The Group Chat: 2020 Vision

Updated: Jan 4

Which runner(s) will win their first national title on the track this year?

Ben: Katie Izzo is a strong contender on the women’s side as she continues her breakout season, but she will face plenty of competition on her way to winning her first title.

Conner Mantz winning his first title in the 10k seems like a good bet. With his improved speed and proven ability to run well in national meets, it seems like he could run well in the 10k, especially if he is coming off of marathon training.

Maura: Sage Hurta will definitely be one to watch these next two seasons in the 800 after running a PR of 2:00.99 last spring while competing unattached. She could also challenge competitors in the 1500 meters, but neither race will be a cakewalk for the Colorado Buffalo.

Joe Klecker has been a two-time runner-up at national meets, finishing 2nd in the indoor 5k and 2nd in cross country this past fall. Klecker is very capable of winning an individual title in either the 3k, 5k, or 10k this winter and spring if he remains healthy.

Sean: Nia Akins of Penn is going to avenge her double runner-up positions this year. Akins was consistently spectacular in 2019, including very impressive efforts at 1200 and 1500 meters. Akins should be pigeonholed into the 800 come the postseason, but her experience and confidence is not to be overlooked.

For the men, I’m going with the Iowa State DMR here. Their middle distance crew has been absolutely fire in the first weeks of the season with Festus Lagat leading Roshon Roomes and Daniel Nixon through sub 2:22 1000 meter results. Lagat also grabbed a 4:04 mile alongside a 2:23 in a double at Boston. Throw in the (unlikely) possibility of Kurgat anchoring, and you've got a pretty scary-good Iowa State DMR.

Brett: I think we’re going to see big things from Katie Izzo this track season. She’s coming off of a terrific cross season, a ridiculous 5k, and she’s got a great band of women to train with. There’s a lot going in the right direction for Izzo and she’s going to be dangerous on the track.

There’s one name from NAU that people might not remember has eligibility, and that is Tyler Day. We haven’t seen him race in awhile due to not having cross country eligibility, but this dude is a force to be reckoned with. I think he’s a prime contender in the 5k and 10k.

Sam: It almost seems inevitable that Joe Klecker will get a win on the national stage. He had a pair of top three finishes at the indoor national meet last season and is coming off a runner-up finish in cross country. He likely would have been a contender during outdoors in 2019 had he not been hurt. The focus and determination he has shown over the past 12 months has me believing that he could very well win titles both indoors and outdoors in 2020.

While Izzo has been mentioned numerous times, what about her teammate Taylor Werner? Yes, Werner is redshirting indoors which is disappointing given how well she ran at the Boston University Opener…but she should be back for outdoors where she had her big breakthrough last year. Werner should be a favorite in the 5000 meters or 10,000 meters if she stays healthy.

Which collegiate track record should be on red alert over the next six months?

Ben: It is hard to imagine any of the records being broken this year. Perhaps the women’s 5k goes down with Kelati, Werner, and Izzo all chasing it this outdoor season, but even that doesn’t seem likely.

Maura: The men’s DMR record has the potential to fall this indoor season. With teams like Iowa State and Notre Dame, the current indoor record of 9:25.97 (Texas ‘08) is in danger. Iowa State has some combination of Daniel Nixon, Festus Lagat, Roshon Roomes, and Edwin Kurgat, and Notre Dame returns Dylan Jacobs and Yared Nuguse.

Sean: I’m with Ben in believing that none of the records will fall, but the indoor 800 meter record for the men is definitely in the reach of Devin Dixon. He’s already the American Collegiate Record holder and hence should now be eyeing Paul Ereng’s collegiate record of 1:44.84.

Brett: Following Ben and Sean, I don’t think any records will fall. Last year, we saw multiple DMR teams come within just a few seconds of the record of 9:25.97, and it seems to happen almost every year. Maybe this is the year that it finally falls? Guys like Nuguse, Lagat/Roomes/Nixon/Kurgat, or Kyle Mau of Indiana all have the potential to be very solid anchors for their teams to inch towards that record.

