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Penn Relays Preview

Who are two men and two women who capture your interest for the Penn Relays 5k/10k? Why?

Garrett: In both events, between the men and women, there are 327 entries in total...that’s a lot of names to keep track of. On the men’s side, I can’t help but think that Wisconsin’s Olin Hacker is the favorite to take home the W after a strong indoor season where he ran 7:53 and had a sub-four mile split in a DMR. He’s one of the better rising stars in the NCAA right now.

My other name to watch is Fordham’s Ryan Kutch. He has slowly progressed towards the 14 minute mark for a while now and I think this could be the race where he breaks that barrier. He’s entered in both the 5k and 10k this weekend, which means he’ll likely scratch one event in favor of the other.

Ben: For the men, I want to see what Bryce Millar from Indiana does in the 5k. My interest lies in the fact that Indiana’s cross country team is looking pretty solid for next year. Between Veatch and Mau, the Hoosiers have a potent one-two punch. If Millar can make a jump, Indiana will be that much harder to beat. He’s run a PR in the 10k this year and 14:10 in the 5k. The real question is if he can go under 14 minutes and continue his PR momentum.

In the 10k, I’m keeping an eye on Georgetown’s Jack Van Scoter. This past cross country season was a breakout one for Scoter who finished 64th at Nationals. He wasn't quite as exciting during indoors with his best performance being an 8:10 in the 3k. In his first 10k on the track, I think the Georgetown runner will find his best event and punch himself a ticket to regionals.

Michael: On the men’s side, Hofstra’s Alex Masai stands out to me in the 5k. He ran 13:53 indoors which puts him in a spot to join the elite caliber of athletes in the NCAA. This field is not overly strong, and he could have a breakout race if the pace is hot from the start. Also in the 5k is Providence’s Marcelo Rocha. The freshman ran 14:22 at the Raleigh Relays which does not exactly put him in contention to win the race, but he has a lot of talent and I think he can go a lot faster than 14:22. I may be a bit biased as I watched Rocha compete as a high schooler in Massachusetts, but he is not afraid to go after it from the gun.

Garrett: I am super amped for the 5000 meters if all of these women end up running it. I think a lot of people will be interested to see how Georgetown’s Josette Norris performs after her breakout 1500 performance last weekend where she ran 4:13 (a 10 second improvement). If she can carry her momentum from that race into Thursday night, then she may be unstoppable. Speaking of breakout performances, how about Notre Dame’s Jacqueline Gaughan? She ran 16:01 last weekend and seems to be one of the favorites in the 10k tomorrow night (despite being just a freshman).

Michael: For the women, I have to go with Josette Norris as well. Aside from her 4:13 1500m last weekend, she has run 15:46 this season as well. The Georgetown fifth year is on fire and I think she has the capability to take down this 5k field. In the 10k, I can’t pick just one. Notre Dame’s Annie Heffernan and Jacqueline Gaughan are the class of the field, with Heffernan holding a PR of 33:48 and Gaughan’s 15:52 5k. These two will likely battle it out up front to throw down a crazy time, and I’m excited to see what it is because the 10k has been rather quiet so far this year.

Ben: My first choice for the women is Abbey Wheeler of Providence. The Lady Friar owns a 15:57 PR in the 5k from Raleigh last year. This track season, she has only run twice, running 9:39 in the 3k and 4:46 in the mile. In what will be her first 5k since cross country, it will be interesting to see what type of shape she is in.

My second choice is another Georgetown Hoya: Madeline Perez. Like Wheeler, she hasn’t raced much this track season. In fact, she hasn’t run since the BIG East Indoor Championships where she ran 16:38 in the 5k. This is a big race for her to show where her fitness is at and for her to earn a spot to regionals.

Who has the best chance of upsetting Indiana’s Daniel Michalski in the steeplechase?

Ben: I’m going with Kigen Chemadi from MTSU. The Blue Raider has always been super talented, but seems to really putting it together this season. So far, he has run PR's in both the 5k and steeple, and he is coming off a win in the steeple at the Virginia Challenge where he ran 8:49. His PR is a far cry from Michalski, but I think Chemadi has the speed to stick with the Hoosier if it comes down to a kick.

Garrett: There are a lot of underrated names in this field, but the biggest threat to Michalski might be his own teammate. Joseph Murphy has a sneaky good personal best of 8:47 in the steeplechase which is complemented by his 3:42 1500 PR. He’s never run an individual event at Penn Relays before, but the senior could be a big name to watch at Franklin Field.

Michael: Christopher Torpy of Miami Ohio stands out to me as a bit of a wild card in this field. He is definitely a more middle distance focused athlete with PR's of 1:49 and 3:44, but his 8:56 steeple shows promise. He has only run the event four times and has improved each time. Michalski has run 8:35 which may be a bit out of reach, but I don’t think the race will go out that fast this weekend. If Torpy is there with a lap to go, I think his mid-distance instincts could take over. As long as he doesn’t lose form over the barriers, he could come away with a surprise win and a big PR.

Who has the best chance of upsetting Providence’s Brianna Ilarda in the steeplechase?

Ben: On the women’s side, I think NC State’s Nell Crosby has the best shot at taking down Ilarda who has had a great season so far. Ilarda has run 18 seconds faster than Crosby this year, but the transfer from Columbia ran 9:54 last year. If Crosby can get back into the form she was in during 2018, then she will push Ilarda for at least most of the race.

