Updated: Feb 19, 2018
Should we be surprised that we saw a multitude of fast DMR's this weekend? No. Not at all. Alex Wilson and the UCS Invite are known for producing some of the fastest DMR times every single year. In fact, most (if not all) of the qualifying spots (top 12) are produced at just these two meets. This year, only one DMR squad in the top 12 was run before this weekend.
With that in mind, we learned a lot about certain teams and how they will impact the NCAA qualifying picture. Here are a few thoughts we had after this past weekend...
*Splits reported from Twitter. Follow us @TheStrideReport*
Stanford Is The Best & Sean McGorty Is The Reason Why
Throughout this season, the Cardinal fielded some of their best athletes week after week. Grant Fisher, Jack Keelan, Steven Fahy, and Brandon McGorty are just a few Stanford superstars that were able to put together some strong performances. Yet, there was always one glaring miss.
Why didn't we see Sean McGorty? Was he still experiencing injury issues from last spring? Was there confusion about his eligibility? Simply put, why had he not raced? After remaining absent at the Power 5 Invite and not racing at Iowa State, many people (including myself) figured that we wouldn't seen Sean McGorty for the rest of the season.
Of course, as Stanford usually does, fans of the sport were given a surprise this past weekend after Sean McGorty opened up the Alex Wilson DMR and handed off with a MONSTER 2:52.9 split. After splits of 47.7 and 1:50, Grant Fisher brought it home and shut down the competition with a 3:55 split. After splitting 3:58 at the Power 5 Invite and finishing 2nd to Indiana, I mentioned that Fisher would need to split faster if Stanford was going to enter the title conversation. He must have been reading because he did just that...
With Sean McGorty back in the line-up, there may not be a relay with a more lethal combination. With a total time of 9:26.91, Stanford currently sits at 6th All-Time in the DMR rankings. They'll be the favorite at NCAA's in a couple weeks.
The only uncertainty with Stanford now is if Sathyamurthy will be on the relay at Nationals. A 1:50 split is solid, but could freshman Brandon McGorty split faster? Do they have someone else in their arsenal capable of going under 1:50? It won't be a defining decision, but it will be an interesting one...
Where On Earth Did Brown & Notre Dame Come From?
Entering this season, we saw individuals from both Brown and Notre Dame put together some solid performances. Jacob Dumford (Notre Dame) opened up the season with a 2:21 1k while Brown's Martin Martinez threw down impressive times of 3:59 and 7:59.
Of course, the DMR is a team effort. A strong anchor will help, but at the very least, you need a strong opener and "good enough" splits on the 400 and 800 legs to qualify for Nationals.
For Brown and Notre Dame, they did just that. The splits for Brown are still unclear, but I imagine that Martinez was well under the 4 minute barrier along with a strong split from Emrich on the 800.
As for Notre Dame, Dumford showed signs of being the superstar that we saw at the beginning of the season with a huge 2:53 split. After splits of 47.65 and 1:49 from Cheatham and Silva, Yared Nuguse had the race of his life with a 3:57 split. Nuguse had run 4:02 earlier this season, but to run a 3:57 has to be one of the most clutch performances of the weekend. Still, when you look at this Fighting Irish squad, everyone stepped up and provided top-level splits.
Arkansas Had A Really Odd Lineup...
Traditionally, the Razorbacks have been one of the better distance programs in the nation. For the most part, they've accomplished that with a handful of guys like Alex George, Jack Bruce, and more recently Cameron Griffith.
However, this weekend was a break from the traditional Arkansas norm. Instead of running some of their top guys on the leadoff and anchor, Jack Bruce and Cameron Griffith ran the 400 and 800 legs...I think.
Unless the Razorbacks ran a different order than what has been reported, having a 5k silver medalist on the 400 leg seems like a VERY bold move. In fact, as I type this, it probably makes more sense that Bruce and Griffith ran on the leadoff and anchor (or vice versa). John Winn is a talented guy, but for someone who hasn't run anything longer than the 800, it doesn't make sense for him to run on the 1200 leg.
Both TFRRS and RunnerSpace report that Bruce and Griffith were on the 400 and 800 legs, but I would be surprised if that was actually the case.
The Traditional DMR Powers Came To Play
Virginia Tech? In.
Oklahoma State? In.
Ole Miss? In.
With one week to go, these NCAA qualifications aren't exactly guarantees. However, all of those squads are in the top 10 which means that they're probably pretty safe.
The only DMR Powerhouse that I would argue has been left out is Penn State. Aside from them, these teams are either continuing their streak of relay excellence or are beginning to build it (i.e. Virginia Tech and Indiana).
Where Were Penn State & BYU?
Speaking of Penn State, where were they? Historically, the Nittany Lions have been a squad that consistently produces some of the best DMR's in the nation. When you consider their roster this year, it's surprising to see that they haven't pursued a fast relay more than once. Colin Abert has stepped up his game and recently became a sub-4 minute miler with a 3:59. Isaiah Harris is one of the best 800 runners in the nation and Dom Perretta has shown that he can easily go under 3 minutes (and then some) on the opening leg. They also have Jordan Makins, another strong mid-distance talent, as an option.
When you consider these three legs, it's hard to think that they couldn't be top 12 in the nation. So why didn't they assemble a relay at Alex Wilson or the UCS Invite? It was certainly a surprising move and it makes me wonder if they'll try it at BIG 10's.
BYU is in a similar situation. With a mid-distance star in Abraham Alvarado and a roster of talented distance studs, the Cougars should be able to build upon their 9:36 from a month ago. Admittedly, their mile leg is iffy, especially with Linkletter primed to run the 5k/3k double at NCAA's. Still, is this really a BYU team that will choose not to pursue one more fast time? Unless we see something next weekend, that appears to be the case.
We Were Wrong...Except For One
Earlier this winter, we addressed some sleeper teams that could put together some very strong DMR squads...squads that could potentially qualify for Nationals. Our TSR Mailbag and Destined For The D-Med? articles mentioned teams like Washington, Iona, Southern Utah, Iowa State, Texas, Michigan, and even Wisconsin as programs that could potentially make a splash on the national stage.
For the most part, we missed the call. Teams like Southern Utah, Iona, and Washington never really pursued a serious DMR while Iowa State, Texas, and Michigan simply didn't have enough firepower to enter the top 12 (at least not yet).
However, we did mention that Wisconsin had enough really solid pieces to become All-American threats in the DMR. For the most part, even that prediction was unlikely considering Wisconsin's lack of focus on indoor track to begin with. To see them pursue a DMR at all still surprised me.
At the moment, the Badgers currently rank 3rd in the NCAA for the DMR with an incredible time of 9:27.72. According to Wisconsin Coach Mick Byrne, the Badgers had the following splits of 2:57 (Hardy), 47.6 (Ellis), 1:47.7 (Brown), and 3:54.5 (Hoare).
Yes, you read that right. Oliver Hoare split a 3:54 on the anchor! This guy has been super impressive all season with back-to-back 3k performances of 7:54 and 7:51. To see him drop a time like that validates the success that he's been having in the open events.
If Hardy can drop a few seconds and keep this relay in contention by the time the baton reaches the anchor at NCAA's, then you could very well see Oliver Hoare bringing home a national title for the Badgers...