The Group Chat: 2019 In Review

Who was the best runner of 2019?

Sean: Bryce Hoppel and Weini Kelati. Hoppel was by far the most successful collegian winning 21 races in a row and qualifying for the World Championships on top of two NCAA titles. Then he placed 4th in the world after turning pro in a new PR of 1:44.25. It’s simply incredible to think about how dominant Hoppel was in 2019.

Kelati has a different story as the wins were not always there, but the PR's and dominant performances were. Kelati earned two NCAA titles in 2019 and three other All-American finishes. She won by 10 seconds at the cross country national meet to avenge her 2018 loss. Track results saw her consistently double to support her team and there was never a race that she was not competitive in. That constant competitiveness (and the titles) is enough for me to give her the edge.

Sam: Bryce Hoppel gets the edge on Kurgat, but just barely. Both guys had undefeated NCAA seasons, but Hoppel technically did it twice (indoors and outdoors) and the 800 meters is generally less predictable than cross country. Kurgat benefited from having 7000 to 9000 meters to work with whereas Hoppel could not afford a single mistake in his event. Not only did he have an incredible NCAA season, but he also put a cherry on top when he made the US World Championships roster.

On the women’s side, Taylor Werner gets my vote. She did not win a single individual NCAA title this season, but had one heck of a year overall. During indoors, she was runner-up in the 3000 meters and a member of Arkansas’ 5th place DMR. During outdoors, she finished 4th in the 10,000 meters and runner-up in the 5000 meters (side note: her average finish at the NCAA Outdoor Championships was the same as Kelati's).

Then in cross country, Werner finished 4th at NCAA's and helped lead Arkansas to an individual team title. Yes, Kelati claimed two titles in that time frame, but Werner was a better runner more times than Kelati was over that course of time.

To top it off, Werner ran what would have been a collegiate record in the 5000 meters a couple weeks ago, had she been competing attached.

Hannah: I will say the same as Sam and Sean. Bryce Hoppel was a dominant force during indoor and outdoor track this year. He was undoubtedly one of the biggest storylines in collegiate track every time he toed the line. He dominated a very unpredictable event.

For women, I am going to say Allie Ostrander. She was 4th in the 3000 meters and 8th in the 5000 meters at NCAA's during indoors, but it was outdoors where she shined. Everyone knows the steeplechase is her star event and she proved it yet again this year. She won her third consecutive title in the event and it wasn’t even close. She then went on to place 4th behind three of the best steeplechasers the country has ever seen to qualify for Worlds. She may not have the individual honors that Kelati has, but she was consistent and excelled when she was expected to.

Maura: I don’t want to jump on the Hoppel bandwagon, but it seems inevitable. Hoppel winning 21 consecutive races makes him stand out amongst other NCAA distance athletes. From 2018 to 2019 at the NCAA Championships, Hoppel went from 8th to 1st during indoors and then 4th to 1st during outdoors. His 1:44.25 personal best sets him up nicely for the beginning of his professional career.

On the women’s side, Taylor Werner is the one to look to. Werner was a five-time All-American during the 2019 calendar year and was a key contributor for Arkansas winning the team championship triple crown. She bounced back from a disappointing 2018 cross country national meet performance during the 2019 indoor season and was runner-up in the 3000 meters the following winter, only six-tenths of a second from winning the title. Werner also paced the Razorbacks in the DMR to a 5th place finish.

The 2019 outdoor season continued to be fruitful for Werner as she ran one of the best doubles of the national meet, finishing 4th in the 10k and 2nd in the 5k only two days later. One more All-American honor was in the books for Werner after she placed 4th at the NCAA XC meet. Werner is expected to redshirt the 2020 indoor season, but one can only imagine what she would have done in the NCAA if she was competing attached.

Garrett: I’ll also take Bryce Hoppel. The guy was just incredible, going undefeated during both the indoor and outdoor season, running 1:44, and beating out a very deep field of 800 meter runners in each National Championship. He was the most consistent runner I have ever seen and one of the best tacticians I can remember.

