Who was the most surprising name you saw when accepted entries were released?
Quenten: Sydney Gidabuday of Adams State really surprised me being entered in the 1500. We all know Gidabuday as a long distance runner, regularly competing in the 10,000 meters, but this year he decided to switch things up and to be honest, I am all for it. Another big name in the men’s 1500 will be nothing but positive. On the women's side, I truly liked seeing that Liz Bloch of Michigan Tech is entered in both the 800 and 1500. Bloch has made huge improvements in both events over the years and I expect her to have a great outing. Maybe she'll even secure an All-American finish.
Matt: Alicja Konieczek opting for the steeplechase/1500 double instead of the steeplechase/5k was a huge surprise to me. She is the obvious favorite in the steeplechase, but for the past two outdoor seasons, she has doubled back in the 5k, finishing 2nd last year and winning the year before. When you think about the prelims in the 1500, it will be interesting to see how she reacts to having to add another race on her ledger. As for the men, I agree with Quenten that it was very interesting to see Sydney Gidabuday decide to run the 1500 along with the 5k, rather than the 10k like we have seen him do in the past. Granted, he did not run a 10k this season, so he really didn't have a choice, but it will be interesting to see how he does with a 1500 prelim added to his schedule.
John: Elysia Burgos stood out to me when I was looking through the entries. She’s just a freshman and has decided to double up in the 800 and 1500. She ran the DMR and the mile during the indoor season at Nationals, but failed to make the mile finals. Four races in three days is a lot to ask for, but she clearly thinks she's up for the task at hand. It’ll be interesting to see how things play out for her. On the men’s side, I’d have to go with Leakey Kipkosgei as the name who made the most surprising decision. Throughout the season I really thought he was going to double at Nationals. Instead, he’s only entered the steeplechase and his intentions are clear: win the damn thing.
Which race has the greatest stand-alone value in terms of excitement?
Quenten: On the men’s side, the 1500 is going to cause a huge stir of excitement. At Indoor Nationals, we saw the men of Queens (Felix Wammetsberger and Daniel Wallis) go 1-2 in the event, upsetting the favorite Elias Gedyon of Adams State. Heading into the national meet, there are two key narratives that we need to keep in mind. First, the men of Queens want to validate their National's performance from indoors. Wammetsberger and Wallis are racing to remind people that they are a force to be reckoned with. Secondly, Elias Gedyon wants redemption from indoors. He is likely going out there to prove that Adams State is still the top dog when it comes to any distance event.
Matt: In terms of excitement, it is really no debate that the women’s 800 should be the most electrifying race at Nationals. There are about 10 to 12 women who could end up on the podium, which means some big names and legitimate contenders are not going to even make the final. Also, everybody is trying to dethrone Skylyn Webb, but there is an extremely small gap between all of the women at the top, with seven women running sub-2:08 this season.
Quenten: On the women’s side of things, the 800 will be a shocking and exciting race. There is no clear-cut favorite in my eyes as we have four women under the 2:07 mark. Skylyn Webb of UC-Colorado Springs is the defending indoor national champion in the event from this past March, but a lot of things can change in just two months. Don’t be surprised when a new champion is crowned.
John: The women’s steeplechase will likely have the most interesting storyline. With Alicjia Konieczek coming back for her last season, she’ll look to take home another title in her main event. Meanwhile, Eilish Flanagan and Julia Howley look to be the only other competitors who will give her a run for her money. Keep in mind that Konieczek will have a 1500 prelim before the steeplechase while Flanagan and Howley will have finished their steeplechase duties before pursuing the 5000 meters at the end of the championship weekend. It’ll be interesting to see if Konieczek feels any ill-effects from her 1500.
Matt: On the men's side, there is no question that the 1500 is going to be the most exciting, closely contested race of the meet. With the top 12 guys separated by less than four seconds coming in, it really is a toss up of who is going to end up on the podium. Elias Gedyon, Felix Wammetsberger, and Daniel Wallis are the big-name favorites going in, but with all the guys so closely bunched at the top, I would not say there is an actual favorite. With six of the nine guys from the indoor mile returning to run this 1500 at Nationals (along with Sydney Gidabuday, Luke Julian, and others), there are going to be some key stars left out of the final, which could end up as one of the most thrilling and electrifying 1500 finals we've seen in recent history.
