Razorback Invitational Preview

Updated: Jan 31

Written by Ben Weisel (men) + Sam Ivanecky (women)

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Ejore & Heymach Meet Again, Veterans Crowd Field

The field does not feature the same star power as some of the other events at this meet, but the two-lap tango has very solid depth which could lead to quite a few women running fast times.

The top runner in the field, and making her season debut in the event, is Susan Ejore of Oregon. The senior started her track career off as a miler, but transitioned primarily to the 800 meters last outdoor season and the switch paid off. Ejore finished 4th at the NCAA Outdoor Championships and ran a personal best of 2:02.26 in the process. She has raced once this season, clocking a 2:45 for 1000 meters at the UW Preview earlier this month, barely edging out PAC-12 rival Julia Heymach (who is also in this race). If Ejore runs well this weekend, it could determine which event she opts to focus on heading into the championship season.

Another returner from the Outdoor National Championships who is set to toe the line this weekend is Amber Tanner of Georgia. Tanner was eliminated during the preliminary rounds last spring, but did run a personal best of 2:04.6 during that season. Similar to Ejore, Tanner has yet to race an 800 this year, but threw down an impressive 1:29 for 600 meters at the Clemson Orange & Purple meet. The fastest indoor mark to her name is a 2:06.26, but that could very well be in jeopardy given her progress and consistency. She is primed for a breakout performance.

One of the younger names in the field this weekend is Katy-Ann McDonald of LSU. Only a sophomore, McDonald qualified for the NCAA Indoor Championships in 2019 and will be looking to make it two for two in 2020. She has run 2:05.11 for 800 meters, but has only raced the 400 this year. McDonald is coming off of a very solid cross country season for an 800 runner. Her improved endurance may actually be enough to keep her competitive with Ejore who has always boasted underrated stamina of her own. Maybe that will be the key towards pulling off a potential upset this weekend...

Besides the true 800 runners, the Razorback Invitational is slated to see a handful of milers stepping down in distance for some speed work. Among them are Kathryn Gillespie of Texas, fresh off of a 4:34 mile performance. The field will also feature Imogen Barrett of Florida.

Gillespie has been on a roll this season and has already run 2:08 and 4:34 - both of which have been personal bests. Barrett has primarily been a 1500 meter runner, qualifying for last year’s Outdoor National Championships, but has also run 2:05 for 800 meters and could be looking for an indoor qualifier this season. Unlike Gillespie, Barrett has yet to race this season and will be making her debut this weekend. Can she replicate that 2:05 performance on the indoor oval?

Last but not least are the Stanford duo of Julia Heymach and Jordan Oakes. It’s hard to pinpoint which event Oakes is best suited for. She has run 4:18 for 1500 meters, but was also 8th at the PAC-12 Championships during cross country this past fall. Her personal best in the 800 is only 2:12, but she will likely smash that this weekend.

As for Heymach, the Stanford junior is coming off a tight runner-up finish to Ejore in the 1000 meters at the UW Preview and will be looking to better her personal best of 2:08 for 800 meters. Heymach is closer to a true middle distance runner than Oakes and should likely be the top finisher from Stanford in this event. Another big performance from her this weekend would validate the idea that she is having a breakout season.

Mile Showdown: Arkansas vs Stanford

The classic distance will be the marquee event this weekend. Similar to the 800, the mile will see a handful of true distance runners stepping down to take a swing at running fast. Leading the way on their home track will be the Arkansas trio of Carina Viljoen, Katie Izzo and Devin Clark.

Two weeks ago, we saw Izzo and Viljoen throw down in Fayetteville, running 4:37 and 4:39, respectively. Those times currently rank #5 and #8 in Division One currently. As for Clark, she has yet to race this indoor season, but is coming off of her best cross country ever that ended with a 21st place showing at the NCAA XC Championships. All three women should run sub-4:40 this weekend and could potentially test that 4:30 barrier if everything goes perfectly.

Not to be outdone by the Razorbacks, Stanford is also bringing a strong group into this event. Jordan Oakes is currently set to double in both the 800 meters and the mile this weekend. Jessica Lawson will be competing in her second mile of the season after running a personal best of 4:37 at the UW Preview two weeks prior. She figures to be one of the top competitors in the event and could be aiming for a time that will send her to the Indoor National Championships come March. This could end up being an exciting mile preview between her and Viljoen in March.

Ella Donaghu has been on an absolute tear coming into this meet, She was 8th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships last fall and ran an NCAA leading 8:58 for 3000 meters at the UW Preview two weeks ago. What is even crazier is that coming into this year, Donaghu was known as a miler and has run 4:11 for 1500 meters. Her indoor mile personal best is only 4:43, but she could realistically drop 10+ seconds off that mark this weekend. With her in this race, the idea of time being run around 4:30 to 4:31 doesn't seem unrealistic.

