Pen On Paper

I'll be honest, we don't have a ton of new article ideas this week. Many of the nation's top talents haven't debuted yet and if they have, we've already exhausted most of their respective talking points. That said, we have a ton of rankings on the way, some cool D2 content in the works, and we are awaiting the heat sheets for Bryan Clay.

In other words, we are in a "content purgatory" of sorts.

So for today, I'm just going rogue and having some fun with this (I'm the admin, I can do that).

Let's start our discussion with the steeplechase, an event that is surrounded with questions. Outside of the BYU men, we haven't seen any of the established title contenders from last year make their steeplechase debuts yet. In fact, both Allie Ostrander and Charlotte Prouse, the two overwhelming titles favorites on the women's side, aren't even entered in this event for Bryan Clay.

Why? I have no idea.

That said, this has given us some time to appreciate a variety of new names who have posted some fast results. Just take a look at the men's NCAA leaderboard. Indiana's Daniel Michalski had a breakout performance at the Stanford Invite to upset Shumway and Owens while Oklahoma State sophomore Ryan Smeeton established himself as a true ace for the Cowboys by running a very strong time of 8:41.

And how about this past weekend? Was anyone expecting Harvard's Will Battershill to solo an 8:49? The answer is no, mainly because you had probably never heard of him prior to this weekend (don't worry, I didn't either).

As for the women, the depth doesn't seem to be as exciting, but maybe that's because breaking the 10 minute barrier catches my eye more than 10:18 does (which is the very rough equivalent of 8:50 for the men). Still, I'm excited to see someone like Brianna Ilarda at the top of the NCAA leaderboard after she was severely overlooked during the indoor season. She is exceptionally talented and brings a ton of underrated range to the table.

If you need a sleeper pick for the rest of this season, keep an eye on Wisconsin's Alissa Niggemann. She's only a sophomore, but I think she's beginning to develop some significant fitness after running 10:05 a few weeks ago. She had a key scoring role in Wisconsin's cross country lineup last fall and has a solid amount of experience for someone who is still relatively young.

* * *

Does anyone else feel like the 800 is exceptionally deep this year?

It's something we already knew during the indoor season, but it seems more pronounced on the outdoor oval, even with big names like Robert Heppenstall and Sammy Watson no longer in the national conversation. Who would have thought that by the middle of April, BYU's Lauren Ellsworth would be leading the nation with a 2:02.49? That's not a knock on her. If anything, it's a testament to her talent.

The same goes for Samantha Huerta (Cal State Fullerton) who ran 2:04 in late March. Can she be one of the surprise women to step up and battle for a podium spot this spring? It seems outrageous to say, but Danae Rivers may not be the comfortable favorite that she was during indoors even after running 2:03 at the Florida Relays.

Ok, maybe not...

On the men's side, not much is different from indoors in the grand scheme of things (many of the top names have yet to make their debut in the event). That said, we've seen a few middle distance programs suddenly step up after a relatively quiet indoor season. In an era where Penn State, Texas A&M, and Georgetown are battling for the title of "800U", it's Mississippi State and Iowa State that are dominating the headlines. In fact, between those two programs, they own the entire top five 800 times in the NCAA right now.

Obviously, we're bound to see faster times later this season (and likely this weekend), but I couldn't help pointing this out. Mississippi State has been a program that consistently produces some of the best middle distance talent in the country and for whatever reason, they never get the recognition that they deserve. Remember, before Marco Arop, the Bulldogs were responsible for developing Canadian half-mile star Brandon McBride.

* * *

Does anyone remember when Ole Miss wasn't good? I actually do, but quite frankly, it doesn't really matter because they are the most exciting and entertaining distance team in collegiate track and field right now.

There. I said it.

Youth can completely jumpstart a program. If Ole Miss isn't enough evidence, take a look at what we've seen from Notre Dame. The results are encouraging to say the least.

Waleed Suliman is a superstar who, with enough experience and poise, can win a national title one day. He just ran 3:40 this past weekend and owns personal bests of 3:39 and 1:47 on the outdoor oval. In that same race, teammate Cade Bethmann had a breakout performance, running 3:41 to beat out Casey Comber, but a result like that was expected for any fan familiar with his freshman year results. Dalton Hengst, Mario Garcia Romo, Everett Smulders, John Rivera...all of those guys are underclassmen who have shown incredible promise in a short amount of time. I'm sure they have other guys I'm not mentioning who are just waiting for their moment to shine.

The Engels/Tobin/Domanic era may have ended, but Ole Miss' dominance has not.

* * *

So, uh, where is Dani Jones?

The Colorado ace captured headlines this past fall after winning the NCAA cross country title, but then went into hibernation as she redshirted the indoor track season. However, I'm a little confused as to why we haven't seen her race yet this outdoor season. Why the delay? Why did she not make her debut at the Stanford Invite with teammate Makena Morley? Why did she not race at the Colorado Invite where nearly every Buffalo runner toed the line? Why is she not entered for Bryan Clay when her teammates are?

Jones already redshirted the 2018 outdoor track season, so the idea of preserving eligibility shouldn't come into play this spring. This leads us to one of two realistic possibilities. She is either A) injured or B) preparing for the World Championships later this summer.

Maybe she's just delaying the start of her season for whatever reason (which could very well be the case), but I feel like my two scenarios are far more captivating storylines, so let's just go with those.

Regardless, not having Dani Jones at NCAA's in June would be disappointing for so many fans who are hoping for a Jones vs Hull national title matchup. It would be a shame if the two greatest distance runners in the greatest era of women's collegiate distance running never got to face each other when they were in their primes.