The Stride Report is ready to go for a weekend that will surely generate a handful of exciting results, specifically in the DMR. It's that time of the year where teams flock to either Winston Salem or South Bend to drop a national qualifying time in the distance medley relay. Let's break down each of the men's and women's races that we'll see at the JDL Fast Track facility this weekend.
Side Note: There are a few notable entries in the open events. However, to keep this article from getting excessively long, we opted to focus on only the DMR.
Men's Distance Medley Relay
Note: The Ole Miss men will not be attending due to illness. Penn State is expected to be their replacement in the entries.
In the men's invite section, we have a handful of teams that will be gunning for the top ranks of the NCAA. Let's start with the Washington men who will be bringing a loaded relay to North Carolina this weekend. They are one of the deepest groups in the nation when it comes to the mile - a feature of their roster which should bode well for them in this event.
Mick Stanovsek, who we believe is traveling with the team, will likely put his individual goals aside for the weekend to anchor a national qualifying relay. There is, however, a very slim possibility that he'll be staying home to race at Washington's Last Chance meet in an effort to earn a national qualifying time in the mile. That scenario is highly unlikely, but the Huskies could still thrive without him.
Regardless, Washington's mix of elite milers (Nading, Tanner, Stanvosek, Ritz) plus a few underrated 800 meter talents (Elliott Cass, Daniel Maton, Devan Kirk) makes this group one of the more well-rounded relays in the country.
However, if there was any relay that was just as well-rounded as Washington, it would be Virginia Tech.
The Hokies have one of the more underrated groups of middle distance runners in the nation. Diego Zarate is an established, consistent and sometimes overlooked miler who has a flat-track converted 3:58 mile this indoor season (which was run on this same track). Then there is teammate Bashir Mosavel-Lo, the always reliable 800 meter specialist who was the ACC champion in said event last spring.
After those two is where things get tricky.
There a slew of other men who could step into that 1200 meter leg for Virginia Tech, the most likely being either Jack Joyce, Antonio Lopez Segura, or Ben Fleming. Lopez Segura has a mile PR of 4:03 from earlier this season while Fleming has run 4:04.
But if the VT coaching staff thinks that the 1000 meters is a better representation of what the lead-off leg could look like, they may want to employ senior Jack Joyce who ran 2:22 for 1000 meters earlier this season en route to an upset win over Zarate and Mosavel-Lo.
There are a lot of options for Virginia Tech, but will they choose the right lineup combo?
Let's talk about Georgetown and Arkansas. Both teams will likely employ similar relays to what they had last year. It is extremely probable that the Razorbacks field a relay that has Gilbert Boit on the lead-off leg with Kieran Taylor (800) and Cameron Griffith (mile) replicating last year's relay order. It's not a title-winning lineup, but it will surely keep Arkansas in contention to earn another berth to Nationals.
Then there is Georgetown.
The Hoyas may not have the same flashy firepower of the teams that we have mentioned so far, but they have a history of producing surprisingly strong distance medley relays. Spencer Brown is an easy fit for this relay given that he leads his team this season when it comes to the mile (4:01 season best) and owns a personal best of 3:39 for 1500 meters.
However, after that, things get complicated. Nicholas Wareham was the reliable anchor who split under four minutes at the National Championships last year to give Georgetown a huge 3rd place finish. Will his previous heroics make up for the fact that teammates Maazin Ahmed and Tristan Forsythe have run faster mile times this season?
BYU is a difficult relay to figure out. Talem Franco will likely be a home run hitter on the anchor leg given his recent 3:58 mile PR, but will Matt Owens' 4:01 mile PR from earlier this winter translate effectively to a distance like the 1200 meters? Or will BYU opt to put Franco on the opening leg and Owens on the anchor? Will Michael Bluth's 800 meter PR of 1:50 be enough to keep this relay in contention?
Truthfully, I don't have the answers to any of these questions.
Let's wrap up the men's portion with North Carolina, Virginia and Penn State.
Admittedly, the Tar Heels' seed time of 9:34 seems ambitious, but it's not totally out of reach with established middle distance runners like Alex Milligan (4:03 PR) and Brandon Tubby (4:05 PR) on their roster. However, those guys are stronger tactically than they are in all-out efforts. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but when you're racing for time in a meet like this, I'm not sure who is going to be splitting under four minutes on the mile leg.
Sophomore Jesse Hunt actually has the top mile time on the North Carolina team this season with a personal best of 4:03. That, however, doesn't solve the riddle of who will run on the 800 meter leg. Their fastest performance in that event this season was a 1:56.
Switching to Virginia, they have a little bit more firepower on their anchor leg thanks to AJ Ernst's recent 3:59 mile PR from Boston. However, much like UNC, there are questions as to who will be their 800 meter leg and who will lead-off for the team. Randy Neish may be an option and Matthew Novak has had a consistent presence in the middle distance events this season. Could Ari Klau's recent PR of 7:51 for 3000 meters be enough of an incentive to place him on this relay? My guess is yes.
Finally, we have Penn State. Much like Georgetown, the Nittany Lions have a great history of success in this event. However, this year's roster doesn't seem to have the same middle distance firepower that we're used to seeing, especially with Domenic Perretta redshirting this season. Even so, there are a few respectable pieces.
Billy McDevitt is the clear veteran leader of this team, running 1:49 (800), 2:25 (1000) and 4:03 (mile) this winter. Of course, McDevitt can't run every leg of this relay. Instead, it will likely be McDevitt on the 1200 meter leg with Drew Maher (4:04 mile PR) running on the anchor leg (or vice versa). Gary Ross will likely be the 800 specialist with his season best of 1:50.