As for the women, I’m going with Jessica Hull. She did it all. She lost one race at the end of the year and it just so happened to be one of the fastest finals in NCAA history. The current NOP Aussie dominated her competition pretty consistently, displayed great range, and was (usually) tactically brilliant.

What was the best race from this past year?

Hannah: Women’s 10k at D1 Nationals. We got to see Erin Finn and Anna Roherer come back and stick their nose into it. We had a tight race for the 3-4-5 spots and we got a great finish as Carmela Cardema-Baez almost pulled off the upset on Weini Kelati. I thought for sure Cardema-Baez was going to come out on top, but in the end, Kelati got her first individual national title.

Sean: To call it the best race might be a stretch, but the men’s D1 steeplechase final at Nationals was spectacular. With all of the pre-race talk about the heat, Smeeton and Ali holding most of the coverage, and the BYU men helping cement distance history, the race did not disappoint. Seeing multiple falls over the last lap was eerily reminiscent of the 2018 race, too. Overall, just an epic event with Fahy taking the victory as a clear underdog.

Sam: Normally, I feel obligated to cover distance events because that’s what The Stride Report does. However, Grant Holloway break 13.00 in the 110 meter hurdles at NCAA's for a new collegiate record was my race of the year. The rivalry he and Daniel Roberts built up from indoor season had grown and each week it seemed like they were inching closer to the sub-13 mark. Not only did Holloway win an NCAA title, but he did so in a race where almost two guys went under 13:00 for the first time ever in NCAA history.

Maura: I have to go with the men race at Nationals this past cross country season for two reasons.

Reason #1: Edwin Kurgat had not lost a race all season and had proven his dominance at John McNichols, Nuttycombe, and BIG 12’s. Wet, cold, and muddy conditions in Terre Haute, Indiana made for an interesting race strategy because runners had to be careful not to exert too much energy too soon, but they also had to make sure they were within striking distance if someone made a move.

That move was made by Virginia Tech’s Peter Seufer and he was a man on a mission trying to out-run the competition early in the race. Kurgat, Joe Klecker, and Conner Mantz came up on Seufer and the four of them competed down the homestretch for the individual title. Kurgat knew he was capable of winning the title that day and did so by about five seconds. Seufer made himself vulnerable, but if he did not make his move to the front, the race would’ve played out very differently.

Reason #2: My younger brother, Utah State’s Luke Beattie, was competing at his second and final national cross country meet. He worked his way up through the field throughout the course of the 10k race and finished 56th overall, 143 places higher than he did in 2017. Although I wasn’t able to attend NCAA's, watching him cross the line ahead of some big names makes me one proud sister.

Garrett: Absolutely stunned that no one said this, but how about the men’s 1500 meters at the Outdoor National Championships this past spring? It was one of the deepest fields in meet history and was headlined by every major name. The lead went back and forth between a handful of runners and then Nuguse barely edges Justine Kiprotich by one one-thousand of a second. It was thrilling and literally made me jump from my seat.

Which runner would you give a “Most Improved” award?

Sean: Katie Izzo. Her transfer to Arkansas did wonders for her running career and it’s impossible to overstate how big of a transformation this was. Izzo went from almost completely unknown to being the #2 indoor 5k collegian ever.

On the men’s side, this should go to Casey Comber. While this transformation started during the 2018 cross country season, Comber had never been to an NCAA Championship as an individual before 2019 and boy did he make the most of it. Comber earned a 2nd place finish in the mile at Indoor Nationals before placing 8th in the finals during Outdoor Nationals. His mile PR dropped from 4:04 to 3:57.80 which is a monstrous jump.

