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First Thoughts: UW + BU + ISU

Written by Sam Ivanecky, Michael Weidenbruch, Sean Collins, and Garrett Zatlin

So far this season, Whittni Orton has run 4:29, 8:49, 15:22 and has anchored an NCAA-leading DMR. Which event(s) should she run at Nationals?

Sam: It depends if she cares more about an individual title or team title. If she is set on helping her team, then she runs the DMR and 3k. If she cares more about an individual title, then she runs the mile. BYU is good enough to compete with Stanford and Arkansas in the DMR and since that final is on Friday, it would let Orton come back for the 3k on Saturday. Without Orton, BYU has no chance at a DMR title.

As for the individual title, Orton likely has a better chance in the mile because I don’t think Dani Jones will run that distance. Jones is the only woman who has run faster in the mile this season and if she does not run the mile, then the door is wide open for Orton to grab her first national title.

Garrett: I have a hard time believing that BYU won’t pursue the DMR at NCAA’s. If that’s the case, then the 5000 meters is off the table, leaving us with the mile and 3000 meters. Frankly, I feel like Orton could win either event. The mile has less depth, but Dani Jones is probably the national title favorite if she runs the race (this is where Sam and I differ).

Meanwhile, the 3000 meters is far deeper, but Orton’s speed and top collegiate finish this weekend makes her the favorite to win gold come March (especially since Nationals is at altitude). In the end, I’m going to say that the DMR/3k double will be what she pursues. The mile prelims would leave her legs tired for the DMR and she would have overnight to rest for the 3k.

Michael: I agree with Garrett that the DMR/3k double is probably the most feasible. However, the DMR is going to be absolutely stacked (not that other events won’t be) and BYU may try to pick up more points by loading up the individual events. Orton certainly has the potential to take home two individual titles, but what those two would be is up in the air, as it realistically depends on what others like Dani Jones run.

I would say Orton could shoot for the mile/3k double, but the uncertainty and need to run three races (with two finals on the second day) could be difficult to pull off. For this reason, the DMR/3k double is the best bet for Orton, in my opinion.

Sean: It’s really tough to not advise a DMR/3k double because of the schedule and BYU’s team chances. With that crew just barely missing an NCAA title in cross country and Arkansas likely running a spectacular (but not 100% “A” team), BYU will want to take that title.

The other aspect of this decision is that prior to this weekend, no other members of BYU had qualified for Nationals individually - Ellsworth and Camp may have changed that with their 800 results in Washington. I don’t see Orton stepping away from individual glory without others getting a chance for themselves too. That leaves Orton with a free second day of competition and a shot at the 3000 meters, an event that she currently leads the NCAA in.

Given how the rest of the contenders will plan their weekend, Orton will be fresher (or just as fresh) come 3k time and there is just no other logical decision for Orton here at this point.

Harvard’s Kieran Tuntivate just ran a 3:57 mile at Boston. Between the mile and 3k, him and Ryan Adams (Furman) now have equivalent PR’s during their breakout seasons. If you were doing a fantasy track draft, who would you select first and why?

Sam: Tuntivate. He’s the riskier bet of the two because he races with no fear, but I think that racing style could get him a solid finish at the national meet. I don’t see either Adams or Tuntivate being legitimate title contenders in any event (maybe the mile?), but Tuntivate’s style could be more likely to earn him a higher finish than Adams.

Garrett: I’ll have to disagree with Sam here. I’m going with Ryan Adams. This may be a breakout season for both Tuntivate and Adams (they were also excellent this past fall), but it’s not like Adams is new to competing at a high level. He has been a great 1500 meter runner over the past few years, but he is only now translating that success to the indoor track. More so, I actually think Tuntivate’s aggressive racing style could ultimately hurt him at the national meet. An aggressive pace at altitude could come back to bite him, and Adams has proven finishing speed which is almost always useful in tactical, championship races. Give me the Furman ace.

Sean: The two have run almost identical times so it’s tough to go off of their current seasons. What leads me to my choice is gut.

I’m not talking about my guts, I’m talking about Kieran Tuntivate’s.

Tuntivate is the athlete who lost a shoe early in the Ivy League Championships 3k in the first lap and managed to still pull out a victory. Oh, and he returned the next day to win the 5k title as well. That is not to say that Adams doesn’t have guts, but if I’m putting my faith in someone who can face adversity and find a way to the finish line, Tuntivate is my guy.

Michael: I have to go with Tuntivate. In both his 7:49 3k and his 3:57 mile, he ran very aggressively and showed some guts. He might not have the experience of Adams, but I think that could potentially work in his favor. Being able to show up to the national meet and just focus on getting out hard and running strong like it’s any other race could be huge for Tuntivate. This is by no means an easy mindset to reach, but something tells me that Tuntivate has the swagger to pull it off. After today, I might like his chances in the mile the best.

