Pen On Paper: D1 Edition

Plenty has happened around the NCAA over the past 10 days and there is so much to discuss. However, there isn't one particular subject that warrants it's own five minute article. So just like last week, I'm going rogue and discussing a handful of different topics, this time surrounding Division One...

Let's start by highlighting Katrina Robinson's recent decision to leave Arkansas and return to Australia. To be honest, I'm not surprised at all. She had one outstanding cross country season as a freshman back in 2018, but has been unable to toe the line for a collegiate race since the 2018 NCAA XC Championships. This winter will be her fourth consecutive missed season.

It's entirely fair for Robinson to essentially hit the "reset" button after being unable to successfully rehab from her injuries which resulted in 10 MRI's as of late December. However, this does leave the Razorbacks a bit depleted for next fall. Taylor Werner, Katie Izzo, Devin Clark, Carina Viljoen and Maddy Reed have used up all of their cross country eligibility, so the defending champions are in a bit of a pickle in terms of returning scorers.

Don't get me wrong, Arkansas will still hold their own next fall. Lauren Gregory (when she's at 100%) is an All-American caliber runner and a clear low-stick. Abby Gray proved to a promising developmental piece for this roster last fall. Furman transfer Krissy Gear, who is typically known for her success on the track, has been very respectable on the grass. Then there is Taylor Ewert, currently one of the more accomplished high school distance runners in the nation, who will be coming to Arkansas seven months from now.

All in all, the women from Fayetteville will be competitive, but the loss of Robinson takes away any and all possibility of the Razorbacks having an elite low-stick entering the fall of 2020.

* * *

Let's switch over to another piece of recent news - the Sam Worley injury.

The Texas mile star announced yesterday that he fractured his tibia during a fall at the Husky Classic this past weekend. When you look at the video that he posted to his Instagram page, it becomes quite clear that Worley won't be racing any time soon. The Longhorn veteran will surely be out for the rest of this season and very likely the entirety of next spring.

I certainly don't want to take anything away from the unfortunate fall, but from an All-American and national qualifying standpoint, this is a notable development. Worley was very likely going to run something under four minutes for the mile this winter and (probably) punch his ticket to Nationals in the process. However, with him no longer part of that national qualifying equation, life for guys like Kasey Knevelbaard and Mick Stanovsek (who are not yet qualified for NCAA's in the mile) gets a little bit easier.

Heck, let's talk about Stanovsek while we're here.

We've always labelled him as a miler (and rightfully so), but he just ran 1:48.82 at the Husky Classic this past weekend which currently places him at NCAA #14 for 800 meters. Could the Washington veteran double down on the 800 meters and try to qualify for Nationals in that event instead? In theory, it's very possible.

Currently, Stanovsek's current season best in the mile is 3:59.58 (NCAA #27). Even with scratches, he will absolutely need to improve upon that time if he wants to make it to NCAA's. However, this isn't Stanovsek's first time cutting it close with a late-season NCAA qualifier. He did the same thing last year before running a 3:58 mile at Washington's Last Chance meet which was held a week prior to the MPSF Championships. He could do the same thing this weekend.

The only problem? His DMR.

Washington is entered in the distance medley relay at the JDL DMR Invitational this weekend. Would Stanovsek be a part of that relay? If they're running a full "A" lineup, then he would very easily be one of those distance legs, but honestly, they may not need him.

If the Huskies have guys like Sam Tanner, Dustin Nading and Sam Ritz entered, then maybe Stanovsek can pursue individual glory at the Last Chance meet on Washington's home track while they earn a national qualifying time.

Between DMR responsibilities, growing depth in the mile, and an established 800 meter time that already has him in qualifying position for Nationals, maybe Stanovsek should shift his focus to the half-mile distance. There will surely be more scratches in the mile than there will be in the 800, but if Stanovsek improves his 800 meter season best by just a few tenths of a second, then he will be a near-guarantee for Nationals.

But that leaves us with a different question. Should Stanovsek be more concerned about qualifying for Nationals? Or more concerned with this best chance at becoming an All-American?

If it's the latter, then the mile will still be his best bet.

* * *

Speaking of ignoring the mile, let's talk about the women in that event this season. It's entirely realistic that we see the top five seeds of this year's mile field (Jones, Orton, Kelati, Rivers, Heymach) scratch from the event at Nationals. In addition to those five, other women like Donaghu, Ejore, Izzo, Viljoen and Lawson could all very easily scratch out of the mile this year.

Do we think they all will? No, not necessarily, but you could make the argument that most of these women are better equipped for other events. In fact, I would make the argument that Heymach is the only one who is clearly better suited for the mile than her alternative event (the 800 meters).

Regardless, we could be looking at a scenario similar to last year where Utah's Sarah Feeny was ranked at NCAA #25 in the mile, but still qualified for the National Championships.

Finally, I want to wrap up with the 3000 meters.

The men's 3k has been exceptional this year with a mind-boggling total of 12 athletes running under 7:50 for the distance this season. To put it simply, you are witnessing history.

But that's not what I want to talk about.

Instead, I want to talk about the women's 3000 meters which is far SLOWER than I expected it to be at this point in the season. If you take a look at the 2019 indoor track season, you'll see that a total of 32 women ran under 9:10. However, this year's depth is lacking in comparison. So far this season, with just a few weeks to go until the National Championships, only 16 women have run under 9:10.

Now, admittedly, it's important that we don't jump the gun on this. 10 of the 32 sub-9:10's from last winter were run at conference championships, so there's still time for depth in this event to matriculate.

Yet, even when I look at the Mountain West conference this year, I still see a significant dip in depth. Outside of Kelati, the New Mexico women have been relatively quiet these past few months and the Boise State women lost nearly all of their firepower from last year. As for the MPSF Championships, the women who ran under 9:10 at that meet in 2019 have either already run under the mark, not raced this season, are injured, or have graduated.

Who knows? Maybe this is just a down year for the women's 3000 meters...