Individually, Penn State doesn't have the same firepower that Washington or Virginia Tech do. Still, this is a well-rounded relay that could surprise a few people if they all run their best on the same day.
Women's Distance Medley Relay
The women's race holds less entries than the men's race, but that won't make this DMR battle any less exciting.
Let's just get this out of the way. The Virginia Tech women will be the overwhelming favorites in this race and if anyone beats them it will be considered an upset. When you consider that they already ran on this track earlier this season, it's hard to not like them winning this entire race.
The star of this lineup is Sarah Edwards who has run 2:44 for 1000 meters and a flat-track converted 4:34.28 mile (which was run in this same facility). She has the explosive speed to fend off anyone in a race that comes down to a kick, but also has enough pure fitness to simply outrun any other anchor in this field.
The trio of Sara Freix, Lauren Barton and freshman Lindsey Butler will leave the Virginia Tech coaching staff with a very tough decision. Freix has run 2:49 for 1000 meters and 4:42 for the mile this season. Barton has run 2:07 for 800 meters and 4:39 for the mile. Butler has run 2:07 for 800 meters and 4:47 for the mile.
Will Freix's experience and consistency be enough to get her on the lead-off leg? If it is, then Barton will be running in the 800 meters. However, if Barton is moved up to the 1200 meter leg, then that likely means that Butler will be placed on the 800 meter leg instead.
This whole relay is a weird jigsaw puzzle that likely has more than one right answer.
Let's transition to ACC rival Wake Forest, a team that has flown under the radar this season, but seems to be pretty well-suited for an event like the distance medley.
Truthfully, the Deacons don't have the same firepower that Virginia Tech does at any of the three distance legs. Still, Johanna Shulz has a 4:41 mile PR and has been consistently improving this winter. With sophomore Amy Harding-Delooze running 2:51 for 1000 meters and freshman Aleeya Hutchins running 2:08 for 800 meters, you can't help but notice that the Wake Forest women have a respectable, well-rounded group.
However, the youth and inexperience of Harding-Delooze and Hutchins could be a liability in a high-pressure race like this. Of course, given their talent, the risk is plenty worth the reward.
Let's stay in the state of North Carolina and chat about North Carolina State. The NC State women have four women who have run 4:46 or faster in the mile this season.
Savannah Shaw (4:42 PR)
Nevada Mareno (4:42 PR)
Dominque Clairmonte (4:38 PR, 4:43 SB)
Kelsey Chmiel (4:44 PR, 4:46 SB)
Having extensive depth in the mile is a great luxury to have for a team pursuing a national qualifying time in the distance medley relay, but there are still a few cautionary aspects to keep in mind with this squad.
The team doesn't have an established 800 meter runner this season and they don't have a standout star like Sarah Edwards who can make up significant ground on the anchor leg. It's still unclear as to who will be on this relay (or in what order they will be in), but the Wolfpack women will find a way to stay competitive.
Let's chat about Duke. They are very similar to Wake Forest in how their relay will be / could be structured. Michaela Reinhart has been quietly putting together a very strong indoor track season over the past few months, running 4:43 (mile) and 9:18 (3k). Meanwhile, teammate Brittany Aveni has run 2:09 for 800 meters this season and freshman Samantha Schadler has run 2:57 for 1000 meters.
Individually, this isn't the most explosive relay in the field. However, if they all run well and someone has a breakout race, then the Duke women could be one of those surprise relays that come out of nowhere (which we see each and every year).
Let's step away from the ACC and talk about Utah.
When you think about the Utes, your immediate reaction may be to think about Sarah Feeny, the 4:36 All-American miler who is clearly the ace of this squad. However, Feeny has yet to contest the mile this season, competing only twice (once in the 3000 meters, once in the DMR). Of course, it seems pretty safe to say that she will be anchoring this relay given her accolades and experience.
Outside of Feeny, the relay combinations for Utah become difficult to gauge. Sarah Newton has run 4:42 for the mile this season while Brooke Manson and Caitie Faust have run 2:07 and 2:08, respectively.
Does the Utah coaching staff think Newton is the best fit for the lead-off role? If so, then Manson will probably fill in that half-mile spot. But what if the coaching staff decides to move Manson or Faust to the 1200 meter leg instead? Does that mean Newton is off the relay? Or maybe the Utes get experimental and place Feeny on the lead-off leg, resulting in Newton on the anchor.
I don't know. I'm just rambling now, but you can see how why these things are so difficult to figure out.
Last but not least, let's chat about the Temple women. They may be the one team that could realistically challenge the Virginia Tech women for the win this weekend.
Yes, the Temple Owls.
No, that's not a typo.
Coming all the way from Philadelphia, Coach Snyder's group has a very good chance at potentially earning a national qualifying time in the DMR.
The group will be anchored by Millie Howard, a consistent top talent who has elevated her fitness past being just a great tactical miler. So far this season, she has run 4:36 for the mile and 2:08 for 800 meters (but owns a PR of 2:07). If Howard can get the baton close to the leader on the final leg, then Temple could be in the mix to pull off an upset.
And the 800 leg? That won't be an issue for the Owls. Alanna Lally has run 2:06 this season while teammate Helene Holm Gottlieb has run 2:07.98.
Between the mile and 800 meters, Temple is in a good position to make some noise. The only problem is...who will be their lead-off leg? Could it be Mikaela Vlasic who has run 2:57 for 1000 meters this season? Could Alanna Lally move up to the 1200 meters and have Holm Gottlieb fill in at 800 meters?
It will be yet another tough coaching decision, but the right relay combo could result in a surprisingly positive performance.