GVSU Big Meet Preview

In the women’s 800 meters, there’s a match up between middle distance stars, Berenice Cleyet-Merle and Yasmine Hernandez. Also entered is the extremely talented Allie Ludge. Who comes out on top and why?

Quenten: It's very possible that Ludge takes the win over Cleyet-Merle and Hernandez despite the 800 not being her ideal distance. Last weekend we saw Ludge throw down an NCAA-leading mile time of 4:39, beating Cleyet-Merle head-to-head at the Meyo Invitational. Along with this, she holds a PR of 2:08 in the 800 meters which beats out both Cleyet-Merle and Hernandez’s times this season. This race is one of the more exciting ones as we could get a great preview of what we could expect at Nationals if Ludge shockingly decides to step down in distance to the half-mile distance.

Eric: Ludge is fit right now and running at her biggest home meet of the year outside of the GLIAC Championships (although this is still probably bigger than that). I think this, along with being a senior and wanting to showcase her ability to be highly ranked in yet another race (she sits atop the mile and 3k) makes the 800 a very competitive event at this meet. My opinion is that Ludge wins by half a second to Hernandez with Cleyet-Merle taking 3rd. My time prediction is that the top two both go under 2:10.

Grace: Ludge is a versatile runner. Although she tends to excel in cross country and often focuses on the mile and 3000 meters, her underrated foot speed will allow (and has allowed her) to run a fast 800 time. Like Quenten said, she ran 4:39 mile for the fastest time this season and holds an 800 meter PR faster than Cleyet-Merle and Hernandez, but I still think it will be an exciting and close race.

Ludge beat Cleyet-Merle by just over a second last weekend in the mile, but Cleyet-Merle has run 2:11 and 4:40 this season. Additionally, Hernandez ran 2:09 at the UCCS Invitational in December. I do think Ludge has shown a greater level of fitness the past few weeks, but like with every 800 race, anything can happen. I predict a close race around 2:10 with Ludge barely getting the edge.

John: This is the race of the weekend if you ask me. Yasmine Hernandez has the #3 fastest time in the country, while Cleyet-Merle and Ludge just ran the fastest two times in the mile last weekend. Something has to give, right? Ludge has run 2:08 before and Cleyet-Merle ran 2:07 while at Cal Baptist (but as Grace mentioned, only 2:11 this season). This gives us three athletes who have run 2:08 or faster, and I do think this race runs faster than 2:08 this weekend. I think we’re looking at a 2:06/2:07 race with Cleyet-Merle coming out on top.

Outside of NCAA's, the men’s 800 could be the most exciting 800 meter race of the year. Four of the top 10 ranked runners will toe the line together. Between Dennis Mbuta, Adam Wright, Nathan Hood, and John Partee, who do you think will take control of the race and who will ultimately win?

Quenten: Along with the women, this race could also possibly be a preview of what we could expect at Nationals (minus Holdsworth and Arlabosse). Three out of these four men have run 1:50 (Hood, Mbuta, Wright) and Partee is not too far off with his 1:51. Each individual has already proven to be elite National Championship contenders, but I have Mbuta taking clear control on the last lap and taking the win in this exciting race.

Eric: This should be a very close race as all competitors are within a second of each other. This might come as a surprise, but I like how Adam Wright of Queens (N.C.) is running right now. Over his last two meets, he has run a 1:50 for the 800 and a 4:09 converted mile. The freshman is putting his name in the conversation for being a national qualifier this season. That being said, I will take Hood at the line over Mbuta with Wright turning in a solid performance.

Grace: I agree with Eric on this one. All four athletes are going to be serious contenders on the national stage and have all run similar times, but Adam Wright has had some fantastic performances recently. He does not have the same amount of experience at this level as the others, but he’s proven to be a smart and fearless racer. I think Hood will win the race with Wright coming in 2nd.

John: You all are missing one name here. Jaylen Tryon of Lubbock Christian is racing this weekend. And yes, I know he ran poorly at New Mexico two weekends ago, but it was his first official race of the indoor season. I think he gets back on track this weekend (he ran 1:51 this time last year) and we see him run closer to his 1:50 PR. Does he win it? No, probably not. That will be Mbuta, but I do think we see a race where a couple of athletes dip under the 1:50 barrier.