Sam: I’m hesitant to say the women’s 5000 meters since BU is typically when people take a swing at the record, but will we see a second attempt at it in 2020? Taylor Werner ran what would have been a collegiate record if she raced attached and Katie Izzo was right on her tail. Izzo could certainly break the record if they give it another go, but unfortunately it seems like the odds of that are slim to none.

Which NCAA distance runners (if any) will qualify for the Olympics this summer?

Ben: I think Oliver Hoare has a good chance at qualifying for the Olympics in the 1500 meters. He can certainly run a quick time as proven by last year, and if he does, then he will set himself up well to qualify for the Australian team.

Sean: Adva Cohen and Carley Thomas are the first two names that come to mind having already represented their countries (Israel and Australia) at Worlds in Doha. I think Martha Bissah will also qualify in the 800 meters for Ghana. I’m not confident any NCAA runners will make the American team.

Maura: It will be hard for an American-born collegiate athlete to qualify for the Olympics this summer due to the depth on Team USA, but foreign athletes have the ability to qualify for their respective countries. Hoare, Cohen, Thomas, and Ryan Smeeton will be ones to watch as we get closer to the summer.

Brett: I think if ANY American is going to have a shot, it’s going to be Conner Mantz. Deciding to try and qualify for the Marathon Trials is a daunting task, and clearly he must be ready to roll if he’s taking that challenge on. He’s got BYU alumni Jared Ward, Connor McMillian, Clayton Young, and the rest of the current Cougars to train with. I think he’s got a lot going for him. Otherwise, reference any of the non-American names above for chances to qualify.

Sam: Adva Cohen should almost be a lock based on how well she has done in the past. On the distance side, it will be a stretch for any NCAA athletes to make Team USA. If I had to bet on anyone, Dani Jones could be an outside contender in the 1500 meters. In a scenario where Houlihan doesn’t run, Simpson is the only lock. Nikki Hilitz, maybe Ellie Purrier, and then a handful of others are all contenders, but that leaves two spots somewhat open. Jones has run 4:07 off of a less than ideal build and would have a shot in a somewhat unpredictable event.

Where will Katelyn Tuohy finish at NCAA's in the fall?

Ben: Finishing 2nd at Club XC was arguably more impressive than her third NXN title and leads me to believe that she will finish in the top 10 at NCAA's. NC State is going to be a problem next year.

Sean: I don’t think we should ignore a potential redshirt for Tuohy although fears of her leaving early for a pro contract could certainly push towards not using that this fall. Based on Chmiel’s high finish this year, and Tuohy’s consistent victories over Chmiel, I’d look for Tuohy to slot in between 10th to 15th next year at the 2020 NCAA XC Championships.

Maura: Tuohy could redshirt in the fall for NC State. If she qualifies for the Olympic Trials in the summer, she would have a long track season when combining indoors and outdoors. Rather than risking injury, a redshirt would be beneficial, but that could also hurt NC State’s chances at competing for a title next fall. If Tuohy competes during the cross country season, it is easy to say she would be a top 20 athlete at NCAA's.

Brett: For NC State’s best chance at winning a title, Tuohy has got to run. I could see her finishing in between 10th and 25th with a good race next fall. Regardless, she’s going to be an incredible asset for the Wolfpack. I just wonder if any of the other freshmen in her class will be able to hang with her.

Sam: Ignoring the fact that she very well may redshirt, if Tuohy runs I have to believe she finishes in the top 20. Mel Smart just finished 12th as a true freshman and Tuohy has a stronger cross country background than Smart. I don’t think she is good enough to win it all, but on her best day, Tuohy finishes in the top five.

NAU or BYU - who wins the national title this fall?