John: I actually am going to side with the men’s 5000 this year. In recent years, there has been a stand-alone favorite that you can place your bets on. That isn't too different this year with Zach Panning coming in as the heavy favorite. He is, after all, the reigning outdoor champion and recently set a personal best in the event with a time of 13:37. However, I think this race could be super interesting when you remember that there are a handful of other stars in this field such as Gedyon (13:45), Stack (13:58), and Gidabuday (13:59). We will likely see a handful of different strategies come into play from these men in an effort to take down Panning. I'm interested to see which runner comes out on top.
With numerous athletes opting for doubles at NCAA's, which one do you have the most faith in and which one do you think might have the most trouble?
Quenten: I have all the faith in Caroline Kurgat of Alaska Anchorage who is doubling in the 5000 and 10,000. She is the defending champion in these two events and Kurgat knows how to manage the two. She ran 20 seconds faster than the next individual in the 5000 and a whole two minutes faster in the 10,000. My main concern, however, lies with Alicja Konieczek who will attempt the steeplechase/1500 double. The steeplechase puts a pounding on the body from jumps and awkward water pits. It is truly a tough race to get through, especially when facing top-tier competition. Coming back to run a fast-paced 1500 might prove to be difficult for Konieczek.
Matt: The obvious answer to which woman I have the most faith in is Caroline Kurgat of Alaska Anchorage. She is far and away the D2 leader in both the 5k and 10k and is the defending champion in both events. We saw her do this double last year and she won with ease in both events. I think we will see much of the same this time around. As for my concern, the decision to double from Liz Bloch is worrisome to me. She burst onto the scene this season with huge PR's in both the 800 and 1500 (the 800 coming just last week) which is super encouraging. Although I like Bloch's confidence, I am just not sure that the huge jumps in time will equate to her being able to compete against the best of the best in both events.
John: Caroline Kurgat is the relatively easy answer here. She’s the clear-cut favorite in both of her events and there is no one really near her in terms of ability. She’ll have an easy 10k race and will come back for the 5k where she should win again. I am, however, somewhat concerned with Kate Lilly picking the 5000 to double back in. Like Matt said about Theisen, it’s the last distance event, but it’s a tough race to come back and run well in, especially after the 1500.
Quenten: On the men’s side, the 5000 and 10,000 double by Grand Valley State's Zach Panning will be an easy task. Panning leads the NCAA in both events with times of 13:37.94 and 28:30.77. Two gold medals looks like a promising result. On the flip side, a major entry decision that stood out to me was Sydney Gidabuday doubling in the 1500 and 5000. Traditionally, Gidabuday attempts the 10k/5k double. Both of those events are straight finals, while there are prelims for the 1500. It will be interesting to see how he handles the 5000 final with the 1500 prelims added on.
Matt: Just like with Kurgat, Zach Panning of Grand Valley State is a very obvious choice when it comes to the man who I have the most faith in when it comes to doubling. Panning is the favorite in both the 5k and 10k and is the defending 5k champ. We saw him do this double last year, and while he did not win both, finishing 2nd in the 10k and then walking away with the win in the 5k is the next best thing you can do. He has proven that this national meet should be a very successful one for him. On the other side of things, I know that the 5k is the last distance event of the meet, but Jonah Theisen of Black Hills State trying to double back after the steeplechase is going to be very difficult. The steeplechase just drains everything out of your legs and with him being one of the favorites to medal, it will probably require a hard effort as he attempts to hang with the lead pack. I am just not sure he will be able to recover in time to be competitive in the 5k.
John: On the men’s side, I am very excited to see Daniel Wallis run this weekend. After his strong indoor performance, I’m convinced he can do the same during outdoors. He’s run strong races throughout the season and I think he’s going to see a lot of success at NCAA's. On the other end of the concern spectrum, I think Calahan Warren of Embry-Riddle might run into a little bit of trouble running the 1500/800 double. The issue at hand here is that if Warren doesn't make the final in the 1500, the odds of him making the 800 final are even slimmer. I was a little bit surprised to see his name on the entries twice, but he might be covering all of his bases to try and ensure an All-American bid.