In the women’s mile we have Nancy Jeptoo, Lauren Bailey, and Hailey Streff. Jeptoo and Bailey excel at the longer distances while Streff’s best event is the 800 meters. Despite this, they have all run between 4:56 and 4:58 this season. How do you think this race will play out?

Quenten: I can ultimately see Jeptoo and Bailey pushing the pace early to throw off Streff, but on the contrary, if this turns out to be championship style race where it’s a sit and kick, Streff will have the upper-hand over those two. With all of their times being so close this season, there’s no real tell-tale sign of what we can expect, only the fact that it’s going to be an entertaining one.

Eric: My pick is Lauren Bailey from Indianapolis. I have Streff 2nd and Jeptoo 3rd. Even though all runners have relatively similar times this season, Bailey is coming off of a 9:28 3k performance last weekend at Notre Dame. I think she continues the hot streak and picks up another victory. Having CSU-Pueblo finally running at sea level will bring a runner like Streff onto the same playing field as Bailey and Jeptoo as we round into the championship season.

Grace: I think the race will go out hard and Streff will be knocked off the pack, leaving Jeptoo and Bailey to battle it out. Between the two, I’d have to pick Bailey based off of her recent performances. She has been a force to be reckoned with and I don’t see her success slowing down anytime soon.

John: I’m picking Streff here. I love what she’s been doing as of late. She just set personal bests in the 800 (2:12) and 3000 (10:08) at New Mexico. The week before, she ran a 5:05 mile, also at New Mexico. I think she’s faster than that, although it's fair to recognize that it was at altitude. Regardless, I think it’s the perfect race for her to finally break 5:00 and run close to what her converted time for the mile is.

In the men’s mile, there’s four runners who have a shot at winning the event. James Young has a 3:44 1500 meter PR, Felix Wammetsberger is the reigning national champion in the mile, Dylan Day has set three PR's in the past three weeks, and Seb Anthony is stepping up to the mile this week. How do you think this race will play out and who do you predict to win?

Quenten: Although Wammetsberger is the reigning champion in the event, he has had a bit of a down year compared to the expectations that were set for being the defending national champion. Wammetsberger currently has a season's best of 4:10 for the mile which is four seconds slower compared to last year. With Dylan Day being on fire, Anthony being somewhat of an 800 meter guy, and Wammetsberger having a down season, I’m going with Day to continue his hot streak, ultimately sealing the win.

Eric: I’m going to agree with Quenten here and pick Day. We gotta go with the one who’s burning up the track and that is the senior from Pueblo. This is Anthony’s mile debut while Wammetsberger has looked off. Still, Wammetsberger ran three seconds faster in the mile than he did at Camel City last year and turned in a 4:06 mile at this meet last year. I think he's gonna show up for the “Big Meet” and put his name back into the conversation to defend his title.

Grace: I completely agree with Quenten and Eric, Dylan Day for the win. I think he’s going to keep the ball rolling.

John: We’re all waiting for Wammetsberger to come and light the track up. I think most of us had thought that he was the front-runner and he has a chance to make us believe that again after this weekend. As for now, it’s going to be interesting to see Seb Anthony step up and run the mile. I’ve thought for awhile now that he’d be a better miler and that might prove to be true this weekend. However, I’m interested in James Young from Academy of Art. The British athlete has strong personal bests of 1:50 for 800 and 3:44 for 1500. He was also on the anchor of AAU’s DMR team that finished just two seconds back of Western Oregon at the end of January.

There are some major contenders in the women’s 3000 meters. Clarissa Morales has run the fastest time of the D2 girls entered in this race (9:39), but she’ll go up against the #3, #4, and #5 fastest runners in the 5k consisting this season (Hanna Groeber, Jennifer Comastri, and Jessica Gockley). Do you think the breakout star from Stanislaus State has a chance against the distance veterans?

Quenten: I wouldn’t overlook Morales at all. Along with her quick 3k, she also has the #6 fastest 5k that is also often overlooked (16:38). Yes, Groeber, Comastri, and Gockley do technically have faster times in the 5k, but Morales isn’t very far behind and I believe she has something to prove in this race as she is building her resume towards becoming a household name.