So far this season, Dani Jones has run 2:03 (converted), 4:27, 15:17, and has anchored a DMR that will likely qualify for Nationals. Will she / should she pursue a national qualifying time in the 3000 meters? Which event(s) should she run at Nationals?

Sam: Whether she should challenge for a 3k national qualifying time or not is entirely based on what she wants to run. Jones is the favorite in whatever event she enters, but I think the 3000 meters is arguably her best event right now. Similar to Orton, what Jones runs will be based on how much value she and her coaches put on the DMR. With Jones, Colorado could be a title contender despite facing BYU, Arkansas and Stanford. The DMR would also allow Jones to double back in the 3k. If she wants to run a qualifying mark, she can easily do so at the MPSF Championships, so it will really depend on what event(s) Jones values the most.

Garrett: I would agree that the 3000 meters would be Jones’ theoretical sweet-spot, but the same could be said for women like Orton, Monson, and maybe Izzo and Kelati. There is just way too much competition in that event (and the 5000 meters), which leaves me to believe that Jones will run the mile and DMR at Nationals. As a result, I don’t think there is a reason for her to pursue a national qualifying time in the 3000 meters.

Sean: I’m in disagreement with both Garrett and Sam here and think Jones should stay away from the 3k and the DMR. I think that without Sage Hurta, the Colorado DMR cannot find itself on top of the podium without a fair bit of luck and that means that Jones is not best served here. That leaves the individual events and I’d push Jones away from the 3k.

Knowing that Jones will double individually, why not propose a new double? How about the mile/5k? There’s traditionally two and a half hours between the mile and 5k and Jones should be able to sneak through the prelims rather easily. While Jones might give up the 5k favorite role in this scenario, I still think Jones could grab the victory in both.

That said, I think Jones will go for a 3k qualifying time in the next two weekends to give the Buffaloes an extra opportunity. Given the scenario above, a mile/5k/3k triple wouldn’t be totally out of the question. Still, Jones will want to know if she can qualify in each of the individual events and hope to predict where her easiest attempts at an NCAA title lie.

Michael: I like Jones’ ability in the mile. Time and time again, she has shown us that she has the wheels to out-kick just about anyone over any distance, and this sets her up to run phenomenally in the mile. I think it is safe to say she won’t go all in on the 800, but I could realistically see her running any two of the mile/3k/5k/DMR.

The DMR might be too deep for Colorado to realistically win the title or even finish top three, so two individual events could be Jones’ best bet. If she chooses the mile (which requires prelims and finals), it makes the second event more difficult considering she will be tired going into either the 3k or the 5k. I think running the mile prelim on day one with just enough to make the final, then going after the 5k will be a great option. That way, she is somewhat fresh for the 5k (with only a likely tactical mile in her legs), and can focus solely on the mile final during the second day.

Last year, we saw 15 men run 13:41.00 or faster for 5000 meters. The final time to qualify for Nationals was 13:41.21. So far this season, 15 men have run under 13:41.00. Are you surprised to see that the depth in the 5000 meters has gone largely unchanged compared to last year?

Sam: As the data science professional of the group, I would like to put this out there.

When we say that “the depth has gone largely unchanged”, we should consider more than a single year. On paper, 2019 was historic. Since 2011, there had never been a single year with more than nine men running under 13:41 until last year. Of the 15 guys to run 13:41 in 2019, only five graduated which means there were more guys returning who had already broken the mark than had ever run that fast in one season. The depth in the 5000 meters is in fact “very changed” relative to what we have seen historically seen.

Garrett: As Sam so eloquently pointed out, the 5000 meters had a historic year in 2019. It was so surprisingly deep that it left us (or maybe just me) with the idea that 2020 won’t be nearly as deep. For the most part, that assumption was wrong. So yes, I am surprised because I didn’t think the NCAA would replicate the outlier year that we saw in 2019.

Michael: I am also surprised to see that last year’s depth was not a one-off occurrence. I think this is a general trend across the NCAA, as athletes are simply getting better. When we were discussing the 3k, Sam also pointed out this season’s historic depth. It is surprising to see so many athletes running so fast, but I think this will become the new norm which is very exciting to think about.

Sean: I’m not surprised given how the landscape has changed. Only five meets created those 15 results so far this year and it feels like the opportunities to run fast 5k’s are being consolidated. While this is only based on feeling alone, I think this feeling is spreading across the NCAA and people know how important it is to run a fast 5k, on a fast track, with other fast people, earlier and earlier in the season.

There’s a reason NCAA all-time marks are falling in December and January and that pandemonium is at play here.

