First Thoughts: BU Season Opener

Give one sentence to summarize your reaction to today’s races in Boston

Sam: Proof that cross country fitness is often greater than indoor track fitness.

Ben: *speechless*

Sean: The Iowa State men are scary good.

Maura: We just saw some of the top contenders for the indoor titles.

Michael: BU never disappoints!

Garrett: And they haven’t even done speed work yet.

After running 13:24 in Boston, will Edwin Kurgat finish the 2019-20 academic calendar undefeated in the NCAA?

Garrett: No, definitely not. I imagine he’ll try the 3000 meters at least once or twice this winter and if he does, I’m not sure he’ll be as safe of a bet to win (although, he’ll certainly be a good pick). Plus, if he goes into the outdoor season and runs in the regional preliminary rounds, he’ll likely be focusing on just placement. Running super fast is one thing, but executing to perfection for three straight seasons is incredibly difficult to do.

Sam: For many of the same reasons as Garrett listed, I’ll agree with no. At some point, he probably runs some event as either a workout or just to see what he can do (mile, 3k) and he probably won’t win. Even if he did stick with only the 5k, I don’t see him to be as dominant on the track and I think someone in the NCAA will beat him before the end of the year.

Ben: I agree with Garrett and Sam that he will not remain undefeated, but I think he will stay undefeated in the 5k. We just haven’t seen him challenged all year. There hasn’t been a single race where he looked like he was going to lose. 13:24 is a ridiculously fast time and there doesn’t seem to be anyone who can keep up with him.

Sean: I’ll take the undefeated thought with the caveat that he could be beaten by a teammate in a paced race. He’s just been too dominant to see him falling easily and there’s no need to put Kurgat in too many races this season apart from BIG 12's, NCAA's and a potential 3k qualifying meet.

Maura: During the indoor season, I see him staying undefeated in the 5k, but the 3k is a whole new ballgame. The 3000 meters allows 1500/mile guys to move up and utilize their speed for fast finishes. Kurgat can challenge the quicker guys, but I don’t think he has that final gear in a footrace or mad dash for the finish. Moving to outdoors, doing just enough to qualify will most likely be how Kurgat approaches the season come regionals.

Michael: Maura makes a good point about Kurgat’s possible racing strategy by the time the outdoor season rolls around. I don’t think Kurgat’s first concern is staying undefeated; he likely just wants to be able to perform when it matters most. If that means taking a strategic loss to save his legs or moving down in distance to test himself/help prepare for championship races, he will likely do that. I believe Kurgat is absolutely capable of staying undefeated if he plans his season to allow it to play out that way, but I don’t see it happening.

Katie Izzo will win an NCAA title on the this an overreaction?

Garrett: I’m not sure if I’m ready to call her the clear title favorite yet, but that’s mainly because I just want to see how she handles racing tactically. Izzo was incredible and running 15:13 for 5000 meters in any year puts you in elite company. She’ll have to face a historically deep and elite field of distance runners on multiple occasions this year, but her success from cross country should show that this was no fluke performance.

Ben: While she isn’t a lock, it seems like she is a good bet to win a title in either indoors and outdoors...although it will be interesting to see how she reacts to a more tactical race. After running hard in every cross country race with her Arkansas teammates, and now running in a fast-paced 5k on the track, she hasn’t gotten the chance to show us what she can do when the pace is slow at the start. This said, it certainly isn’t an overreaction to say that she is one of the top contenders to win an NCAA title in 2020.

Sean: For runners coming off of cross country, everything about this meet is an overreaction. The individuals who win NCAA titles on the track are the ones who can put together the best three-month training package and rebound off of a taxing cross country season. Izzo definitely showed us that she has to be considered as a title favorite and that she can compete amongst the best in the NCAA. That’s all we can go with right now.

Sam: I agree with Sean that it’s too early to hand out a title or even a definitive favorite…but I don’t think the statement is an overreaction. Izzo proved her ability during cross country and this was an affirmation that it translates to the track. I wouldn’t say that she is THE favorite or that she WILL win, but I don’t think it’s absurd to consider her as one of the favorites to win a it indoors or outdoors.

