Men: Sam Ivanecky
Women: Sean Collins
The first big meet of the conference weekend will kick off tomorrow when the New Mexico Lobos host the Mountain West Conference Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The town sits at approximately 5300 feet which means altitude conversions will be given to athletes in the distance events. While winning a conference title will certainly be a focus, there will be a handful of athletes chasing national qualifying marks in their last chance before NCAAs. Below we break down the men and women to watch at the Mountain West Championships.
Unless someone has a spectacular day, the 800 will likely come down to a duel between New Mexico teammates Michael Wilson and Kristian Hansen. The pair are the top seeds in the event and both have personal bests over a second faster than the #3 athlete in the conference. As they sit right now, Wilson and Hansen are #23 and #26 in the NCAA rankings, but roughly a full second back of a qualifying time. Both have run in the low 1:49's (altitude conversions), but will again be racing at altitude in a championship setting which greatly reduces their odds of grabbing a qualifying mark (depending on who you ask).
The one scenario where they may have a chance is if a fellow teammate was to rabbit them through 400, but that would require Wilson and Hansen, and their teammate, to all qualify for the finals. With the duo sitting 1-2, they should not be in the same preliminary heat, so a qualifier would have to be run in the finals. Regardless of how they approach the race, one of the two Lobos should come away with the win this weekend.
The mile looks like it will be a race for the title given none of the athletes are remotely close to a qualifying mark. Michael Mooney of Colorado State comes in as the number one seed after running a 4:05 (@) at the Colorado Invitational. The freshman also posted an 8:08 mark in his 3000 meter debut at Husky a few weeks back and appears to be on a roll this indoor season.
Tailing him all season has been Wyoming junior Michael Downey. At the Colorado Invitational, Downey finished under a second back of Mooney and was only three seconds back when the pair battled again at Husky. Downey comes into the race with more experience and almost identical personal bests. Right now Mooney is 2-0 versus Downey on the track, but Downey will certainly be looking to flip the script when they face-off in Albuquerque this weekend.
One other man to watch is Cole Rockhold of Colorado State. Although he currently sits at #4 in the seeding, Rockhold was an absolute stud this fall before ultimately sitting out at regionals and Nationals due to an injury. His comeback tour kicked off with a 4:06 mile at Husky and he has had another two weeks to build that fitness. Given that his personal best of 3:59 is substantially faster than anyone else in the field, Rockhold is our pick to take the mile crown this weekend.
Arguably the most intriguing event this weekend will be the men’s 3000 meters. On paper, the field does not look crazy - only one athlete, Addison DeHaven of Boise State, comes in with a time under 8:00. So what makes this race anything special? As of now it appears to be set up similar to last year.
One year ago, this race was loaded up with Boise State Broncos who were looking to pace DeHaven to an NCAA qualifying mark. DeHaven was coming off an All-American season in cross country and was just outside qualifying for Indoor Nationals. Being his last opportunity of the season, the Broncos had teammates pace DeHaven for part of the race with the goal of running a time that would convert to 7:53. Ultimately, DeHaven fell off pace over the last few laps, but the effort was heroic nonetheless.
This year is looking like it may be round two. DeHaven is currently #27 in the 3000 meters and sits roughly three seconds out of the #16 spot. With four of his teammates also in the race, it would not be surprising to see DeHaven give it another go this weekend. If he ends up faltering, either Paul Roberts of Wyoming or Luke Bailey of Utah State could be vying for the title.
Similar to the mile, the 5000 looks like it will be a tactical championship race. None of the athletes are within striking distance of an NCAA mark, but the race should be great competition nonetheless. Miller Haller of Boise State and Paul Roberts of Wyoming both come into the race with seed times of 14:04. Close behind are Luke Beattie of Utah State and Riley Campbell of Boise State at 14:08. All four men have a chance to win this race, but if we had to give our best guess we would take Roberts.
Paul Roberts had a fantastic cross country season where he led Wyoming to one of their best seasons in program history. He finished 20th at NCAA's, earning his first All-American honors at the Division 1 level. While his indoor track times don’t necessarily stand out, this is his chance to win a title in his first track season at Wyoming and we think he makes the most of it.
The top two seeds in the four-lap affair are Kristie Schoffield of Boise State and Avi’Tal
Wilson-Perteete of UNLV. Schoffield has excelled all season long and sports the NCAA #6 time of 2:04.34 as well as an impressive leg on the Boise State DMR that ran 10:56 in late January. She barely snuck into the NCAA outdoor meet last year and placed 21st. Since then, she has simply skyrocketed up the standings.
Schoffield is the clear favorite and should be very confident in her hopes to take home her first ever conference title. Wilson-Perteete has had almost the opposite story, running 2:01 last outdoor season before placing 9th at the Outdoor National Championships. The UNLV star also made the indoor national meet last year. In 2019, she only managed 2:09 at the UW Invitational and has not run another 800 since then. Do not count her out just yet though, Wilson-Perteete ran 2:09 at the UW Invitational in 2018 before dropping five seconds from that time in the Mountain West final before qualifying for NCAA's. Who knows what speed she might be hiding?
Regardless, Wilson-Perteete is the most likely to end up taking the pace in order to try to return to Nationals. With their history, expect both of those athletes to make the final and be the two competing for the top two spots. Behind them, there’s a solid set of athletes between 2:09 and 2:12 who could challenge for a podium spot.
Nyjari McNeil leads that crowd as a freshman from San Diego State with her 2:09.29 converted time from this facility. McNeil also has 54 second 400 speed which is certainly among the best in the field. If the races get super tactical, McNeil could certainly be one of the beneficiaries. She must also be very confident in her 800 potential as she has opted to skip the 400 where she would have been the top seed.