Which athletes do you think are a guarantee to walk away with a gold medal next weekend?
Quenten: Obviously, the two biggest names that come to mind are Caroline Kurgat of Alaska Anchorage and Thomas Staines of CSU-Pueblo. Both individuals are D2 national record holders and defending national champions in their respective events. Kurgat has been on a tear this outdoor season and I don’t see her losing in any fashion. Staines' story is a bit different compared to Kugat. He has only run the 800 twice this year, but he most recently posted an NCAA leading time of 1:47.53. I don’t see any of these dominating superstars taking a loss at Nationals.
Matt: There are two obvious names that I mentioned in an earlier section, but I’ll go a different route with the defending 800 champs: Skylyn Webb of UCCS and Thomas Staines of CSU-Pueblo. Webb comes in with the #2 fastest time in D2, but we have seen time and time again that when it comes to racing in the biggest moments against the best competition, she is always up to the task. Staines, on the other hand, does go into Nationals with the fastest 800 time in Division 2, even though he has only raced the event twice this season. He has won the last two indoor 800 meter titles and he will likely grab a second straight outdoor championship win at the upcoming national meet.
John: No surprise here, Caroline Kurgat is an easy guarantee to take a gold medal. I think you could ask most of the spectators this and they’d give you the same answer that we are. She’s been virtually untouchable in Division 2 and will continue to make her bid as one of the greatest athletes we have ever seen in D2. As for the men, I’ll have to agree with my other two writers here and say Thomas Staines. The three-time 800 meter national champion just recently ran the fastest time in the NCAA this year. He’s fantastic in championship settings (i.e. DMR anchor leg) and can finish better than anyone else in the field.
Give us your bold predictions for Nationals
Quenten: HaLeigh Hunter-Galvan of Adams State will finish top three for the 3000 steeplechase. Hunter-Galvan recently ran the event for her very first time at the Oxy Invite a couple of weeks ago where she posted a provisional time of 10:35.58. For a first timer, this is a very impressive result. With a week more to touch up on things, I believe she will surprise a lot of people.
Matt: Julia Howley will take down both Konieczek and Flanagan to win the steeplechase. In her first season ever running the steeplechase, Howley has looked super impressive and has not been tested in any steeplechase race all season. Despite the lack of elite competition, she is still running very quick times, including a 10:02.45 which sits at #3 in D2. In a race that has been dominated by one individual the past two years, I think we see a shakeup at Nationals.
John: On the women’s side, I’m going to pick Danielle McCormick to win the 800. I think she is slightly under the radar because of where she goes to school, but she’s got the #3 fastest time in D2 and was the conference winner in the event. She’s also improved in the 1500 (an event I thought she would double in) over the course of the season which shows us that she has the strength to run faster than 2:05 if she needs to. I think Skylyn Webb of UCCS is somewhat vulnerable going into the NCAA meet and that this will be McCormick's best chance to dethrone her.
Quenten: Very bold prediction: a freshman wins the men’s 1500. Luke Julian of Colorado Mines enters the race with the #2 fastest time in D2 with a mark of 3:42.98. Julian may not be as experienced as the Queens or Adams State men, but he absolutely has the fitness to win it all.
Matt: Really bold prediction time: Victor Moreau finishes top three in both the 1500 and 5000. Moreau is constantly overlooked as one of the best competitors in D2 and has shown that he can compete at national meets as he ran extremely well during indoors earlier this year. After picking up PR's in the 800, 1500, and 5000 this season, I think Moreau is primed to surprise people and make a run at a couple of top three finishes.
John: Taylor Stack wins the men’s steeplechase this year. After seeing him post a 13:58 in the 5000, I think he’s well-suited for a very good race in the steeple. I think he is in shape to run under 8:50 if the race went out hard. Despite being entered in a loaded field, I think he'll walk away victorious as he holds off the competition in the last 50 meters.