Sam: William Paulson had a great first year at Arizona State after transferring from Princeton. His highest finish at an NCAA meet prior to this year was getting eliminated during the prelim rounds of the 1500 meters at NCAA's. As a Sun Devil, he placed 5th in the 1500 meters and the mile at NCAA's and broke the four minute barrier for the first time in his career. He also knocked almost 10 seconds off of his 3000 meter time, posting a 7:58. Maybe he did not rake in the accolades like some others, but Paulson really made a jump this year.

As for the women, I agree that Katie Izzo was easily the recipient of this award. She went from being a relatively unknown graduate transfer to the 3rd place finisher at Nationals during cross country and then running the second fastest collegiate indoor 5k only a few weeks later.

Hannah: For females, I am going to go D3 and give it to Parley Hannan from Ithaca. For someone who has bounced around schools and dealt with her fair share of difficulties, she had a breakout year in 2019. She won the national title in cross country after not even finishing inside the top 40 of her region a year ago. Hannan won by 18 seconds over a very strong field and she simply dominated that race.

In a preview of what 2020 might bring, she also just ran a 16:56 5k to PR by over two minutes and has the fastest time in the country (for D3) so far.

For men, I am going to stay in D3 and say Aidan Ryan from Williams. He PR’d in every distance from the 800 to 8k in 2019. He finished 42nd at the cross country national meet in 2018 and this year finished 10th. That was considered an off day for him, that’s how high the expectations were for Ryan.

He dropped his 8k time from 25:01 to 23:56 this season alone and just like Hannan, he has opened up this track season hot, running 8:08 in the 3k at the Boston University Season Opener. That is one of the fastest times in D3 ever. 2020 is looking to be fast for Ryan.

Garrett: Katie Izzo is undeniable. It’s almost not human to see that kind of improvement in such a short period of time. She ran 15:13 after never running faster than 16:08 during her time at Cal Poly. That doesn’t happen! Finishing 3rd at NCAA’s this past fall just caps off what an absolutely incredible 2019 she had, even if it was only for four months out of the year.

On the men’s side, I think we gotta give the nod to Weber State’s Christian Allen. Finishing 14th at NCAA’s during cross country after being on no one’s radar is pretty crazy. However, if you’re looking for someone who was more consistent, then guys like Peter Lynch (Tulsa) and Alec Hornecker (Colorado) are great candidates as well.

Maura: Ella Donaghu of Stanford really caught my eye during the 2019 calendar year. Donaghu had only competed at XC Nationals in prior seasons with her teammates and her highest finish was 69th in 2017. She had also never raced at Nationals on the track, but in 2019 that changed.

Donaghu deserves “The Most Improved” because in her first outdoor track season racing the 1500 meters, she ran a PR of 4:11 and left Nationals with a 6th place finish, her first All-American honor. She carried her track success over to the cross country course and earned her second All-American honor. 2019 was a big year for Donaghu as she seemed to find her groove for the Cardinal.

Moving to the men, I have to give “The Most Improved” to Notre Dame’s Yared Nuguse. Nuguse did not qualify for the mile during the 2018 indoor track season, but he did run the best mile leg of the DMR to help the Fighting Irish finish 2nd. During the 2019 indoor season, Nuguse ran a solo sub-four mile and put himself in the conversation for an NCAA title, but instead he decided on focus on the DMR. Notre Dame’s DMR ultimately won the title and Nuguse again ran one of the best legs of the relay. During outdoors, he was a favorite to win the 1500 meters and he did just that with a final kick down the straightaway.

And to cap off a superb 2019 calendar year, Nuguse had solid cross country season, highlighted by a 2nd place finish at ACC's.

If you could go back in time and pick one runner who redshirted during 2019 to compete attached, who would they be?

Hannah: The easy answer has to be Sage Hurta from Colorado, right? Last year she ran 2:00.99 unattached. If she would have run that attached, she would have the fastest time in the NCAA by over a second. We’ll never know how that 800 meter race would have played out in Austin.

Sean: Katrina Robinson. The only Arkansas Razorback to hold it together at NCAA's in 2018, Robinson was completely absent for 2019. Just imagine adding another strong runner to the Razorback lineup this fall.

