Fin(n)al Seasons

On November 2nd, the NCAA announced that Michigan's Erin Finn would receive a sixth season of eligibility for both indoor and outdoor track for the 2019 seasons. Finn is one of the most highly decorated athletes in the NCAA to have not won a national title, having four National Championship runner-up finishes throughout her collegiate career. Those results came during the 2016 indoor 3k and 5k, the 2016 Cross Country National Championships, and the 2017 indoor 5k. Finn’s accomplishments also includes 10 Big Ten Championships across all disciplines.

Finn’s impact and influence within the Michigan program has led the Wolverines to the NCAA podium twice and to a Big Ten title on three different occasions. Having her to train with during the 2018 cross country season surely helped the eventual 4th place Wolverines.

To put it simply, she's been really good.

Moving into 2019, Finn will have to ward off injury over the next six months, something that has proven to be much harder than it sounds. Finn’s extended eligibility was awarded due to one year of medical absence and a second year that was skipped in an attempt to earn an Olympic birth. However, should she stay healthy, Finn’s experience and range will make a huge impact on the NCAA Championship picture.

Finn’s attempts at the mile have only amounted to a victory on one occasion, a regular season meet on Notre Dame’s 352 meter indoor track against a field made up almost entirely of fellow Michigan teammates. Finn has also yet to race a mile at a Big Ten or NCAA Championship meet. Still, Finn has a personal best of 4:38 and speed like that could be a crucial piece on Michigan's DMR.

With that in mind, Finn has opted towards the individual 3k and 5k in the past, even as the Wolverines DMR has finished 4th and 5th at Nationals in 2016 and 2017, the best indoor seasons of Finn’s career. Although Finn will probably end up skipping the DMR again in 2019, but there could be a few scenarios where she ends up on relay duty...

The first is that she simply does not qualify for the 5k. This has never happened in Finn’s indoor career before, having qualified in her three healthy seasons, but 2019 is already the fastest year in history at the front of the 5k rankings with four athletes entering the NCAA All-Time Top 10 before the beginning of January. In 2016 and 2017, Finn’s best regular season 5k times came at the Big Ten Championships which she eventually improved upon at the NCAA Championships. It's clear that Finn is a phenomenal postseason performer, but her qualifying strategy is risky. If she waits to run sub-15:30 before the NCAA Championships, the two-time 5k runner-up could miss out on the event altogether.

A second, even more less likely, outcome is that she does not see a path to victory in the 5k with such strong competition in 2019. That probably won't be the case, but Finn has always run her fastest when a title was on the line. If she doesn't feel like she can compete in the 5000 meters, she may opt for a different event.

A third option pushing Finn to the DMR could be a focus on team success in her final season. With no distance relays outdoors, Finn may see this as an opportunity to bring her team to the top step of the podium. Michigan’s DMR hopes are reasonably strong, especially with a veteran on the anchor. If Finn were to make this choice, she would bolster the confidence of her entire squad. It's a factor that should not be dismissed, especially when you consider that the race can be won or lost on the 1200 and 800 legs.

Of course, none of that is to say that Finn couldn't do more than one event. In fact, she has often doubled and tripled at the Big Ten Championships throughout her career. However, she has not yet done so with the DMR.

While suggesting that Finn may skip the 5k for the DMR is an interesting (and worthwhile) discussion, the most likely scenario is that Finn races the 5k and 3k if she qualifies. Having been a runner-up at both events, Finn will want to finally become an NCAA champion and avenge those losses. That said, the Michigan star will face tough competition in both races from the likes of Weini Kelati, Ednah Kurgat, Allie Ostrander, and Sharon Lokedi. Their times from the Boston University 5k earlier this month all top Finn’s personal best which came from the 2016 Indoor Championships (15:23.16). To be fair, those times came off the peak of cross country season and their form in March may not match those times. Regardless, Finn's path to NCAA gold will not be easy by any means.

When it comes to the 3k, Finn has run under 9 minutes only once in her career (last winter) at the Michigan Simmons-Harvey Quad before cutting her season short due to injury. Her 8:58.35 was the fifth fastest time in 2018, but the 2019 field should be even stronger as many athletes return with even better fitness. Luckily, Finn will probably only have to run 9:04 to qualify for the meet which is well within her wheelhouse. Still, Finn will be forced to carefully coordinate her race schedule in order to qualify for both the 3000 and 5000 meters. When you add a DMR option to the mix, Finn’s schedule could be rather hectic, meaning that a single slow race could completely mess up any future plans.

Moving into the outdoor season, Finn will likely aim for 10k national title in June. In 2016, Finn stepped away from the NCAA in an effort to earn a trip to the Olympics in this event, but ended up not competing at the USATF Championships that year. However, she did toe the line for that race in 2017 where she eventually finished 6th in a time of 32:00, a mark that was not good enough to earn one of the top three American spots. That result would, however, be a tough mark to beat in the NCAA. Finn’s 2018 campaign ended after the Big Ten Championships in the 10,000 meters which she won in 32:45.51, the 7th best time in the NCAA last year.

A healthy Erin Finn is a sure bet for the NCAA final and her pedigree makes her a favorite outdoors. With personal bests of 4:38, 8:58, 15:23 and tons of experience under her belt, Finn seems like the last woman anyone would want to race in 2019.

As the Michigan superstar enters her final seasons of eligibility, our eyes will be glued to the results to see how she fares. Her experience through injury, disappointment, and championship racing may seem like challenges, but very few athletes have been able to handle adversity like she has.

And maybe, just maybe, Finn will find herself on top of an NCAA podium and walk into the sunset with a fitting conclusion to an impressive collegiate career.