John: This is actually one of the races I’m most excited for this weekend. We are seeing a preview of what the women’s 3000 meters might look like at NCAA's. I think the biggest question is how well can these women run the mile? The answer to that might give us the best indication of who has the proper middle distance speed for this race. Currently, Comastri is the quickest of the four we have mentioned (4:53 after conversion) and that could potentially help her the most at the end of this race.

Most of the GVSU women are coming off of racing a mile the weekend before, meaning they should be ready to roll in this race. I personally think Natalie Graber is someone that the field should look out for. The freshman has already run 16:51 and 4:53 this season and the 3000 meters might be her best event moving forward.

Eric: I think Stanislaus State is loving the attention as they try to build a distance program. Morales is definitely in contention as the coach has to be telling her to treat these types of races as mini NCAA previews. I agree with John about Graber as she is the future of Grand Valley State. She will try to stick with these veterans as long as possible. I have Groeber winning, but there should be a tight pack between Comastri, Morales and Gockley.

Grace: I am very excited to see how this race plays out. Morales has stepped into the spotlight with her recent 3k and 5k performances and is putting Stanislaus State on the board as a talented distance program. Comastri has the most speed and could out-kick the others. Gockley and Graber have fast PR’s and Gockley is very experienced in highly competitive races. I think any of these talented women could pull off the win this weekend and I think they’ll push each other to run some PR’s and fast times. This race will definitely act as a preview to Nationals.

Like the women’s 3k, there are some major contenders entered in the same event this weekend for the men. Titus Winders has the #6 fastest 5k time (14:06) this season and the #9 fastest 3k time (8:10). Tanner Chada has the #12 fastest 5k time (14:12) and Jack Mastrandrea has the #9 fastest 5k time (14:08). Who do you think has the best chance to win the event this weekend?

Quenten: This race will be a tricky one because each individual has an impressive 5k time this season, but the 3k is a totally different event. This event takes a bit more foot speed and after watching Titus Winders last week at the Meyo Invitational throw down a 4:07 in the mile, I’m going to go with him having the best chance of securing the win.

John: Quenten mentions it here and I mentioned it above this in the women’s 3000, but ultimately, we get a better idea of how this race may go after looking at mile results. I do personally believe that this is Winders’ race to lose. I think after this weekend we are going to be placing Winders in another category in terms of national contenders.

But there are plenty of names that need to be mentioned. Ross Husch is finally back looking healthy and entered in this race. Chada, despite not having great performances thus far, has the chance to get back on track this weekend. As for Mastandrea, I’m a huge fan, but I personally think he’s more of a 5000/10,000 meter guy. His PR for 3000 is 8:30. I think it’s a win if he breaks 8:20 this weekend.

Other names to watch: Alec Choury of CSU-Pueblo, Nathan Hall of Southern Indiana, Connor Schwartz of GVSU and Charlie Messai of Academy of Art.

Eric: I’m interested to see how Mastandrea bounces back after running 4:19 a couple of weekends ago. That was likely a winter break rust-buster as he prepares to sharpen up for the championship season. The Golden Eagle will look to find more of the same GVSU magic from when he ran his 14:08 on this track back in December. Titus Winders has just looked too good at this point in the season as he has ran fast times across the mile, 3k, and 5k. He is my pick to win as a 4:07 mile indicates that he can close when needed.

Grace: I am going to go with Titus Winders from Southern Indiana to win this one as well. He’s had some fantastic performances and has the run the fastest times this season. His 4:07 mile from the Meyo Invitational indicates that he has the necessary speed to pull away in the final moments of this race. Everything points to Winders taking home the win, but I think the race will bring Mastandrea back into his usual form.

Three of the top 20 3k performers and two of the top 20 5k performers this season will go up against each other in the women's 5000 meters. The Stanislaus State duo of Cynthia Mejia and Grace Kenny take on Emmanuelah Chelimo of Alaska Anchorage. Joining them is Kathryn Etelamaki and Madison Goen. Who do you think has the best shot at winning the race? Do you think Mejia and Kenny could run a national qualifying mark in this event?

Quenten: I really want to go with Mejia having the best shot to win, but I don't want to write off Goen just yet. Having not raced the 5k since December is somewhat a negative, but at the time, what she ran then (17:05) was pretty impressive for it being that early in the season. I think she’s on a mission to go out there, lower her time exponentially, and prove that she is a legitimate contender in this event.