Maura: I don’t want to make a bold statement here. Izzo has definitely proven her abilities and her growth after transferring, but there are still plenty of women whom she will need to beat in order to win the 5k title. Just think, we haven’t even seen what kind of shape Dani Jones is in...

Which runner surprised you the most in the women’s 5k? What about the men?

Ben: For the women, the obvious answer I think is Katie Izzo. We knew she would run under 16 minutes for the first time in her career (on the track, at least), but I don’t think anyone expected the second best time ever by a collegiate and a top 10 American time ever. After her fantastic cross country season, we have to take her seriously as a title contender.

As for the men, Kigen Chemadi and Jacob Choge bouncing back from poor performances at NCAA's isn’t a huge surprise, but for them to run 13:36 and 13:38 (respectively) and lock in their spot to Nationals was a bit surprising.

Maura: I have to go with Ben on this one. Izzo pretty much came out of nowhere this fall and made her presence known every time she races. It looks like the indoor season will be no different. Whatever Coach Lance Harter does at Arkansas surely has worked for Izzo in a short amount of time.

Sean: In the women’s race, it's Carmela Cardama Baez by far. Having not seen her in the cross country season, there was less likelihood she would show the same level of sharpness as the XC harriers. She showed that the NCAA 10K was no fluke and it will be very interesting to see where she ends up and what sort of break she takes this winter.

Sam: To flip this, Erica Birk-Jarvis only running 16:08 was a huge shock. Izzo and Werner obviously ran out of their minds, but we knew they were going to be really strong. So while it was surprising, it was still “realistic”. I thought that Birk-Jarvis would have been right with Orton after cross country and maybe even better over 5000 meters, but she fell off well before the end. Hopefully she can rebound for the rest of the track season.

On the men's side, I really like Kigen Chemadi and Jacob Choge bouncing back after a disappointing NCAA XC meet. I didn’t think either of them would run that well on the track, but they rebounded nicely to put together a couple of times that will likely move them on to NCAA's.

Garrett: I’m following Sam’s lead here. The Birk-Jarvis performance was surprising since we all expected her to run so much better. Unfortunately, she just never got herself out of that early deficit.

Michael: Weini Kelati not getting the win surprised me a bit. After a convincing win to take home her first NCAA cross country title just a few weeks ago, I thought she would absolutely hand it to this field. Taylor Werner and Katie Izzo ran incredible races, but this tells me that Kelati still cannot be considered a true favorite to put another title next to her name in March.

Maura: For the men, Kigen Chemadi of Middle Tennessee State has to be my surprise performer. Chemadi ran a 10 second PR in the 5k, running 13:36 to finish 5th. He was having a solid cross country season leading up to NCAA’s, but then he faltered in Terre Haute and finished 171st. This race at BU shows that he was able to regroup and rebound after a less than ideal finish. He didn’t qualify for NCAA's last winter, but with the way he looks right now, March could be fruitful for him.

Garrett: I’m picking Edwin Kurgat on the men’s side as my surprise performer...mainly because I didn’t think he would run 13:23. I don’t have the official data since the beginning of time to support this assertion, but that 13:23 is likely the fastest collegiate 5k in the month of December ever. Amon Kemboi already put himself in elite company last year when he ran 13:33, so to run 13:23 is historically shocking.

So is it a surprising win? No.

It is a surprising time? Absolutely.

Sean: I’m really struggling to pick a men’s athlete in the first heat of the 5k that is truly surprising. The MTSU duo is the closest, but we’ve always known how talented Chemadi and Choge are. Anderson and Boit were also right around expectations while the rest of the field ran well, but not well enough to be surprising. So if I have to pick one, it’s Kurgat because of time, but even that isn’t too much of a surprise.

Michael: Kigan Chemadi and Jacob Choge of Middle Tennessee State surprised me the most. They were able to bounce back from disappointing performances at NCAA's a few weeks ago and throw down times that will likely get them into Nationals. Both athletes have already established themselves as national-caliber runners, so it is good to see them back at that level.