Nia Akins (Penn) just ran 2:00.71 to win the elite section of the women’s 800 meters at Boston University. She was .02 seconds off of Jazmine Fray’s 2017 indoor collegiate record. Is Akins now the undeniable favorite to win the national title in March?

Sam: Not at all. First off, as I have reiterated every time we talk about this event, the indoor 800 is wildly unpredictable and we rarely see someone so good that they stand head-and-shoulders above the field. Secondly, when Fray set that record in 2017, she was only 3rd at the Indoor National Championships that season. Akins is a great runner, but she opened the season with a 2:04 and a loss to Washington’s Carley Thomas. Having only two 800’s under her belt this year, I find it absurd to hand her the title after one race.

Garrett: When you’re .02 seconds off of the collegiate indoor record, just beat out of a slew of professional athletes on a large stage, and are often considered one of the better tactical runners in the NCAA, then you’re typically the national title favorite. Akins has the experience and now the resume to say that she’ll be the one to watch in March. Sure, the 800 can leave some athletes vulnerable if they make the slightest tactical hiccup, but sooner or later we have to look at everything Akins has done and recognize that she doesn’t have a flaw.

Sean: I struggle to know exactly where to put Akins’ performance. The only person to run faster indoors, Jazmine Fray, failed to win the national title that season, but did go on to beat Akins’ last spring. Then there’s Danae Rivers who beat Akins last indoor season and Carley Thomas who defeated them both earlier this season.

Still, just as Garrett said, there are almost no flaws for Akins.

Complicating things even more, Akins has always held the underdog role coming into championship season, so maybe it’s in her best interest to push Thomas and Rivers into the spotlight. I just don’t know, but it will be incredible to watch.

Michael: I have to think that Akins should be the singular favorite, but as Sam, Garrett and Sean have mentioned, there are just so many factors at play that make it impossible to feel too secure in calling Akins the favorite. Despite a slow start to the season, Akins is heating up when it is starting to matter the most. There is still a lot of time until NCAA’s and it is possible that we will see someone start to match Akins’ ability between now and then.

Six more collegiate men (Teare, West, Ostberg, Grijalva, Beamish, Day) dipped under the 7:50 barrier for 3000 meters this past weekend at the Husky Classic and BU Valentine Invite, bringing the season total to 12. What are your thoughts on the depth of the event this year and how will it impact national qualifying decisions?

Garrett: It’s just absurd. Absolutely insane, actually. A total of TWELVE men under 7:50? And we still have a month until Nationals! The problem, however, is that the depth of the event may be so incredible that it scares away its top competitors. Guys like Nuguse, Beamish, Adams, Tuntivate, Kusche and maybe Grijalva (although probably not) may opt to focus on the mile instead with national title hopes on the line.

Sam: There’s an episode of How I Met Your Mother where Marshall uses charts for every single conversation. That’s me in this chat. How historic is this season? Take a look.

Note that 2020 is not even done yet and we already have 12 men who have broken the 7:50 barrier. The highest in a total season prior? Seven (2012, 2015). The depth this year is an anomaly. The number of guys under is approaching DOUBLE of what we have ever seen. So what impact will it have on the national meet?

The boring answer - probably not a whole lot.

Not all of the guys on this list will run the 3k. Some will opt for the mile, while others will run the DMR or only the 5k. The standard to make the meet will likely be faster than normal, but I don’t think it will change a whole lot at the national meet.

Sean: I’m lost for words. This is utterly absurd. And I think that this number could continue to rise over 16 given the opportunities next weekend and at the MPSF Championships. Unlike Sam, I don’t think many people will want to drop this event. While I think that some will certainly opt to attempt the mile or 5k in addition to this event, there won’t be many dropping the 3k. Everyone who breaks 7:50 knows that they’re in great form and will hesitate to give up a final opportunity during the scratch period. The likeliest scenario in my mind is that there will be a significant number of athletes who will have doubled at Nationals and might end up faltering in one of the final races of the meet.

Michael: 12 men under 7:50 is insane, especially with the possibility of that number continuing to grow. I think guys like Tyler Day may opt for the 5k despite the possibility of doubling, while others like Geordie Beamish or George Kusche may stick to the mile. The 3k is so deep this year that we may see guys avoiding it entirely. As many athletes will be coming off of a race the night before, whether it is the mile prelim or the 5k, others who go all-in on the 3k may try to take advantage of this and run hard on fresh legs. I think we could see some surprising results in the 3k because of this.

As far as NCAA’s are concerned, what are you taking away from the men’s 5000 meters at the Iowa State Classic? Beadlescomb ran 13:31 while Seufer finished 2nd in 13:36.