Rounding out Stanford’s group will be junior Christina Aragon. After sitting out for most of this past cross country season, Aragon raced the final couple of meets for Stanford in ho-hum fashion. She has yet to look like the dominant runner we have seen in previous years, but her 9:23 3k at UW indicates that she is trending in the right direction. Normally, Aragon would be a favorite in an event like this, but under current circumstances, it’s hard to guess where she will land.

Outside of Stanford and Arkansas, a handful of true distance talents will be stepping down in distance to test their speed this weekend. Jessica Pascoe of Florida and Joyce Kimeli of Auburn are both primarily 3000 and 5000 meter runners when it comes to the indoor track, but both are entered solely in the mile this weekend. Pascoe has previously run 4:43 while Kimeli will be making her collegiate debut in the event.

Carmela Cardama-Baez of Oregon is also entered in the mile despite also focusing on the longer distances. Given that she is entered into the 3k as well, she will likely be a non-factor in the mile with her focus being on the 15-lap race.

Cardama-Baez Goes Head-to-Head With Drop Sisters

Jumping into the final individual event on the women’s side, the 3000 meters stands to be a three way battle between Cardama-Baez and the Drop twins of Georgia. The overall field in this event is not particularly strong as most runners have opted for the mile or the 800 meters, but the trio above could provide an excellent race and potentially take a swing at the 9:00 barrier.

After sitting out due to exhausted eligibility during cross country, Cardama-Baez returned to the NCAA scene by setting a new personal best of 15:25 in the 5000 meters at the BU Season Opener (an Oregon school record). She has not raced since then, but has run 9:09 for 3000 meters and should be very capable of bettering that this weekend if her first meet was any indication of her fitness.

As for the Drop twins, Samantha and Jessica are coming off of great cross country seasons. Jessica finished as the last All-American at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in 2019, crossing the line in 40th place. Only five places back was Samantha, coming in 45th place.

Jessica has run 9:11 for 3000 meters and should be right on the heels of Cardama-Baez this weekend. Samantha’s personal best is only 9:33, but that mark is two years old and also the only time she has raced the event. Based on her cross country season, Samantha shouldn’t be far off of her sister in this one.

Cardama-Baez is the favorite, but that doesn't mean that this could quietly turn into one of the faster 3000 meter races of the weekend.

Will Powerhouse Programs Run Their Best Lineups?

Writing about the DMR is always a shot-in-the-dark as the actual lineups are rarely listed in the entries. On paper, this event could be a great showdown if Arkansas, Stanford, and Oregon all opt to run their top teams.

For Arkansas, they would likely field some combination of Katie Izzo, Carin Viljoen, Devin Clark or Katrina Robinson for the 800-1200-1600 legs. Robinson has yet to race this season, but she has already used her redshirt in 2019 and would lose a year of eligibility if she does not race this season.

Stanford would likely have some combination of Donaghu, Lawson, Oakes or Aragon - assuming that 800 meter runner Caitlin Collier and distance star Fiona O’Keeffe are not available. Oregon’s roster would likely feature Susan Ejore on one of the three distance legs.

Without seeing the rosters, it is hard to say if any of these teams will go all-in on the DMR. All of these athletes are already entered in other events which means they have no obligation to stay fresh for the relay.


Elite Milers Drop Down to Test Speed

The three top names in the men’s 800 meters will likely compete at NCAA's in the mile or the 3000 meters come March. Coming off of his sub-four minute mile at BU, Crayton Carrozza will test his speed as he prepares to qualify for NCAA's in the mile.

Cameron Griffith of Arkansas is also entered in the mile, but if he does run the 800 meters, it will give us a good indication of where his speed and fitness is. After not finishing in his first indoor race of the season and not racing in the fall, we haven’t seen the Razorback compete for quite some time.

The last star of the 800 is Oregon Duck veteran James West. The Brit is an all-around distance stud with PRs of 1:48 and 3:57 in the 800 and mile, respectively. He is also coming off a strong cross country season this past fall. He ran 2:23 in the 1000 meters at the UW Preview and will look to test his speed once again this weekend. It's clear that he is slowly building up to what should be an exciting mile and 3000 meter debut later this season.

Teare & Worley Lead Stacked Mile Field

Teare is coming off of the best cross country season of his career and is poised for an impressive indoor season. The Oregon star began his winter track season with a blistering 2:22 in the 1000 meters a few weeks ago, displaying impressive middle distance speed for someone who is primarily known for racing the 3000 and 5000 meters. He will look to run a sub-4:00 mile this weekend at Arkansas before he concentrates on what we assume will be his main events (the 3k and 5k).