Sam: Dani Jones during indoor track. This is under the assumption that if she did not redshirt then she would have been healthy because she sat out this season for an injury. I think track is more exciting when you have dynamic racers such as Jones in the field. She could have won the mile, 3000 meters, or 5000 meters last winter and it would have made any of those races much more interesting.

Maura: I have to go with Hannah on this one. Hurta ran PR's in the 800 meters (2:00.99) and the 1500 meters (4:09.48) last spring. Those times would have easily put her in contention to win NCAA titles. Although we can’t go back and change the 2019 season, we can expect some big things from Hurta in 2020.

Garrett: These are all phenomenal answers, I could really get behind and support any of these names, but I think I’ll also go with Dani Jones. Seeing her match up with Jessica Hull, Alicia Monson, and Weini Kelati in that 3000 meters would have been electric. Like Sam said, this is assuming that she was healthy, but I just think it would have given us a better idea of just how good some of these women were relative to one another.

What was the one race we did not see in 2019 that you wish would have happened?

Hannah: TSR vs. Flotrack vs. Citius Mag vs. any other running outlet DMR.

Sean: Dani Jones vs Allie Ostrander, fresh. Although the two raced in the 5000 meters at the Outdoor National Championships, Ostrander had just won a steeplechase title hours before. Jones and Ostrander might be two of the biggest NCAA names of the decade and we deserved to see a final head-to-head battle in 2019.

Sam: The women's NCAA cross country meet with everyone healthy. We got to see Arkansas barely edge out BYU, but Stanford was still a close 3rd despite Fiona O’Keeffe running nowhere near her best due to a back injury. If O’Keeffe comes into that race fully healthy, there could have been less than five points separating the top three teams…

Garrett: Dani Jones at 100% against Jessica Hull and Sinclaire Johnson in the 1500 meters this past spring. She was healthy enough to come back for the outdoor track season, but she maybe didn’t have the refined speed for a competitive 1500 meter race. Running the 5k at NCAA’s was a good decision on her part, but I would have liked to see her toe the line and go all-out against Hull and Johnson in that 1500 meter final...but only if she was 100% fit.

Maura: Alicia Monson healthy during the 2019 outdoor track season and competing at Nationals. Monson’s stellar 2018 cross country season and 2019 indoor season kept her name in the conversation for a strong outdoor season, but things didn’t play out as we wished. Imagine if Monson and Dani Jones were vying for the 2019 outdoor 5000 meter title.

What was the “Performance of the Year”?

Sean: The BYU men at XC Nationals. No one thought the Cougars really had a chance and they proved the entire country wrong. The fact that they won in such a dominating fashion made it even more impressive. Especially big kudos to Conner Mantz who led the squad all year after substantial leadership graduated.

Maura: Sticking with the BYU men, how about the 10k at the NCAA West Prelims? BYU had nine men in the field and of the nine, six qualified for Nationals. The fact that a quarter of the Nationals field was going to be representing the Cougars was eye-popping. What made this feat even better was when three men placed in the top four at NCAA's. Clayton Young winning, Connor McMillan finishing 3rd, and Conner Mantz placing 4th saw Coach Ed Eyestone running through fans and Coach Isaac Wood cheering his head off.

Garrett: You could pretty much say BYU during cross country or BYU on the track. Sending six men to Nationals in the 10k and then four men to Nationals in the steeplechase is such an absurd showing of depth. It’s amazing, actually. But beating out one of the best dynasties in NCAA history with a lineup that really shouldn’t have won is mind-blowing as well. Whichever one you choose, you can’t go wrong with it.

Sam: The freshmen in the women’s NCAA cross country meet. I realize it’s not one specific runner, but when you look at the results, you'll find that Melany Smart was 12th, Kelsey Chmiel was 22nd, Erika VanderLende was 25th, and Camila Noe was 30th. Of those four, only Noe was a redshirt freshman. The freshmen group had four runners in before the sophomores.

