option. If she doesn't race at all, maybe we need to start questioning whether or not she's healthy...
Rizk versus Rivers
The BIG 10 is home to two of the nations best middle-distance women in Julia Rizk and Danae Rivers. They both are coming off Indoor National Championship wins and both have qualifiers in the 800 and 1500 meters. This weekend sets up two potential showdowns if they opt to race both events.
While neither have anything to prove this weekend, the glory of a conference championship title will certainly be calling both of their names. Rivers has better personal bests over both distances, but that does not guarantee her either victory. Rizk was a big surprise to many this indoor season when she won the mile, but has since made her presence known and currently sits #18 in the country for the 1500.
Seeing the two stars go head-to-head in both events would be exciting, but more than likely each will opt for only one event. Based on past results, it is likely Rizk will run the 1500 while Rivers will look to run the 800.
What could also be exciting is seeing Hannah Meier and Rizk toe the line against each other just like they did at the BIG 10 Indoor Championships this past winter. In that race, Meier narrowly edged Rizk leading many of us to overlook Rizk entering NCAA's. I'm sure the Ohio State ace wants to get revenge on her conference rival for what happened last season.
Can Kyle Mau or George Kusche challenge Oliver Hoare?
Oliver Hoare winning the NCAA 1500 title last year was one of the biggest upsets at a national meet that was full of upsets. Josh Kerr of New Mexico was the heavy favorite after setting a new collegiate record earlier in the season and winning the mile title indoors. After coming away with the surprise victory, Hoare became the big favorite to win the mile at NCAA indoors this season before being dethroned by Geordie Beamish of NAU. Can Kyle Mau or George Kusche pull off a similar upset this weekend?
Hoare is currently the top ranked collegiate in the 1500 with a time of 3:37.20 which he ran at the Bryan Clay Invitational. Mau currently sits at #16 in the NCAA with a mark of 3:40.42. George Kusche, the spectacular freshman from Nebraska, currently ranks #9 with a mark of 3:39.33 which he just ran at Payton Jordan last week. All three guys have personal bests in a similar window, but Hoare has a better all-time record against both.
Last time these three met in a BIG 10 Championship was this past indoor season in the mile. Hoare edged out Mau by just under a second for the win while Kusche finished 4th behind Jesse Reiser of Illinois. If either man is to beat Hoare, our bet would be on Mau. While Kusche has a faster personal best, Mau has the experience of racing in a championship setting and will have the bitter taste of the indoor season still in his mouth.
Can the Minnesota men sweep the steeple?
Four of the top five steeplechasers in the BIG 10 are from the University of Minnesota. The leader of the Gophers is defending national champion Obsa Ali, who currently ranks #2 in the NCAA with a mark of 8:31.15. Behind him is the trio of Alec Basten (NCAA #14), Nick Rink (#48), and Jack Manderscheid (#51). All three have already qualified for the West Regional meet and have a great chance to go 1-2-3 at BIG 10's if they can edge out Iowa junior Nathan Mylenek.
The Iowa Hawkeye currently ranks #5 in the NCAA with a mark of 8:38.53. While his credentials are substantialy better than the other Gophers, the steeple provides a certain level of uncertainty that could see a Minnesota sweep if Mylenek has any issues with a barrier. Plus, Mylenek may be needed in other events like the 1500 or 5000 with the Hawkeyes in position to win the overall team title. A busy weekend of action could leave Mylenek vulnerable if he is assigned a heavy workload.