The Duck is one of the favorites to take home a win at Arkansas, but my pick to win it all is Texas’ Sam Worley. The best true miler of the field owns a PR of 3:57. Yes, the Longhorn is coming off a DNF last weekend at BU (maybe he was pacing?), but I anticipate him bouncing back in a big way to earn a qualifying mark for NCAA's, especially with other top-tier talents in this field.

Arkansas’ Cameron Griffith also recorded a DNF in his last race at the Arkansas Invitational. The 3rd place finisher from the 2018 Indoor National Championships in the 3000 meters just missed out on qualifying individually for NCAA's last year and will look to kick-start his 2020 season with a solid run against some of the best in the country.

A few other names to keep an eye on include Alex Ostberg (Stanford), Ryan Smeeton (Oklahoma State), and Kieran Wood (Missouri).

Ostberg ran 4:00 at the UW Preview two weeks ago and will look to break his PR of 3:59.31 this weekend before he steps up the 3k and maybe 5k.

We haven’t seen Smeeton since the Midwest Regional XC Championships this past fall where he finished 15th, so it will be interesting to see what kind of shape the star steepelchaser is in.

Wood is another name we haven’t seen lately, but don’t count out the Mizzou Tiger who owns PRs of 3:59 (mile) and 8:01 (3000). He has sneaky-good speed and is quietly one of the better tactical runners in the SEC. His 2019 indoor season was very underappreciated

Cheboson Makes Debut, Will Face Carpenter & Oregon Men

Former Louisville runner Emmanuel Cheboson will compete for the Razorbacks for the first time on his new home track this weekend. We haven’t seen him since last fall, so it will be interesting to see how he runs for his new team. For as good as he has been on the cross country course, he only has a 3k PR of 8:20 which will likely go down after this weekend.

Cheboson’s new teammate Gilbert Boit is one of the favorites in this race. The Razorback ran 13:44 at Boston University in December and owns an 8:01 PR in the 3k. He just missed out on qualifying for NCAA's in the 5k last winter despite a handful of impressive performances throughout the season. Even so, he is a strong runner in the 3000 meters, and I expect to see him lead a contingent of runners under 8:00 this weekend.

Another top name in the field is Jaret Carpenter of Purdue. The Boilermaker was 10th at NCAA's last fall and is one of my favorites to be an All-American in the 5000 meters this March. He recently ran a big PR in the mile and will look to use his new-found, next-level fitness to earn a new personal best. With a PR of 8:00, he is another runner I expect to break the eight minute for the first time at this meet.

Next, we have a strong contingent of Oregon runners. Freshman Cole Hocker ran 4:08 at UW Preview and will look to impress in his first collegiate 3k, a race that may be more favorable for his strengths (depending on who you ask).

Teammate Charlie Hunter, with personal bests of 3:57 and 7:59, is one of the top runners in this field. After running 2:22 in the 1000 meters two weeks ago, the Duck will look to earn a 3k PR before he focuses on the mile.

And then we have Jackson Mestler, the underappreciated Duck owns the fastest 3k PR in the field with a time of 7:57. Like the rest of his teammates, he ran the 1000 meters at the UW Preview where he ran a 2:23. While most of his teammates will focus on the mile this season, I could see Mestler sticking with the 3000 meters (and maybe the 5000 meters), especially if this weekend goes well.

Kieran Wood and Sam Worley are also entered in the 3k, but we will likely see them in the mile which should limit their effectiveness in this event.

Will Oregon Go All-In? Can Texas & Stanford Contend?

As mentioned in the women’s preview, it is hard to predict DMR’s without knowing who is racing. Oregon has plenty of firepower to put in their relay, so they will likely have a very strong team competing. James West, Cooper Teare, Charlie Hunter, and Jackson Mestler are all options for Coach Thomas. Reed Brown may be in that mix as well if the aim to keep his fresh for this relay, but seeing as how he has yet to race this season, that may not be the case.

Stanford could put together a solid DMR team with Alex Ostberg anchoring the mile. It is unclear who else would compete, but Ostberg would at least give the team a chance at running an NCAA qualifying time.

The most underrated DMR team in the country might be Texas. With Crayton Carrozza and Sam Worley, the Longhorns have a very strong duo who can run the 1200 and 1600 legs. If they can surround them with two other solid options, then Texas could surprise the rest of the field.

Arkansas’ DMR team will likely include Cameron Griffith and Gilbert Boit. Like Texas, these two men alone should give the Razorbacks a chance to run a quick time on their home track. After all, they both qualified for Nationals in this event last year.