Hannah: This is tough. There was the men’s DMR with Stanford and Notre Dame, the women’s 1500 meters with Jessica Hull and Sinclaire Johnson, and many others. However, I will have to go with the women’s 800 meters at the indoor national meet. Five women were within a second of each other with Danae Rivers taking the win by .05 over Nia Akins of Penn. In the last 60 meters, you had no idea who was going to win the race.

What are you most looking forward to in 2020?

Hannah: I am looking forward to seeing which collegians make the Olympic team. In June after the National Championships, we are sure to see more than a handful of runners sign professional contracts in the hopes that they make it to Tokyo. I am sure we will see runners like Weini Kelati, Devin Dixon, Oliver Hoare, and Danae Rivers all go pro.

Sean: The battle between Nia Akins and Danae Rivers in the 800 meters. There’s a lot of potential faces to add to this conversation with Carley Thomas, Avi’Tal Wilson-Perteete, and potential resurgences of Caitlin Collier, Kameron McIntosh, and Katy-Ann McDonald. Still, the Penn vs. Penn State battle is close to my heart and to see the returning indoor champ vs the back-to-back runner-up should be a spectacular race.

Sam: The NC State women in cross country. They lose Henes, but bring back pretty much everyone else from their 5th place team. Chmiel will only be better in her second year and Zachgo and Clairmonte could still make jumps. Oh, and their recruiting class is kind of good (Katelyn Tuohy, Marlee Starliper, Claire Walters). What’s the record for number of freshman earning All-American honors on the same team?

Garrett: I am going to have to agree with Sam. Henes is gone and that’s a bummer, but this new crop of freshmen they have coming in may be one of the best recruiting classes we have ever seen, at least on the women’s side. The Wolfpack were already a super deep squad, but the new talent they have coming in is scary good.

Maura: I cannot wait to see how the NAU men’s cross country season fares next season. How will the Lumberjack’s redeem themselves after placing 2nd at Nationals?

Which under-the-radar runner in 2019 will make the biggest jump in 2020?

Hannah: I will say that Bailey Hertenstein will make a big jump in 2020. She has already made rapid improvements in cross country this year as she finished 2nd at BIG 10's, 6th at the Great Lake Regional Championships, and 31st at Nationals. In track, she has listed PR's of 4:29 in the 1500 meters, 4:48 in the 1600 meters, 9:33 in the 3000 meters, and 10:35 in the steeplechase. Those times will drop and I predict she makes both national meets this year and walks away with at least one All-American honor.

Sean: Drew Bosley. The NAU freshman was an afterthought basically the entire season as other Lumberjacks took the spotlight. Bosley ended up leading the squad at NCAA's to finish in 24th and might just be NAU’s shining star in 2020 alongside fellow underclassmen Theo Quax and Abdi Nur.

Sam: With a full year of racing experience to her name, Maddy Denner of Notre Dame will be much more consistent in 2020. She had plenty of great results this past fall, but was quite inconsistent and somewhat fell apart near the end of the year. Without Anna Rohrer to rely on in 2020, Notre Dame will be looking to Denner for leadership and she should be a candidate for a top 25 finish at Nationals next fall if she can put together a more consistent season.

Maura: Jack Anstey of Illinois State was under-the-radar heading into the 2019 outdoor track season, but he turned some heads when he finished 7th in the 1500 meters at Nationals. Anstey had not qualified for a National Championship prior to 2019, but earned All-American honors his first time. Qualifying for indoor and outdoor national meets is difficult, but Anstey has the potential to prove himself to be one of the NCAA's best 1500/mile athletes.

Garrett: Washington’s Haley Herberg. She was awesome at Oklahoma and showed a lot of promise. She transferred to UW and only ran in the postseason this past fall where she posted some very mild results. I think she’s going to be such a key scorer for the Huskies in the future. Herberg will be a legitimate low-stick threat teen and a half months from now.