First Thoughts: Friday Night Lights

Oregon Men Establish New NCAA DMR Record

There was a lot of talk about the men's DMR entering this season.

Iowa State's middle distance dominance made them the theoretical national title favorites in the eyes of many while the Indiana men had (on paper) the most well-rounded relay in the country. With Notre Dame returning everyone from last year's title-winning relay, it's safe to say that this may be one of the deepest years of competition that the DMR has seen in quite some time.

And then we have the Oregon Ducks.

They were (and are) the best program in the country when it comes to developing elite talents in the mile. With a total of five men on their roster currently owning personal bests under four minutes in the mile, they had enough firepower to make them competitive against anyone in the country this winter.

But the Ducks were more than just competitive on Friday night.

In fact, they set a new collegiate record.

Let me repeat. The Oregon Ducks are the new collegiate record holders in the distance medley relay with a time of 9:24.52.

The splits were simply incredible, especially since the men from Eugene weren't exactly pushed after the first leg. James West set the tone early on despite not taking control of his opening leg until the latter half of his race. His 2:53 split was huge, but not totally out of the cards for someone of his caliber. A respectable 400 meter split and a pleasantly surprising 1:48 split from Charlie Hunter were encouraging performances.

But to see Cooper Teare, someone who we typically talk about as a 3000 and 5000 meter specialist, split 3:55 and gap Sam Worley the way that he did was wildly impressive. We knew that Teare had elevated his fitness to an entirely different level this year, but this recent display of speed has been completely unexpected (although happily accepted).

Stanford Fends Off Arkansas In Epic DMR Battle

Two powerhouse programs that grappled for power during this past cross country season clashed yet again on Arkansas' track. This time, however, it was the Stanford Cardinal getting the better of the Razorbacks.

With a handful of elite talents, the Stanford women took a unique approach and put star distance runner Ella Donaghu on the lead-off leg. That turned out to be a strong move as she split 3:20 and separated herself from the rest of the field. However, through the middle portions of the race, Stanford and Arkansas kept their gap at a minimum.

In the end, it was Stanford's Jessica Lawson who held off a talented anchor in Carina Viljoen (Arkansas), as each woman split 4:36 on the anchor leg. Stanford took home the win in a time of 10:55.89 while Arkansas was runner-up in 10:57.08.

Neither team necessarily looks unstoppable, but it does show that they are capable of winning the national title (specifically Stanford). The Cardinal women may have the most well-rounded relay in the country. Better yet, this may not even be their best lineup combination!

What if Donaghu was on the anchor? What if switching Heymach to the 1200 leg turns out to be more beneficial? What happens if Christina Aragon or Caitlin Collier are healthy? These are all fair questions in my eyes...

In fact, the same thing can be said for the Arkansas women who didn't even employ the likes of Katie Izzo, Lauren Gregory, Katrina Robinson, or Maddy Reed. The Razorbacks could have a different looking lineup a month from now if they want to.

Klecker Runs 4:01 Mile, Fastest Mile on Colorado Soil

Joe Klecker made it clear that he wanted to be the first athlete in history to run a sub-4:00 on Colorado soil. Although he was unable to reach that goal, he still secured a time that will earn him massive respect across the country. His time of 4:01 roughly converts to a 3:55 mile, a mark that will easily secure him the top time in the NCAA after this weekend (unless someone magically runs faster than 3:55 in the next 24 hours).

Klecker's mile result should be admired and respected, but this shouldn't change his plans for NCAA's. The mile would conflict with a potential 5k/3k double at Nationals, a pair of races that seemingly suit Klecker far better than the mile does.

The mile is extremely deep this year and the upper-echelon of the 5000 meters is crowded when you think about guys like Edwin Kurgat and Tyler Day. The 3000 meters will likely be Klecker's best chance of winning a national title this season, but that aspiration becomes more challenging if he has to run the mile finals a few hours before the 3k at NCAA's.

