We're at a weird point in our site's life cycle where we have essentially talked about everything we can about national title favorites and which events we expect certain athletes to run at Nationals...well, at least for Division One.
I haven't written about Division Two in quite some time and I feel like there is plenty to discuss. So for today, I'm just going rogue and typing out a few thoughts.
Let's see how many of these lukewarm takes stick...
My Internal Conflict With The Women's Mile
I actually want to start by talking about the D2 women who have been throwing down some pretty crazy-fast marks. I know Stephanie Cotter is the national title favorite (and rightfully so), but gosh, this year's mile field looks ridiculously deep. Allie Ludge just ran a 4:39 mile this past weekend with Berenice Cleyet-Merle was close behind in a time of 4:40.
In total, seven women have run under 4:50 so far this season and we still have a month left to go. During the entirety of the 2019 season, nine women broke that mark. With Cotter expected to make her season debut at the Husky Classic, and a handful of other big regular season meets taking place this weekend, it's very likely that we will eclipse that total of nine sub-4:50's after Friday and Saturday.
The depth, however, isn't what should concern Cotter (or any of us) regarding her national title chances. Instead, it's the tremendous consistency - and more importantly the progression - from women like Cleyet-Merle, Ludge, and Addy Townsend that have really caught my attention.
We can look at Cotter's times and be impressed, but the real reason why she is so great is because of her outstanding race tactics. However, this year's mile field has a lethal mix of speed and momentum which could prove to be a very dangerous come March.
Trying To Find Clarity In The Madness We Call 5000 Meters
Alright, let's switch topics. I want to chat about the men's 5k.
All things considered, my initial thoughts would be that Christian Noble is the national title favorite for the event, but I don't really feel super comfortable saying that. Marcelo Laguera looks so dang strong right now and it's hard to ignore Ezra Mutai and Gidieon Kimutai as well. I like Noble's resume this season when it comes to consistency and range, but Laguera has rarely slipped up on the national stage and we all saw what happened in the fall with Mutai.
When it comes to NCAA's, I would imagine that the athlete with the best tactics and finishing speed will end up being the winner. Who that will be? I honestly have no clue.
When I look at the current NCAA leader board for the 5000 meters, I'm not sure I see anyone who really has the wheels to separate themselves late in a race like this. Winders has respectable middle distance speed and Laguera earned a strong altitude-converted mile from earlier in the season, but I'm not exactly convinced that this will come down to the final straightaway.
Instead, I see this being a straight-up battle of endurance. The race at Nationals may not be initially super fast, but I think most of these athletes are strength-based which will result in a gradual increase of pace.
We're still a month away from that, but it's fun to start thinking about it.
Maybe I'm Dumb, But...
A lot of my writers seem convinced that Ida Narbuvoll is essentially a lock to win the national in the 5000 meters one month from now. Are we sure about that?
She has the fastest time in the country right now with a 16:14, but that was from December fresh off of a cross country season where she dominated leading into Nationals. Since then, Narbuvoll has been impressive, but what if the race at NCAA's turns tactical?
Don't get me wrong, this isn't a jab at the U-Mary senior. Narbuvoll's flat-track converted mile time of 4:45 from this past weekend was super encouraging and it showed us some middle distance speed that we didn't know she had. However, this is someone who is almost always the aggressor when it comes to pacing. Will that same strategy work on the national stage?
I actually think it could, but it still leaves her vulnerable if she isn't able to distance herself enough from what is turning out to be a very deep field.
Who knows, I'm just spit-balling at this point.
On paper, Narbuvoll is the clear favorite, but something about Lauren Bailey (Indianapolis), Jennifer Comastri (Southern Indiana), and the Grand Valley State women tells me that Narbuvoll will have some very legitimate challengers.
Woldemichael Is Back, But Maybe Not 8 Months From Now?
We had received reports back in the middle of January suggesting that Enael Woldemichael would be returning to Grand Valley State this semester. Sure enough, he's in the entries for the GVSU Big Meet this week.
It will be fascinating to see what ends up happening with Woldemichael this winter and spring. Where is his fitness at? Can he suddenly enter the national qualifying conversation?? The All-American conversation??? Maybe even the national title conversation?????????
That may be a bit of a stretch, but frankly, I'm more interested in how his return impacts cross country. According to sources, it's still unclear whether or not Woldemichael will be available for GVSU this fall. However, if he is, then the Lakers have a team that will be considered the national title favorites. They return a heavy portion of last year's squad (including Tanner Chada), brought in 2018 NAIA XC champion Colin De Young from Cornerstone, and now have one of the best distance runners in the country from two years ago.
Western Colorado, Colorado Mines, and Adams State will be good like usual, but Grand Valley State now has a lot of firepower if Woldemichael races eight to nine months from now.
Let's Make A Bet
If Derek Holdsworth or Addy Townsend don't win the 800 meter national title this winter (assuming they actually toe the line for the race), then we'll pick one random reader who retweets this article to win a TSR t-shirt.
That's it. That's the analysis.
I Have No Idea What To Think Of The Men's Mile & You Shouldn't Either
I'm about to dive into a very tricky conversation about altitude conversions. It's not a fun conversation, but it's a necessary one.
As of right now, eight of the top 10 mile times in Division Two have been achieved through some kind of conversion. Of those eight marks, six of them have been influenced by altitude.
Personally, I think altitude conversions are generally an accurate gauge of fitness. It's not perfect and it never will be, but I don't have an issue altitude conversions improving someone's ranking. However, I don't think we can look at the current standings and pull anything definitive from them.
The varying levels of altitude, the different ways that athletes respond to competing at sea level, the need to rely on an algorithm to establish a time...I don't think it truly tells us who is better than who. When eight of the top 10 names need some kind of adjustment to the time that they actually ran, there becomes too much of a grey area in my mind to draw any clear-cut conclusions.
That, however, doesn't mean that I'm against altitude conversions...at least not for qualifying purposes. All I'm saying is that our analysis can only be so effective with this many conversions.
I Feel Obligated To Talk About The 3000 Meters
I don't really have a hot take about this race on either the men's or women's side. I think it's going to be a very tight race on both sides and I feel like there are numerous athletes could realistically walk away with the national title...that's it.