It happens every year. After running fast times the week before at Iowa State and Washington, nearly all of the top programs in the nation assemble a distance medley relay with hopes of earning one of the 12 qualifying spots to Nationals. The frenzy of fast times are crammed into a single weekend, forcing the national rankings to be rewritten and our Scratch Tracker projections to be adjusted.
Sure enough, that's what happened.
Below, we took a look at all of the DMR performances from late Friday, early Saturday and tried to make some sense of them. Let's see what we've got...
Let's start first with the battle we saw at the Alex Wilson Invite where Notre Dame and Wisconsin battled to the top two times in the country. Notre Dame's Yared Nuguse nipped Wisconsin's Oliver Hoare at the line, giving each relay times of 9:26.10 and 9:26.24, respectively.
For the Badgers, this didn't come as much of a surprise. We saw what they were able to accomplish in the DMR last year without Morgan McDonald, but now they have added him to the 1200 leg. The Wisconsin men seem to resemble the Stanford men from last year's indoor season who had arguably the best 1200/mile legs in the NCAA. Will that be enough to win Wisconsin the national title this year? It didn't workout for Stanford, but that could change.
Of course, it wasn't Wisconsin who won the meet. Notre Dame pulled off the surprise upset on their home track with a shocking NCAA #1 time. I think we knew that the Fighting Irish had a very good chance of being competitive in the DMR this year after a breakout runner-up finish at Nationals from 2018, but this season hadn't given us any indication that they were going to run like this.
Nuguse has yet to break the four minute barrier this winter and the middle distance legs just didn't seem reliable enough to show up as national contenders. Obviously, I was mistaken as freshmen Dylan Jacobs and Samuel Voelz clearly stepped up and got the job done. Can they repeat last year's Cinderella performance at Nationals in 2019?
Let's talk about the Illinois men who were easily the most surprising result out of anyone this weekend. The men from Champaign, Illinois have been relatively quiet over the past couple of years. Jonathan Davis has clearly been an exceptional talent, but it didn't seem like they had enough firepower or mid-distance speed to produce a fast DMR. Clearly, they did have enough as Jesse Reiser was likely able to keep things close early-on before Davis brought them back for a top finish.
The BYU men put together a very respectable 4th place finish in a time of 9:30.14 (likely NCAA #13) which would almost definitely qualify them for Nationals during any other year. For a team that is known for their long-distance prowess, they had a great performance
Let's switch over to the JDL Fast Track where the Ole Miss men continue their reign of dominance in the distance medley. It should come as no surprise that the Rebels are back to the top of the NCAA leaderboard in this event after the 3:56 and 3:58 mile times we saw Waleed Suliman and Derek Gutierrez one week ago.
Mississippi took home the win at JDL, running 9:34 which converts to an NCAA #3 time of 9:26.73. After winning the national title in event two years ago, it seems impossible to count out the Ole Miss men regardless of who they graduate. It just goes to show that Coach Vanhoy has been able to develop mid-distance talent better than any other coach in the country.
Maybe one of the most unsurprising results of the weekend came from the Texas men who might be able to contend with Wisconsin for having the best leadoff and anchor legs in the NCAA right now. The Rogers/Worley duo finished 2nd at JDL with a converted NCAA #5 time of 9:27.58. I like the speed that they bring to the table which can be useful in a race that often has a series of fluctuating paces.
Iowa State and Georgetown unsurprisingly secured two qualifiers on their own. Both programs have plenty of depth in the middle distance events and own capable anchors. The Cyclones may have one of the best all-around DMR's in the country when you evaluate all four legs. I'm not sure they have a glaring weakness.
As for Arkansas, they've always had enough pieces to be competitive and having Cameron Griffith on the anchor helps as well. They are currently sitting at the #11 spot in the country.
At Washington's Last Chance Invite, we saw the Oregon vs Washington matchup come to life. In an ironic twist of fate, it was Mick Stanovsek dropping a huge split of 3:55 to pull away from his former teammate-turned-rival Cooper Teare to take home the win.