Furman's Gabrielle Jennings Shows Promise In Mile

The Furman women have typically been known for their success on the grass (and it showed this past cross country season). The winter months, however, have historically been quiet for the Paladins. They have had a respectable amount of success, but indoor track never seemed to be their forte.

Well, not until this season.

Ryan Adams has been absolutely incredible and his teammates have quietly held their own as well. But the Furman women are establishing a narrative of their own that they can compete on the indoor oval.

On Friday night, Gabrielle Jennings ran a 4:39 mile PR. At the time of publication, she is the ninth (collegiate) woman to run under 4:40 this season. For someone who has typically been labelled as a cross country and steeplechase specialist, a mile performance like this shows just how dynamic of a talent Jennings has become.

This result won't get her into NCAA's, but it does show that she is refining her speed and becoming a potential threat to run something very fast in the 3000 meters or 5000 meters later this season.

NAU Youngsters Alter National Qualifying Discussion

If you didn't think Klecker's performance at altitude was impressive, then what about the results that we saw at Northern Arizona? The duo of Abdi Nur and Ryan Raff took to the track on Friday night and let the rest of the NCAA know that the Lumberjacks have a very bright future.

The men from Flagstaff have captured plenty of headlines as of late (and rightfully so). Their trifecta of converted sub-4:00 mile results, followed by another trio of elite 5000 meter times at Boston (where Tyler Day ran 13:16) deserves every bit of attention that we have given them.

But while the veterans of Day, Beamish, and Grijalva have prospered in the spotlight, it has been Nur and Raff patiently waiting their turns.

According to NAU assistant coach Jarred Cornfield, the underclassmen duo recorded (altitude converted) 5000 meter times of 13:39.81 (Nur) and 13:40.99 (Raff) on Friday night. Last year, the last time to qualify for Nationals in the 5k was 13:41. We didn't expect that cut-off mark to get faster in 2020. However, only halfway through this weekend, we already have nine men who have run 13:40 or faster this season.

Could the national qualifying time for the men's 5000 meter actually be lower than last year?

Iowa State Backs Up Hype, Holds Off Indiana

The middle distance dominance of the Iowa State Cyclones and their various pieces for a DMR lineup made them the national title favorites in the eyes of many coming into this season. Although the Oregon Ducks may have claimed that title for the time being after their recent performance, we still shouldn't ignore what the men from Ames, Iowa did earlier tonight.

The relay combination of Lagat, Gentil, Roomes, and Kurgat threw down an NCAA #2 time of 9:28.22 to take a big win over an Indiana team that had (on paper) the better 800 meter leg and the better mile leg coming into this race.

Lagat's 2:53 opening split is huge as it indicates that he can at least keep the Cyclones near the front at the National Championships against guys like James West who are capable of running a similar time (and have).

However, the biggest split of this entire relay comes from Edwin Kurgat, the long distance specialist. His 3:59 mile split is encouraging to say the least considering that his open PR is a modest 4:06. A sub-four split like that will keep Iowa State in contention to win the national title come March.

Even so, this performance doesn't solve the riddle of what Kurgat ends up running at NCAA's. The 5000 meters and DMR are separated by less than an hour at the Indoor National Championships. Would Kurgat really be an effective anchor on an Iowa State relay after running an all-out 5k against some of the best distance runners in the country? At altitude? I have a hard time believing that a 5k/DMR double is a reality.

Colorado Women Debut Top DMR

Admittedly, we don't know much about Colorado's DMR other than it supposedly had Rachel McArthur and Dani Jones on the relay and their end time was time 11:11.05. That roughly converts to a time of 11:00.

Without knowing who the other distance leg on that relay was and in what order they ran (Jones was supposedly on the anchor leg), it's tough to give too much analysis at the moment. Even so, it's good sign to see that the Buffs were looking to get a national qualifying time out of the way before pursuing individual opportunities. The idea of Colorado running a top lineup at NCAA's is still in play even with Sage Hurta out for the season.