800 Champs Continue Dominant Run
CSU-Pueblo’s Thomas Staines and Skylyn Webb of UCCS have dominated the 800 the past couple of years, winning multiple NCAA titles and both holding the Division II 800 meter records. That dominance continued this past weekend as both athletes added yet another 800 title to their respective résumés.
Staines, coming in with the nation’s leading time, took over with 300 meters left and held off Ayman Zahafi of TAMU-Kingsville and Shaquille Dill of St. Augustine’s in the final stretch, to take the win in 1:50.03. Webb, on the other hand, led from the gun, and just controlled the entire race, as she took home the win in 2:06.96. Collectively, it was a combined display of poise, control, and mastery that we have grown accustomed to seeing from these two.
With the wins by Staines and Webb, they have now combined to win the last seven Division II 800 meter championships, two outdoor and two indoor for Staines, and two outdoor and one indoor for Webb. Some fans of the sport may have grown tired of the overwhelming dominance by these two, but we will likely look back at this time as an era headlined by two legends.
Steeplechase Favorites Reign Supreme
Speaking of dominance in an event over the past few years, there is no way that I could leave out the legendary career of Western Colorado’s Alicja Konieczek. The Division II record holder in the steeplechase added to that status this weekend as she claimed the win, running a 10:23.89, hammering the last 400 and pulling away from Adams State’s Eilish Flanagan and Simon Fraser’s Julia Howley (who rounded out the top three). After adding a runner-up finish in the 1500, Konieczek ends her collegiate career as a nine-time national champion and a 15-time All-American.
On the men’s side, there was not as much of a history of past excellence as with Konieczek, but Leakey Kipkosgei of American International was definitely the favorite going in and he did not disappoint. Coming in with the leading time in Division II, he led pretty much from the gun and controlled the entire race, taking the win in 8:52.86 and claiming his first individual NCAA Championship win. Former champion Jonah Theisen of Black Hills State had a great kick to finish 2nd and was followed by the Alaska Anchorage duo of Wesley Kirui and Edwin Kangogo. The favorite may have won, but knowing that there was some openness for who could have won the individual crown kept the race entertaining.
First-Time Winners Sit Atop 1500 Podium
Unlike the 800 podium, the 1500 produced two athletes who grabbed their first NCAA Outdoor title. On the men’s side, Brett Meyer of Fort Hays State came in with the #4 leading time in Division II, and with a furious kick the last 100 meters, ran down Adams State’s Elias Gedyon to take the win in 3:58.24. In retrospect, the tactical nature of this race played perfectly into Meyer's hands as unleashed his patented finishing kick. The win gives Meyer his first NCAA title and his sixth All-American trophy, which is a fantastic way for him to end his collegiate career.
Meyer ended his career with a win, but on the women’s side, Stephanie Cotter of Adams State took home her first 1500 meter title in just her freshman season. Much like the men’s race, it took a kick in the last 100 meters and Cotter had the strength to run down the aforementioned Konieczek, taking it with a time of 4:36.91. She has now captured the indoor mile title and outdoor 1500 title this season so we could be seeing the start of a very dominant athlete. The top athletes on the Adams State roster are nearing (or are at) graduation, meaning that Cotter has entered the scene at the perfect time.
Kurgat & Panning End Careers With Dominant Performances
The careers for Caroline Kurgat of Alaska Anchorage and Grand Valley State’s Zach Panning ended in extremely similar ways, with dominant victories in both the 5k and 10k. Both 10k races looked the exact same, Panning and Kurgat led from the gun, built a huge lead and coasted in for the win. Kurgat won by over a minute and Panning won his race by over 45 seconds.
In the 5k, Kurgat sat in the pack until 1200 to go, took to the lead and never looked back, taking a comfortable win in 17:10.10. Panning on the other hand, hammered it from the start, building a huge lead much like he did for the 10k, and coasted in for the victory. No matter how the race played out, both ended atop the podium once again, making Kurgat a seven-time National Champion and Panning a three-time national champion.
For Panning, his pair of victories helped solidify himself a key player in a distance running era that may be one of the best that Division II has ever seen (i.e. Ribich, Gidabuday, Staines, etc). For Kurgat, she leaves as the undeniable G.O.A.T. of women's D2 distance running.
Other Notable Results
Eilish Flanagan (Adams State)
Flanagan grabbed two runner-up finishes this weekend in the steeplechase and the 5k. With both ladies who finished ahead of her now graduating, the now eight-time All-American should be the favorite in both events come next spring.
Leah Hanle (Mount Olive)
Hanle, as her seed times would have predicted, grabbed a runner-up finish in the 10k and a 3rd place finish in the 5k. If it was not for Caroline Kurgat, Hanle may be a multiple-time champion right now, so with Kurgat graduating, it may open up an opportunity for Hanle next year.
Julia Howley (Simon Fraser)
Howley grabbed a 3rd place finish in the steeplechase and returned to finish 4th in the 5k. After not competing for a year and a half, Howley finished her collegiate career off right.
Rachael Walters (Grand Valley State)
Once again, it was heartbreak for Walters as she took home a runner-up finish in the 800. Walters has now had a runner-up finish the last five NCAA 800 meter races.
Kristen Metcalfe (Embry-Riddle)
Metcalfe finishes her career as a six-time All-American, as she took 3rd place finishes in the 800 and 1500. After a late start to the season, she performed her best when she needed to.
HaLeigh Hunter-Galvan (Adams State)
In only her second ever steeplechase, Hunter-Galvan had a great finish to grab a 4th place overall. She then returned and claimed another All-American trophy, finishing 8th in the 5k.
Elias Gedyon (Adams State)
Gedyon capped off his career by grabbing two runner-up finishes in the 1500 and 5k. He ends his Adams State career as a nine-time All-American and an indoor 3k national champion.
Marcelo Laguera (CSU-Pueblo)
Laguera had a great start to the meet, as he had a runner-up finish in the 10k. He then grabbed another All-American spot as he finished 8th in the 5k. With Panning graduating, Laguera should be the favorite in the 10k next year.
Taylor Stack (Western Colorado)
Stack added two more All-American trophies to his collection as he finished 4th in the 5k and 6th in the steeplechase. He is now a five-time All-American through only half of his collegiate career, leading me to believe that there is much more to come.