A handful of elite women’s distance runners competed unattached in the 5000 meters. How will this impact the All-American picture and the national qualifying picture? Which women should remove their (assumed) redshirts and compete collegiately this season?

Ben: After Taylor Werner’s performance, I would love to see her remove her redshirt and compete this season. She was superb last track season and after a strong cross country season, I think she would be the favorite in the 5k.

As for the few elite runners competing unattached, I think we could see the qualifying standards change a bit because of this. Not because there aren’t enough top runners, but because 10 out of the 16 women who qualified for the 5k last year made it from this race. This year, that number looks to be six or eight.

There are an extra two or three spots, and it makes me wonder if the trend of lower qualifying standards will end this year. Last year, it took a 15:42 to qualify, and I think it might be just a touch slower this year.

Sean: Like I mentioned earlier about Izzo’s race, no one should be changing their redshirt decisions based solely on this meet unless they’re considering racing again next week. And based on this performance, the only unattached runners who would have qualified for NCAA’s are Werner and Wayment. Surely they completely understood the implications of competing unattached here and don’t need to switch any decisions just on this meet. It’s worth remembering that there’s also an Olympic Games preparation redshirt which could be used for Werner especially.

Sam: If I’m Werner, I drop the redshirt and compete. It’s an Olympic year, she has a decent shot at an NCAA title, and she could easily get a sponsorship when she graduates. She has no XC eligibility left, so there’s not a great reason to come back next year just to run track.

With how hard it can be to get money as a professional runner, I would go for it this season based mainly on trying to solidify a sponsorship before the Olympic Trials this summer. There could (and likely will be) some runners who break out at the Trials and could grab some of those potential sponsor spots and it seems like Werner has an easier path to one by running attached now.

Garrett: I’m with Sam here. The next two seasons should be about making a statement and preparing for post-collegiate endeavors. At the end of the day, a 15:11 is still a 15:11, but “collegiate record holder” has a nice ring to it and only helps your personal brand. There isn’t a whole lot for Werner to return for in 2021, and she would still have to deal Weini Kelati in the same events.

As for everyone else, some of the theoretical redshirts that we could see (Birk-Jarvis, Wayment, and Henes) remove a handful of contenders from the All-American spots (regardless of how they performed on Saturday night) and opens the door for a few other women to qualify for NCAA’s. However, I will say that it seems odd for some of these women to be (assumedly) redshirting despite having already used up most of their eligibility or redshirts in other seasons.

Maura: As many have already stated, Werner needs to compete attached this season for Arkansas. Here are the reasons why: she just ran the top indoor 5k time in NCAA history, shaved 27 seconds off of her PR, beat Weini Kelati, and has nothing to lose. Werner doesn’t have any more cross country eligibility and only has the upcoming outdoor track season remaining. What would be the point of redshirting this indoor season if she could easily pick up a professional contract after graduation?

Michael: Although I would usually say that pulling a redshirt after one good race might be a short-sighted decision, Taylor Werner has a lot to potentially gain by competing for Arkansas this season, and not much to lose.

As others have alluded to, Werner would only be coming back for one indoor season and it seems unlikely that she would return for just one season when there will be a professional contract waiting for her at the end of this year. Werner would have a great shot at adding an indoor title to her resume if she decides not to redshirt this season.

One result does not guarantee a runner’s success, but Werner has years of strong performances behind her, so I think it is safe to say that 15:11 is not a fluke.

Which race outside of the 5k's do you think provided the most insight into who we will see at NCAA's in March?

Sam: Definitely the men’s 3k. For the Division One guys, not a whole lot came out of this meet. However, as our D3 expert Brett Haffner pointed out, Aidan Ryan of Williams ran the second fastest time in D3 history with his 8:08.96. Last year, no one ran within five seconds of that time all season long. This race makes Ryan the immediate favorite to win the national title at NCAA's.

