Updated: Apr 10, 2019
Jessica Hull is currently on course to make history.
She has yet to lose a race on the track in 2019 during a campaign that has resulted in national titles for the DMR and the 3000. Adding to that, Hull is coming off of the best cross country season of her career, placing 3rd at the Cross Country National Championships and never placing lower than that mark in any race that fall. When we rewind back to 2018, you'll find that she also won the 1500 meter national title outdoors and was the DMR national champion the season prior. That's four titles in a 365 day span (roughly speaking).
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Every few years, there seems to be one woman who rises above the rest of the NCAA. In 2016, Karissa Schweizer burst onto the scene when she won the XC national title and never looked back after that. She racked up six national titles over those two years, including two titles at the 5000 meter distance.
Before Schweizer, Dominique Scott of Arkansas was the queen of the distance events. During her senior outdoor season, she won both the 5000 and 10,000 on the track, losing only one race all season. Before her, it was Emily Sisson, now one of the fastest American women ever in numerous distances. And before Sisson? It was Marielle Hall, a multiple-time Olympian of the Bowerman Track Club. Prior to that? 2016 Olympian Abbey D’Agostino was winning every distance at NCAA's, claiming four national titles on the track over two years.
All of these women hit an all-time elite status at one point or another in their college careers.
And the main thing that made them so great?
They rarely ever lost.
*Losses do not include regional races, prelim races, or finishing behind professional runners*
The table above shows all of the previous NCAA outdoor 5000 meter champions dating back to 2012. Over those seven years, only three times did a woman win the outdoor 5000 meter title while also losing at least one race during that season. Karissa Schweizer accounts for two of those three instances, although one of her two losses in 2018 was during the 10,000 meter final at NCAA's.
Arkansas' Dom Scott also pulled off the feat in 2016. Neither Schweizer nor Scott lost at the 5000 distance during those seasons - all of their losses came at 1500 meters.
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With the way her redshirt junior season is going, Hull looks to be on pace to make history. Only one woman, Sheila Reid of Villanova in 2011, has won a national title in both the 1500 and 5000 since 2000. Last season, Hull won the 1500 title and this year she looks like an early-season favorite to win the 5000, even if she's only raced the event once this calendar year.
While there is no guarantee that Hull will opt to run the 5000 over the 1500 this season, there are a handful of reasons as to why it would be the smarter choice...the first being Dani Jones.
The Colorado superstar has been one of the best 1500 runners in the NCAA over the past couple of years and she is expected to return to the outdoor oval this spring. After redshirting the 2018 outdoor track season, Jones ended up running faster than any woman in the country at the collegiate level. If Hull chooses to defend her national title in the 1500, she risks facing Jones in what would likely be a tougher battle for NCAA gold.
Another point worth mentioning is that the 1500 requires making it through prelim rounds which can be quite unpredictable and adds another element of risk for Hull. In the grand scheme of things, is that a big deal? No, but we've seen crazier things happen before...
The second, and possibly more important reason, that Hull should choose to run the 5000 meters at Nationals is that the event favors her racing style and strengths. Although Wisconsin's Alicia Monson ran a fantastic race indoors to claim the national title in the 5k, Hull has much quicker closing speed than Monson which greatly benefits her in a championship style race. In fact, Hull has a faster mile personal best than any other woman vying for the national title in the 5000 meters which should gives her an edge over anyone in a tactical race.
The Oregon phenom has already won the only 5000 meter race of her 2019 outdoor season with a convincing victory at the Stanford Invitational in 15:34 over BYU star Erica Birk. The time is a personal best, but Hull still displayed impressive poise and comfort before she pulled away over the last lap. Even if the pace at Nationals is moderately quick, Hull could very easily be in the top group with a lap to go.
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Hull is arguably the best runner in the NCAA right now. In the eyes of many, she could realistically win the 1500 or 5000 meter titles come June. The last time the Oregon veteran lost a race on the track was May 13th, 2018 when she placed 6th in the 5000 at PAC 12's. It was also the same meet where she won the prelims and finals of the 1500 meters...no one said doubling was easy.
In total, it has been a whopping 331 days since her last track loss and it would not be surprising if she carried that streak into the summer.
This season, Hull will have a chance to cement her name as one of the all-time NCAA greats. If she wins a national title at 5000 meters, she will join the aforementioned Sheila Reid as the only women since 2000 to win titles in both the 1500 and 5000. If she makes it through outdoors without a loss, she will join Olympian Abbey D’Agostino (2013) in remaining undefeated during consecutive indoor and outdoor seasons.
Hull has the makings of a collegiate legend and in 2019, we could see her reach the pinnacle of what has already been an awe-inspiring career.