Allie Ostrander gets the nod as the favorite in this race because she’s Allie Ostrander and
it’s tough to pick against her in any race. More importantly though, Ostrander lucked into a much easier preliminary heat in which she is the only athlete with a 2018/2019 time under 4:47.
Ostrander could clearly be the favorite regardless with her 4:35 clocking that places her at
NCAA #17. This will not be an Ostrander fan article though, because she will still likely be tired
from a DMR on Thursday night, a Friday mile heat, and will be looking ahead to the 3k final two hours after the mile final. Ostrander should be the favorite, but competition will be fierce and the mile has not been as strong for Allie O as compared to the 3k.
In the other preliminary heat, there are four women who have run 4:41 or faster with only three
automatically advancing to the final. There will be four time qualifiers. While that heat should be able to know exactly what time they need to run to qualify is, the strength of this heat will still string them out a little more than they would ideally have. Weini Kelati of New Mexico holds the top time in this heat which is the #4 best NCAA time at 4:33.34 and should be able to control any race she is dropped into. Kelati and Ostrander are probably the most versatile NCAA runners right now, with each in qualifying position at all three longer distance events. Kelati has the edge on Ostrander in each event and has the superior sprint speed, although Ostrander has improved in that area.
Also in the second prelim heat are Alexis Fuller of Boise State, Cierra Simmons of Utah State, and Kieran Casey of New Mexico. Fuller has run 4:36 over the mile and has a 2:05.93 over 800 meters which could make her a borderline qualifier in the 800 if she does not improve her time in the mile this weekend. Fuller probably has the best kick in the field and could surprise if everyone continues to look ahead to the 3k, a race that all five athletes listed here are entered in.
Simmons has run 4:39 on conversion and continues to make herself a factor in any race she’s in. Simmons will not want to push the pace and will need an extraordinary effort to hold onto Fuller, Ostrander, and Kelati in the final. Casey of New Mexico also has 2:09 800 meter speed and should be able to hold on to a kick if things go super tactically. Otherwise, Casey will have to go head-to-head with Simmons for a top five mark.
This could easily be the race of the weekend across the entire NCAA. There are 50
athletes spread across two heats with the seeded heat absolutely stacked. Kelati and Ostrander will return from the mile with their sub-nine minute times. Additionally, Ednah Kurgat steps on the track for the first time since February 8th when she also broke 9:00. These three also set some of the fastest 5k times in NCAA history at the BU meet in December. This will be the first time that all three will face each other since then.
As of right now, this Mountain West trio are NCAA #3 (Kelati), #4 (Ostrander), and #8 (Kurgat) in this event. This race also features NCAA #18 Hannah Nuttall and #20 Adva Cohen, both of New Mexico, who proved to be important scorers during the cross country season and have both impressed even more since then.
Emily Venters of Boise State also sits in the Top 25 with her 9:08.66 and has shown impressive strength over the longer distances. Also entered are the NCAA #6 and #7 at the 5k's runners Charlotte Prouse and Jaci Smith. Prouse of New Mexico has not raced at all since that BU meet in December so it will be tough to guess what fitness she has in this race. She should definitely be looking to show that she has what it takes to earn a medal at NCAA's, but will probably not run fast enough to qualify for a second event here.
Jaci Smith of Air Force has "only" run 9:14.90 in her one 3k this season, but has a 15:28 for the 5k at BU. Smith earned All-American status in XC with a 27th place finish and followed that up with an 8th place finish in the 10k during outdoors. Smith has not excelled quite as much at the shorter distances, but this is her only individual event of the championship. She will want to make it worth it, either with a win or a trip to NCAA's.
With the New Mexico crew not doubling back for this event (except Kelati), they should try to take the pace here. New Mexico will have run their first DMR of the season two nights before and will know whether they can bring athletes to the championship through that effort by the time the 3k is run. The Lobos will also be fighting for any remaining points in the team race at this point and will be trying to help Nuttall, Prouse, and Cohen to fast times. While normally this race shouldn’t be taken out quickly, all signs point to this race being fast from the gun. If you can find a way to watch this one, you definitely should.
The Mountain West 5k is much weaker compared to the 3k. The 3k was the better NCAA qualifying event for this weekend with so many 5k athletes already in qualifying position.
Leading the charge by PR is Emily Martin of New Mexico who ran 16:04 back at that BU meet. She also ran 16:25 at the Husky Classic so her eye is certainly on the 5k. Maria Mettler of Air Force ran 16:14 at the Husky Classic as well (where she beat Martin). This probably makes the Air Force cadet the favorite heading into the race.
Yukino Parle of Boise State, Sophie Eckel of New Mexico, and Alyssa Snyder of Utah State could also play a factor as they race the 5k for the first time all year.
Boise State enters with a seed time 40 seconds faster than the #2 team (Utah State) thanks to their 10:56 from the UW Invitational. That team had distance legs of Fuller, Schoffield, and Ostrander and should be the one of the favorites for the NCAA title. Keep in mind that Boise State also managed to win this event at the 2018 conference championships over a New Mexico team that was anchored by Ednah Kurgat.
With Kurgat not entered in the 5k, and the DMR scheduled as the only distance event on Thursday, Kurgat could team up with Kieran Casey, Adva Cohen, Charlotte Prouse, Hannah Nuttall, or a whole host of other runners. Kurgat, Prouse, and Kelati, would all likely skip the DMR at NCAA's, but you can substitute two runners from your qualifying team at the national meet, so this could be a chance for New Mexico to earn an extra birth to Nationals and possibly contend for the NCAA title if they want to.
Other than Boise State and New Mexico, no teams should be considered to run close to 11:10.