Maura: I have to say the women’s 3k. Lotte Black of Rhode Island hadn’t raced an indoor 3k before and yet, she walked away with the win in an NCAA lead of 9:10. Carina Viljeon of Arkansas dropped an 18 second PR on her way to a 3rd place finish. Then you’ve got New Mexico’s Alonda Negron, a runner who came on strong late during the cross country season, running a solid 9:35. Although this time may not seem impressive, give her some more time and speed work before you count her out.

Ben: It may not have been the most impressive performance of the meet, but Festus Lagat running 4:04 and 2:23 was excellent. I think we will see him as one of the favorites in the 800 this year.

Sean: In the D1 ranks, I think Festus Lagat takes the cake. Those two races show that he will be a major factor at both the mile and 800 distances throughout the season and we should expect him to be a part of a lethal Iowa State DMR team as well. With no none 5K runners hitting 2019 indoor qualifying times, Lagat showed the most promise. Outside DI, the men’s 3k is a big predictor of DII and DIII qualifiers.

Garrett: Lagat is the easy answer. I really enjoyed seeing Lotte Black move up to the 3k and find major success, but that race will likely not dictate how she performs at NCAA’s, mainly because she is an 800/mile runner. Lagat running a 4:04/2:23 double doesn’t necessarily have huge implications on the national meet currently, but it shows that he’s in strong middle distance form and could eventually pursue a faster mile time in a more competitive race. I also liked his time of 2:23 for 1000 meters. That distance is usually a good sign when it comes to determining value for a potential DMR.

Sean: I think it’s worth noting here how well the Iowa State men ran overall. Festus Lagat ran 4:04 and 2:23. Roshon Roomes ran 1:56 and 1:23 to pace the mile and 1000 meters for Lagat. Plus, Daniel Dixon ran 3:00 for 1200 meters to help pace Lagat in the mile and then came back to run 2:25 in the 1000. Those three legs - plus a potential Kurgat bonus anchor - make the Iowa State DMR very scary for anyone wanting to contend for the title this year.

Michael: Lotte Black’s performance stands out to me because it shows that, despite her being more of a middle distance runner, she is in great shape coming off the cross country season. She will likely be a dark horse contender for the mile title come March.

On the men’s side, Sean’s point about the potential Iowa State DMR being strong is important. Having Lagat showcase his ability to successfully double in both events tells us that he can be a valuable relay addition on any leg.

What non-winning performance do you think most people didn’t notice but should have?

Sam: Bethany Hasz of Minnesota had a huge run after redshirting all of cross country season. She ran 15:25 which was 26 seconds faster than the school record and broke her personal best of 15:45 from outdoors. While she fell into the shadows of some of the bigger performers in the race, Hasz likely just qualified for her first indoor national meet.

Garrett: Aidan Ryan of Williams is going to be overshadowed by all of the elite D1 action, but he ran 8:08 in the 3000 meters which is good enough for NCAA #2 All-Time among Division Three athletes. He finished 4th overall and likely won't get the recognition he deserves in the post-meet coverage.

Sean: Eric Hamer of Colorado State jumped in the second heat of the 5000 meters and ran 13:40.11 which would have been 8th overall and the 4th collegian in the first heat. That time would have qualified for NCAA's last year. Not that Hamer was unknown before this meet, but he certainly would not have been on the short list to qualify to NCAA's.

Ben: In a similar vein as Sean, Abby Wheeler ran 15:40 in the second heat of the 5k to likely earn herself a spot at Nationals. To win the second section by 26 seconds and to be running on her own for the majority of the race was an astounding performance.

Maura: Whittni Orton of BYU had never raced a 5k on the track before today and now she has a shiny 15:22 PR to her name. For someone who had focused on the 800/1500 before this season, Orton is making a name for herself in the longer distances. I’m waiting to see what she can do in the 3k with her newly developed endurance being combined with her foot speed.

Michael: Tanner Anderson ran his first race since outdoor PAC-12's back in May. 13:40 is a very solid time, and it is clear that he does not have any rust to shake off. As for the women, Abby Wheeler seems to be an obvious answer. Her result did not get the attention it fact, I didn't even realize she ran 15:40 in the second heat until Ben brought it to my attention.