The top four times all hail from Grand Valley State. Dennis Mbuta leads the list with his 1:49.24 and has a two-second gap between him and his teammates. Mbuta also holds the only other automatic qualifying time in the country (he’s the NCAA #2 right now), legitimizing him being an overwhelming favorite here.
Nick Salomon, Jonathon Groendyk, and David Jones are all sitting at a 1:51 mark and sit in descending order at #11, #12 and #13 in the NCAA. Jordan Walters from Saginaw Valley State and Tyler Walters from Grand Valley State (shout out to family rivalries?) are both under the 1:53 mark and with good races this weekend they could see themselves catapulted into the top 18 and a bid for Nationals.
Dennis Mbuta and Zach Panning both have run sub-4:10 and are clear of the field by five seconds. Mbuta is sitting at #13 in the country and should be safe for Nationals while Panning will likely opt for longer distances. That being said, I don’t think this race is all Mbuta.
Despite him running 4:07, Jacob Petri of Wisconsin-Parkside, Chase Clark from Northwood, and Trestin Mancillas-Finnerty from Northwood, have all set personal bests at the GVSU Big Meet two weeks ago and will likely be in this race at the end. After all, it is championship racing season and all three are in the DMR on Saturday meaning their legs should be some kind of heavy. Does Mbuta have enough strength/speed to hold them off?
Jonathon Groendyk (GVSU), Parker Eisengruber (SVSU), and Ian Johnson (Ashland) have all run 4:15 and are the the last athletes under 4:20. Along with Panning, it should be a mile race likely leaving it up to the kickers.
This is the race that Zach Panning is the heavy favorite. He has run 8:01 this season and is #2 in the NCAA and is 19 seconds ahead of his teammate Tanner Chada. Panning has had a tremendous season and likely has his sights set on greater things than just a conference title.
He’ll likely help his teammates stay near the front as they’re looking for team points. Chada, Brian Patrick of Northwood, and the Saginaw Valley State duo of Tom Goforth and Ryan Talbott have all run under 8:30 putting them in the second tier here. I think Goforth from SVSU is a dark horse here as he has run 8:12 before and given his 14:10 performance before Christmas, he should be able to run better than at least his seed time and maybe give Panning a run for his money.
It’s odd that Panning opted not to run this race, but seeing as he is not on the list, we’ll talk about some of his teammates. There are seven athletes that are under 15:00. Five of them belong to Grand Valley. Josh Steible has run 14:26, Colin Herrman has run 14:34, Jacob Domagalski has run 14:36, Ben Zaremba has run 14:36, and Connor Schwartz has run 14:39.
This race is on Saturday and is the first big event for team points meaning that you’ll see these five stick towards the front and work together in order to grab as many points as possible. Dylan Rocha of Northwood (14:39) and Clyde Anderson of Saginaw Valley (14:40) will also be mixed in with this group. They’re going to have their chance in this race, how they take advantage of this is the question at hand.
Grand Valley and Northwood have the top two times and are separated by six seconds. Grand Valley has changed up its lineup for the meet as has Northwood. However, GVSU has changed around their 1200 and mile legs while Northwood has only changed their 400 leg.
Mbuta will be anchoring this time instead of running the 1200 and Groendyk will be running the 1200. Northwood has dropped Mason Phillips (NCAA #2 in the 60, NCAA #4 in the 200, and NCAA #16 in the 400) for Stephen Barker who has run 1:53 this year. I think this race is going to be close due to the changeup in distance legs for GVSU and the fact that Northwood likely believes they are a national caliber team (NCAA #11) and might need a slightly quicker time to sneak into Nationals. I’ll go with Northwood just to switch things up.
Rachael Walters and Allie Ludge from Grand Valley State are the only competitors who have cracked 2:10 in the event on the year. Waters has hit the automatic standard with her 2:06.93. Walters also holds the #3 fastest time in the country. Ludge has run 2:08.91 and the two Lakers seemingly are the favorites for this event on Sunday.
The other athlete who has hit the provisional standard is Northern Michigan’s Shayla Huebner. She has run 2:11.06 and she is three seconds ahead of the next athlete on the list. With both Lakers listed for the DMR team, expect this to be a tactical race for the maximum amount of points.
Allie Ludge is the clear favorite heading into the mile. She is six seconds clear of her own teammate Abby Crouch as Ludge has run 4:48.31 on the year which is also good for the #5 fastest time in the country. Crouch has run 4:54.39 and with her ends the athletes who have run sub-five. This is another event that should be dominated by the Lakers from GVSU.
Jenna Keiser from Saginaw Valley State (5:00.48), Rachel Webb from Grand Valley State (5:01.06), and Morgan Fuerst (5:01.16) are other athletes who could play a pivotal role in the team race if there is one.
This is likely where the team race will be won, as Grand Valley State has the five fastest times on the performance list. This includes Gina Patterson (9:29.44, #6 in the NCAA), Hanna Groeber (9:41.11, #11 in the NCAA), Jessica Gockley (9:41.40, #13 in the NCAA), Stacey Metzger (9:45.02), and Madison Goen (9:55.41).
Alison Dorr of Saginaw Valley State and Kathryn Etemalki from Ferris State are the other two athletes to dip under the 10:00 mark in the conference. Depending on how things shape out in earlier events, this 3000 could be very inconsequential and we may not even see some of these athletes.
Another GVSU athlete leads the rankings heading into conference. This time it is Hanna Groeber who is 36 seconds better than the rest of the conference. She has run 16:25.99 and is the #4 fastest woman in the country so far. Groeber will likely keep this close for her teammates Jessica Gockley (17:01.43) and Malea Teerman (17:07.05) so they can try and sweep the podium. Kathryn Etemalki of Ferris State is also in this race and has run 17:17.50 and despite being ten seconds back, she should be in the mix at the end if the race goes out slow.
Grand Valley State is 30 seconds better than Saginaw Valley State and their roster of Gina Patterson, Allie Ludge, and Rachael Walters is arguably the best in the country (currently #2 in the NCAA after Alaska Anchorage ran the #1 time at their conference meet). Again, we’re talking about points for the team race so look for GVSU to put this away early.
Saginaw Valley State is #18 on the NCAA list with the same team and needs to improve by 13-15 seconds to have a chance at Nationals. Maybe chasing the GVSU team will get them there.