Although they didn't cross the line in 1st, I like the options that the Oregon men have this season. Between Teare, Haney, Brown, West, and a handful of others, they can field whatever lineup works best for them. Nearly every man on the Duck's roster is capable of contributing to that relay in one way or another.
Let's briefly talk about Stanford who had the NCAA #2 spot before this weekend. Their time of 9:29.35 would have been an NCAA lead in certain years, but now it puts them at #12. For a powerhouse team that was expected to cruise into the National Championships, they cut it awfully close. It just goes to show fast 2019 has been...
Luckily, there isn't as much craziness to evaluate with the women as their is the men. Most of the top times in the NCAA were already run at the UW Invitational earlier this year (in mid-January). Of course, that doesn't mean that there weren't a lot of great performances.
The Michigan women continue to show that depth and consistency is just as good as low-sticks and firepower. The Lady Wolverines were known for their depth this past cross country season and they were able to harness that positive aspect of their team and turn it into a podium finish. Fast forward to now, and Michigan continues to thrive with seemingly infinite options. They've had 15 women run under the five minute barrier this season and Hannah Meier has quietly grown into one of the top distance runners in the nation this year.
This led to an NCAA #1 result of 10:54 this past weekend at Alex Wilson which is also a BIG 10 conference record. The 1200/800/mile trio of Hill, Rynda, and Meier bring a lot of stability to the table while other teams may have to rely on a big anchor leg.
After the Michigan women, the DMR rankings didn't see too much change. Oklahoma State, Boise State, and BYU are still sitting at #2, #3, and #4 in the NCAA right now while Villanova and Washington have settled in at the #9 and #11 spots. Out of that quintet, I really like the depth and speed of Villanova. Rachel McArthur is on the verge of a breakout race and owns a 4:37 mile PR from earlier this season. With Nicole Hutchinson looking like one of the best women's distance runners in the nation this year, it's hard to dislike the Wildcats. They are a lineup that is simply loaded with talent.
The same goes for Boise State who, on paper, should be the best relay through all three distance legs. When it comes to accomplishments and personal bests, Ostrander, Fuller, and Shoffield are at the top of their respective events, individually. In my mind, they might be the favorites to win the national title.
Let's shift our focus to the Arkansas Razorbacks and Indiana Hoosiers. These squads ran the #5 and #6 times in the NCAA this season, respectively. The Razorbacks may have the most elite group of milers in the country this season, so it's not surprising that they were able to run a time of 10:57.
As for the Hoosiers, I love their lineup combination of the Harris sisters and Katherine Receveur. Kelsey and Haley Harris have been on an absolute tear this season, consistently running top times and rapidly picking up momentum throughout the season. I like the mid-distance speed they bring to the 1200 and 800 legs and I think that can put someone like Receveur in a very comfortable position at Nationals.
I'll admit, Kansas surprised me. I was unsure if Lokedi had enough speed to be a productive anchor and I wasn't sure if the rest of the lineup would have enough of the right pieces to run a national qualifier. Clearly, I was wrong as they earned the #7 spot in the NCAA with a time of 10:58. I imagine Lokedi produced a big result on the anchor leg while Eubanks likely offered a considerable boost on the 800 leg.
As for Wisconsin, I have slowly come to learn that you should never doubt Alicia Monson. She continues to generate exciting results in the most clutch moments of her career. The Badger men have gained plenty of recognition this season, but this DMR time of 10:59 proves that the ladies from Wisconsin are near the top of the NCAA as well.
Wrapping up the last two mentions are Virginia Tech (NCAA #10) and Ohio State (NCAA #12). This result from Virginia Tech is hardly surprising when you consider that they might have the best middle distance duo in the NCAA this season (between the 800 and mile). Sarah Edwards and Rachel Pocratsky are essentially the Texas Longhorns of the women's DMR. They may be the best leadoff and anchor legs in the country this season.
And Ohio State? They surprised a few people with their performance (11:02), but Sean Collins mentioned earlier this season that Ohio State had the potential do some sneaky good things in the DMR. Sure enough, he was right.