Garrett: I hate to have the same answer as Ben, but Nell Crosby is a pretty solid choice. She has the resume to contend with anyone in this race and her experience in the Ivy League likely has her familiar with the large turns at Franklin Field. Ilarda will be tough to take down, but Crosby has a good shot at doing just that.

Michael: She may not have the fastest PR in the field, but Cornell’s Briar Brumley is not too far off Ilarda’s mark. She holds a PR of 10:09 and is familiar with competing against Nell Crosby in the Ivy League, so she may know how to take her down as well. If Brumley can hang with Crosby, they may both have a shot at beating Ilarda.

Are we finally going to see a sub-16 4xMile? If so, by who?

Garrett: As much as I want to see a relay average sub-four for each leg, I just don’t see it happening. The 2015 4xMile battle between Oregon and Villanova had the potential to dip under the barrier, but turned far too tactical (which is what will likely happen this weekend). That said, the Wisconsin men have the potential to run under that mark if they go all-in with McDonald, Hoare, Hacker, and one other. Still, it seems improbable that the race situation will push them to hit 15:59 or faster. Georgetown and Indiana could produce something pretty quick, but half of their relay lineups likely aren’t capable of having a split under 4:00.

Ben: Like Garrett, I don’t see anyone going under 16 minutes. Wisconsin definitely has the best chance, but I think it will be a tight race with Indiana who could field Veatch, Mau, Cooper Williams and Michalski on their relay team. All of these guys can run somewhere between 3:57 and 4:03. No one will run sub 16, but I think it’ll be close.

Michael: I would love to be the optimist that says it’s going to happen, but I just don’t think this is the year. If Wisconsin stacks their relay, they could do it with Hoare (3:54 PR) and McDonald (3:55 PR) and then potentially have room to spare on their other two legs. Still, expecting these guys to even toe the line could be a stretch. The race could easily turn tactical as it has in previous years while others may simply not hit their best times. If Oregon was showing up this year, I would say that they should be able to do it without too much trouble, but they aren’t entered.

Who is the bigger favorite in the 4x1500? Villanova, Virginia Tech, Indiana, or the field?

Garrett: At first, I thought Villanova was the overwhelming favorite. Yet, the more I thought about it, I realized that Virginia Tech may have better firepower while Indiana may own better depth. The Villanova Wildcats have the luxury of driving just 10 minutes down the road to Franklin Field to toe the line for a race that they have historically dominated. However, the VT duo of Rachel Pocratsky and Sarah Edwards might be the best 1-2 punch in the field while Indiana’s lineup of Receuver, Allen, and the Harris sisters could pose as a real challenge. When all is said and done, I think I’ll take Villanova. I like experience and their lineup is filled with veterans and dynamic young talents. That’s enough for me to say that they will be the favorites.

Ben: I think Virginia Tech is the favorite. So often these relays come down to who has the best finishers. Between Pocratsky and Edwards, the Hokies have two of the best finishers in the field. As long as they can keep it close with Villanova going into the last leg (which is a big ask, I know), then I think they will win.

Michael: I have to go with Villanova for this one as well. Villanova has a rich history of success at Penn Relays and history seems to matter at meets like this. Villanova has come away with four of the last five, and the last three consecutive 4x1500m titles at Penn. Their potential lineup this year has the firepower to do it again, so I will say they get the job done. Both Virginia Tech and Indiana will be tough to take down, but when it comes down to it I think Villanova puts more emphasis on winning this meet as it is (more or less) a home competition for them.

Do these historic relay-focused meets still mean anything?

Michael: I don’t think the relay-focused meets mean nearly as much as they used to. Coaches and athletes alike simply don’t care as much about the bragging rights that come with winning these races, because that’s all that comes out of it: bragging rights. Races like the 4xmile are rarely contested anywhere else and never at national championships. Teams would rather go to meets with stronger individual fields to chase times that will get them spots at regionals or good seeds at their conference meets. I wish I had a plan to revitalize these types of meets, but the trend seems to be to move away from them. As an athlete, I have always enjoyed running on relays and I know I am not alone in that feeling. As divisive as its implementation was, the National Relay Championship hosted by Arkansas shows a potential rebirth of the relay meet on a large scale.

Ben: I really wish they would mean something because these meets were a great opportunity for the running world to see who had the best distance/middle-distance team. It was a nice snapshot of the teams that mattered in the NCAA. Now (*sigh*) I just don’t think they mean much. In an era where championships mean so much to coaches, media, and athletes, it is hard for coaches to convince themselves that going to a meet like the Penn Relays is worth a week of their time. Teams want to keep their top athletes fresh and to help the rest of their team earn regional marks. It is hard to fit a relay race into the schedule when it has no bearing on how well a team will do at Nationals.

Garrett: I’ll be honest, the distance relays just don’t mean much. Sure, the individual events can you qualify you for the regional meet, but you can find countless other meets where the open races are simply more competitive. Maybe this is a good argument to bring a DMR to the Outdoor National Championships. That said, the thrill and excitement of these legendary meets is unmatched. I’ve been lucky enough to go to Penn Relays on numerous occasions and the atmosphere is always electric. If you’re a fan of track and field, you should put this meet on your bucket list.

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