The men’s 800 has the most elite talent of any distance event at SEC's. With four men in the top 12 in the country, the 800 final could be a preview of Nationals like it was during indoors. Devin Dixon took the win against Arop at SEC's this past winter, but the Mississippi State Bulldog got his revenge at Nationals. Dixon hasn’t had a great season compared with indoors, but if he can find his indoor form, then he will give Arop a run for his money.
Arop’s teammates Daniel Nixon and Dejon Devroe will be the favorites to round out the top four. Behind them are a host of 1:48 guys who will look to capitalize on any mistakes from the favorites.
Griffith nearly edged out Suliman during indoors, and he will be out for revenge in the 1500. Suliman remains the favorite as he has one of the top 1500 times in the country, but this could be one of the closest races of the meet.
Behind those two will be one of the breakout stars of the year, Cade Bethmann of Ole Miss. Running PR's of 1:47 and 3:41 puts him in elite company. While he probably won’t compete with Suliman and Griffith, expect him to finish 3rd. Also in contention will be Ben Young from Kentucky and Zach Long of Tennessee who have each run 3:42 and 3:43, respectively this season.
The 5k should be an exciting race as it is the last distance race of the meet and no one will be fresh. We have the favorites Gilbert Kigen, Gilbert Boit, and Alfred Chelanga bouncing back from running the 10k. The matchup between Kigen and Boit will be fascinating as Boit threw down a massive kick indoors to beat Kigen by .03 seconds.
Another favorite, Zach Long, will have run the 1500 prelims (and finals assuming he advances) before the 5k. Others bouncing back from the 1500 are Suliman, Griffith, and Bethmann. If the race turns tactical, then look for those three guys to give the 5k specialists a run for their money.
Last year, the 10k was a tactical race for the top runners as Alabama swept the top three spots. Arkansas teammates Gilbert Boit and Matt Young will look to keep Gilbert Kigen and Alfred Chelanga from repeating last year’s performances. These four runners along with Ole Miss’ Mark Robertson have run 29:00 or under this year and they are the class of the field. If it comes down to a kick, watch out for Gilbert Boit who has shown that he has the ability to kick hard and beat Alabama’s top trio.
The steeplechase does not include as many national contenders as the other distance events at SEC's, but it should be a hotly contested affair. Stephen Jones of Mississippi State has the fastest seed time of 8:53, but Alex Crigger from Tennessee is right behind him with a 8:55. Jones has had a breakout season this spring, running PR's in both the 5k and steeple. However, he has DNF’d in his last two races.
Crigger is backing up his strong indoor season with some solid performances including anchoring Tennessee’s DMR to a win at Penn Relays (for their heat) and splitting 4:05. Other contenders include Kentucky’s Brennan Fields and Matthew Thomas who have run 8:59 and 9:01, respectively. A dark horse is Alabama’s Noel Rotich who has run 9:05 this year, but has run 8:52 before. In our Bryan Clay preview, I picked him to have a breakout race, but he didn’t start. Maybe this is the week?
Like the men, the women’s 800 is loaded. There are eight women who have run 2:05 or faster with Jazmine Fray leading the way. Behind her are Amber Tanner of Georgia and Ersula Farrow from LSU who have run 2:04. With Sammy Watson turning pro, the door has been opened to other contenders. Fray won the indoor title, but Farrow and Tanner were less than a quarter of a second behind her. Hopefully we see another tight race that comes down to the wire.
A familiar thread connects the favorites in the 1500. What is it you ask? They are all Arkansas Razorbacks. Carina Viljoen, Lauren Gregory, Devin Clark, and Taylor Werner have all run 4:17 or faster with Viljoen leading the way at 4:14. The Razorbacks dominated as a team during indoors, and it shouldn’t be much different outdoors. At the indoor meet, Arkansas went one through three. Will they do it again or do even better and go one through four? The better question might be which Razorback will take the title. Gregory took the mile this past winter, but Viljoen has run faster outdoors and has also shown some underrated consistency. Who will win in round two?
Like the 1500, Arkansas should dominate the 5k. Viljoen, Werner, and Gregory will be coming back from the 1500. Werner has the top time in the conference at 15:38 while Gregory and Viljoen have the third and fourth fastest times. The second-best time belongs to Jessica Drop of Georgia who has run 15:41. Werner easily won the indoor conference 5k title, but that was at the beginning of the meet. During outdoors, the 5k is the last distance event. Will she still have enough in the tank after running the 1500?
Only six women on the entry list have run the 10k this season. The top two times in the field are from Ole Miss. Clio Ozanne-Jacques and Victoria Simmons have both run under 34:30. The next fastest time is Grace Tavani of Georgia who has run 34:56. Last year, only Missouri’s Meghan Cunnignham went under 35 minutes at the conference meet, so it will be interesting to see how tactical the race becomes. Will the Ole Miss ladies try to push the pace, or will they sit back and allow more people into the race?
The steeple, like it is for the men, should be closely contested. Ole Miss teammates Lisa Vogelgesang and Madeleine King have run 10:19 and 10:22 this season. These two will be the co-favorites. Unlike the 10k, the steeple isn’t usually a tactical race, so if these two push the pace, then they should be able to put some distance between themselves and the field.
Three women to keep an eye on to compete with the Lady Rebels up front are Minta Hukka of Tennessee, Joyce Kimeli of Auburn, and Rachel Nichwitz from Arkansas. These three women have run either 10:27 or 10:28. If Vogelgesang and King slip up, then my bet is for Kimeli to pull off the upset. She has PR’d in her last three races and looks to be fresh since she hasn’t raced for three weeks.