First Thoughts: Nationals (Women)

Colorado wins in dominant fashion

The Buffaloes ran away with the NCAA title, putting up the fourth lowest score (65 points) since the championship moved to the 6000 meter distance. Colorado had six women finish as All-Americans with individual champion Dani Jones leading the team. The Buffaloes ran a smart race by putting themselves near the front from the beginning, sitting in 2nd through 2000 meter and moving into the lead by 4000 meters. Given the snowy and windy weather, it seemed making any hard moves late could be a challenge and the team made sure to put any doubt away early with their aggressive tactics.

Coming into the race, Colorado seemed to have all the pieces of a national championship group, but had not put them all together since Nuttycombe. Tabor Scholl followed up her Mountain regional performance with another strong showing and the return of Sage Hurta added another Buff into the top 25.

How good was Colorado today? Even without Dani Jones, the Buffs would have beaten runner-up New Mexico, 93 to 100. While Colorado had six All-Americans, no other team had more than three.

Dani Jones cements herself as one of CU’s best ever

Colorado has seen some of the best women ever come out of their program. Alumni include Olympic marathoner Kara Goucher, steeplechase world champion Emma Coburn, and the best 1500 meter runner in American history (Jenny Simpson). Today, Dani Jones secured a spot among those legends by taking home the NCAA individual title.

Jones has been quietly moving up at NCAA's every year since her 49th place finish as a freshman. Although she finished 10th last fall, many regarded her more as a miler and figured she would have a similar showing this year.

Turns out they were wrong.

Jones had a great performance as she sat in the lead pack for almost the entire race, but never led until the last 200 meters. With around a kilometer to go, Weini Kelati made a move to separate herself from the rest of the pack and Jones slowly reeled her in until surging past her on the uphill finish. Although Kelati is one of the NCAA's best, Jones’ finishing speed is unmatched and once she went by, she was not going to be caught.

Arkansas and Villanova fall hard

Two teams that figured to be near the front both fell short today. Arkansas was a team many figured could challenge for the win and surely the podium, but the Razorbacks only managed a 14th place showing today. The team put themselves in the race early on and were 4th at the 2000 meter mark, but had faded to 12th by 4000 meters.

While the snow may have been a bigger issue for a team from the south, a lot more than the weather went wrong for Arkansas. Only two women DNF’d today, one of whom was Razorback Lauren Gregory. Coming into the meet, Arkansas needed a strong showing from their top four if they wanted a chance at the podium and without Gregory those hopes essentially vanished. Even if she had finished, the rest of the Razorbacks had equally as rough days. Katrina Robinson looked like one of the NCAA's top talents this season, but missed All-American status by one place. No other Razorback made it into the top 50 and their fourth and fifth scorers were both over a 100 points.

For as bad as Arkansas’ day was, Villanova’s was even worse. Caroline Alcorta appeared to be having issues from the start, coming through 2000 meters in 224th place. The 2017 All-American would fade a few more spots during the next 4000 meters and eventually finish 243rd. Villanova’s team chances were essentially gone from the start with Alcorta fading back, but similar to Arkansas, the rest of the team struggled as well. Top runner Nicole Hutchinson was the only one to have an okay day, managing to snag the last All-American spot by finishing 40th. One week after winning the Mid-Atlantic region, Rachel McArthur’s struggles at NCAA's continued as she finished in 119th.

It will be interesting to see how 'Nova rebounds going into 2019. Both Hutchinson and Alcorta will graduate, but the rest of the team returns and should be fueled by two years of underperforming at Nationals.

The Lobos were hindered by…their fourth?

For the past two years, the biggest concern for New Mexico has been finding a fifth runner to back up their incredible top four. Last year they managed to win with their fifth placing 85th, thanks to the top four finishing in the first 12 spots.

This year, Creighton transfer Emily Martin came up big and finished as the fifth Lobo in 55th. Despite her great showing, Adva Cohen struggled on the big stage and managed only 43rd place when the Lobos realistically needed her near the top 20. Even though Cohen fell short today, it is her first year at the Division 1 level and just missing All-American honors is not a bad start. Keep in mind that even if she had finished 20th, New Mexico would have still been well behind Colorado in team points.

Snow slows the Kelati show

Weini Kelati came in as the clear favorite after winning her previous three races by substantial margins. Had there not been snow, she may have been able to do the same today. Overnight, Madison got a couple inches of snow and that combined with a decent breeze made conditions ideal for a slower race with a fast finish.

Kelati is arguably the fastest woman in the field when the conditions are good and she has thrived much of this fall by making the race fast from the start. Today she waited until around a kilometer to go before trying to break open the race and by that point she was not able to gap the pack enough to put the likes of Dani Jones safely behind. Kelati surely knew her odds of winning were dramatically less in a sprint finish given her 1500 meter PR is 4:16 compared to Jones’ PR of 4:07. Had she moved earlier, Kelati may have been able to break away enough to put the field away, but based on course conditions it was likely too high risk of blowing up to try and push from the gun.

Michigan’s pack puts them on the podium

All season long the Wolverines have thrived by utilizing great team depth. Although they did not have any standout front runners at NCAA's, they continued their pack-attack and got themselves on the podium today.

Michigan only had two women, Camille Davre and Avery Evenson, finish as All-Americans, but the team finished with a ridiculous spread of only 28 seconds to finish 4th overall. Davre had her best performance of the season and finished 29th overall as the top freshman in the field. Even with Anne Forsyth placing a little lower than expected (finished 46th, but looked like an All-American at Great Lakes), the rest of her teammates were close behind with Hannah Meier in 63rd and Claire Borchers in 79th.

The Wolverines may lose a few seniors going into 2019, but they also have the best freshman duo of this 2018 season. Davre and Forsyth were the first and third freshman at NCAA's and on most days, Forsyth is probably ahead of Davre. Keep an eye on this group moving into 2019 as Michigan will be looking to return to the podium.