Garrett: Honestly, not a whole lot. Beadlescomb was definitely better than expected and I think this shows that he can hang with any pace that is established at Nationals. Yet, outside of the Michigan State star entering the All-American conversation, I’m not sure these results were entirely unexpected. Seufer did what he had to and the rest of the field was about on par with expectations.

Sam: For once, I actually agree with Garrett. They ran fast, but not that fast. I don’t see either of them being true title contenders when you have guys like Klecker, Day and Kurgat competing at the national meet. Certainly solid runs for Beadlescomb and Seufer, but not anything to break into the conversation.

Michael: I agree that neither Beadlescomb nor Seufer are really entering the title discussion with these results, but they are certainly names to keep in mind. We saw Peter Seufer run a very aggressive race at NCAA’s in the fall which paid off for him. Seufer was largely unknown to the casual viewer (and even some seasoned viewers) going into the cross country season, but he established himself as one of the nation’s best at Nationals. I think both of these men have the ability to surprise at the Indoor National Championships, but I will reiterate that I think they are still outside contenders when compared to guys like Tyler Day and Edwin Kurgat.

Sean: I think we would have said that about Seufer in cross country, but we saw how big of a role he played at the NCAA XC Championships this past fall. The biggest news here is of course that both likely end up qualifying for NCAA’s and that neither are the favorites. But this result (and the fact that Eric Hamer ran 13:43) helps us envision the 5k field much better. Beadlescomb and Hamer are both folks without a national qualifying time in the 3000 meters. With the main contenders likely to be doubling, those two could capitalize on tired legs at the national meet.

Which performance(s) or headline(s) will go unnoticed this weekend, but deserve some recognition?

Garrett: Pretty much anyone who ran in the men’s mile at Boston. There were a total of seven men who broke the four minute barrier, six of them being first-timers. The best part in all of this is that most of these men have been knocking on the door of a sub-four result for a while now. Villanova’s Charlie O’Donovan capitalized on his surging momentum from earlier this season and recorded a 3:58 and led Penn’s Colin Daly to a 3:59 result as well...out of the third section.

Meanwhile, Tuntivate got all of the attention for his 3:57 performance, but Princeton’s Sam Ellis was close behind with a 3:57 result of his own (it was a good day for the Ivy League). Indiana’s Matthew Schalder, who had been flirting with the sub-four barrier all season long, earned a time of 3:58.

Florida State’s Kasey Knevelbaard and Virginia’s AJ Ernest rounded out the collegiate sub-four’s with a pair of 3:59’s, although Knevelbaard was likely looking for a time that put him in an NCAA qualifying position, something he has yet to do this season.

Sam: Amber Tanner ran 2:03.02 at the Tyson Invitational, a mark that is now ranked #2 in the NCAA. While the Georgia veteran has yet to really prove herself at a national meet, she put down a fast time at a small meet and could be a threat in an event that looks pretty wide open on the women's side.

We also got to see some of the top freshmen stars put down some solid marks on opposite coasts. Out in Boston, Kelsey Chmiel of NC State ran 9:10 for 3000 meters while Melany Smart of Washington ran 9:06 on her home track. Neither will be real contenders for a national title with those times, but we often see freshman redshirt their first indoor season, so seeing these two going at it is great to see.

Michael: I mentioned her as a name to watch in the BU Valentine Preview and she delivered. Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Sydney Packard ran 2:06.54 for 800 meters to become the second fastest Division Three performer ever at the distance. The fact that Packard is a Division Three athlete and that her time is not on the same level as Nia Akins’ performance may mean that she gets overlooked when reviewing the results. She has to be considered the heavy favorite to win the event at the Division Three Indoor National Championships.

Also, as Garrett mentioned, the men’s mile at Boston University was absolutely electric. Aside from a slew of sub-four performances (many of which were first-timers) we saw some pretty big personal bests. Virginia’s AJ Ernst, Villanova’s Charlie O’Donovan, and Penn’s Colin Daly all not only broke four minutes for the first time, but all took four second off their personal bests. It’s one thing to crack 4:00, but to do it going in with a lifetime best of 4:03 is another.

Sean: Mercy Chelangat in the 5000 meters in Washington. With such a large focus on Jones, Morley, and Simpson in Boston, Chelangat comes away with a great 15:37 result as the top collegiate athlete. This is a huge mark from someone who has only run 9:22 and 4:57 this year and gives Alabama another great women’s distance runner alongside Esther Gitahi.

Also being overshadowed by the Division One 5k results in Boston was Parley Hannan of Ithaca who set an indoor D3 5000 meters record of 16:05. She also led Ithaca to an 11:41 DMR result which was 22 seconds faster than the D3 season best heading into the weekend (although MIT, Williams, and WPI also broke 11:50 in the same race).


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