Based on Mejia and Kenny’s 3k performances, it’s safe to say that they won’t have a problem running national qualifying marks in the event. They have proven to be very fit and with this amount of talent in this race, all they have to do is hold on.

John: There is no doubt in my mind that both Mejia and Kenny will qualify for the 5000 meters this weekend. There are only 23 girls who have a provisional mark of 17:27, and their 3k efforts of 9:40 and 9:51 translate to being able to run near 17:00 this weekend. Etelamaki looks primed to have a breakout race after setting personal bests in the 3000 and mile the last two times out (9:58 and 4:57). As for Goen, I think she runs closer to her 16:46 mark for 5000 meters after it’s all said and done.

I actually think Chelimo has the best shot at taking home this win. She was 5th at the NCAA XC Championships this past fall and just ran 9:41 for 3000 meters last weekend. She’s run 16:59 for the 5k before, and like Etelamaki, she has set personal bests in both the mile (5:03) and the 3000 (9:41) prior to this weekend. She’ll move to the front with everyone else and I think some of that cross country experience will pay off in one of the biggest meets of the season.

Grace: I think Meija and Kenny will run qualifying marks this weekend. It seems to be the perfect race to do so and their 3k times show their capability to do so. Etelamaki has been on a roll and I think she’ll have a solid performance this weekend. I’m going to make a hot take and say that Meija wins, followed by Etelamaki, Chelimo, and Goen. While Chelimo has the most success at championship events, she tends to run pretty conservatively during the season. While I think she is fully capable of winning, I don’t think she will. I don’t think this race will be quite as exciting as the 3k, but I think it will still be a fun one to watch with Meija and Kenny chasing qualifying times.

Eric: I think the duo of Mejia and Chelimo will run between 16:35 and 16:50. Kenny runs between 16:45 and 16:55. The duo of Coen and Etelamaki will dip just under 17 minutes. On paper, this race does not jump off of the page, but that doesn’t mean that it will not be exciting as Mejia and Chelimo try to achieve D2 qualifying marks. Mejia wins and brings more momentum back to California.

The return of Enael Woldemichael is this week's exciting news. He is entered to run in the 5000 meters along with Austin Nolan, Anthony Raftis, Yannick Duppich, Wesley Kirui, and Jason Weitzel. Woldemichael owns a PR of 13:54, but hasn’t raced since December of 2018. Do you think he’ll be fit enough to win the race?

Quenten: Truthfully, with that much time off, I just don’t see him capturing the win. With that being said, I see this as a rust-buster type race. He’ll run decent, but I think it’s going to take a little bit more time for him to get used to racing again.

John: I don’t fully disagree with Quenten. Woldemichael has some good opponents here who are all looking to run faster than they already have this season. It’s unclear how good of shape Woldemichael is in, but I certainly think that Nolan, Duppich and Raftis are in shape to run sub-14:10. Add in the defending steeplechase champion with Wesley Kirui and this race has become extremely star-studded.

The boys from Saginaw Valley State (Dayton Brown, Ryan Talbott, Nate Frasier and CarLee Stimpfel) are all entered in this race as well.

Jason Weitzel is the name that intrigues me the most though. He’s ranked at #20 on the NCAA leaderboard heading into the weekend and clearly wants to make Nationals in both the 3000 meters and 5000 meters. This sounds silly, but all of these athletes are going to have to do some kind of work in order to run a national qualifying time as Raftis is the only one that is inside the top 18 at the moment.

Eric: Woldemichael is a huge question mark for me as his lack of racing does not allow me to gauge what kind of shape he is in. Based on that, I’m going to pick Raftis as the guys chase after that 14:03 D2 auto-qualifying time. I do think that Duppich and Weitzel are coming in with something to prove after running 8:11 and 8:15 (converted) over 3000 meters at Camel City last weekend.

Grace: I think this race will simply be a rust-buster for Woldemichael, but I’m excited that he is back. I think Nolan, Duppich, Raftis, and Weitzel will take the race out hard, but also smart in order to secure a qualifying time. I think it’ll be a solid race with Raftis taking home the win.