Ben: I go more in depth on this in a later article, but I think the edge for who wins the next few titles is NAU, but I think BYU is the favorite for next fall. The reason? They have a guaranteed low-stick who will finish in the top five in Conner Mantz. NAU is loaded and very, very deep, but they don’t have anyone who has finished in the top 10 at NCAA's. That doesn’t mean that no one will, but BYU does have someone who has before. With both teams strong through five runners, whoever has the best low-stick could be the tiebreaker.

Sean: This wasn’t an option, but I’m going to take the field. BYU and NAU are definitely the top two favorites, but I think there’s opportunity for other teams to make a run. Stanford will have a full year under JJ Clark and showed potential to be a podium team in 2019. Iowa State will be losing Edwin Kurgat, but otherwise is returning a full team and substituting Emmanuel Cheboson into the lineup helps limit that loss. Oregon and Tulsa both have strong returning pieces as well to potentially pull a major upset.

Maura: This is a very difficult decision to make. BYU will be returning as the reigning champions and NAU will be on a revenge tour. BYU will not only have Mantz up front, but Casey Clinger will be returning from his Church Mission. Clinger was 24th at the 2017 NCAA XC Championships and Coach Ed Eyestone has a way for coaching returned missionaries into better athletes than they were before leaving. With Mantz, Clinger, and company, BYU has a legitimate shot at being back-to-back championshions.

On the other hand, NAU will be looking to take back the title and will do whatever it takes. After finishing runner-up at NCAA's this past fall, Coach Mike Smith and the Lumberjacks will need to go back to the drawing board to see where things went wrong and how to improve that for the 2020 cross country season. Drew Bosley, Abdi Nur, Brodey Hasty, Luis Grijalva, Blaise Ferro, and Theo Quax will all be back for NAU and they also add in top distance recruit Nico Young. The experience these guys have and the firepower to bring home the 1st place trophy back to Flagstaff will drive NAU forward.

So, even though it will be a tough battle, I think NAU comes out on top during the 2020 season.

Brett: Just looking at the returning names of NAU’s squad, they should be slotted in as the favorites, on paper. However, as the whole running world saw in 2019, that doesn’t exactly always hold true come Nationals. I think BYU, with the re-addition of Casey Clinger, has a good chance at pulling off another National Championship victory. It’s not going to come easy though, as the Lumberjacks have a ridiculous lineup that will be very hard to beat.

At the end of the day, I really like BYU’s chances. Mantz is a fantastic low-stick. If Clinger can rise to the potential that we know he can be back to, it’s going to make the Cougars deadly.

Sam: Both squads will be bringing a lot of firepower into 2020, but I have to give the edge to NAU. The Cougars will be led by Mantz, who may win it all, and the addition of Clinger is huge. That said, I think NAU looked like the better team at every meet except NCAA's in 2019 and I imagine they won’t slip up two years in a row. Now that all of their freshmen have a year of experience, NAU will maintain their composure for the full season and walk away with another NCAA title.

Which program will be the best three-season team in 2020? (BYU and Arkansas won 2019 due to their major success across all three seasons)

Ben: BYU wins the year again as they look to follow up their dominant performance on the track from last year. They won’t be as strong this winter, especially without Mantz, but come outdoors, they should be really strong once again. Plus, they are my favorite to win NCAA's next fall.

As for the women, I think NC State will win 2020. They already have the best recruiting class and while they might not dominate on the track, Elly Henes might object to that, they could dominate cross country next fall.

Maura: BYU men all the way for me. Mantz is already a guaranteed low-stick. Casey Clinger returning provides key low points. And then just look at their roster. The Cougars boast one of the best rosters in the NCAA. With their incredible depth, they will find a way to qualify numerous guys to the indoor and outdoor national meets in the distance events.

Ben has the right answer with the NC State women. They will see a few women qualify for the National Championships on the track, but cross country will be their shining moment. Their top-tier recruiting class makes the Wolfpack scary good for the 2020 cross country season.

Brett: Since Ben and Maura took my picks, I’ll change things up with a different perspective. I think that the NAU have the potential to make this their year. While they are certainly a dominant figure during cross country, they have the guys to really shine on the track. Geordie Beamish has a national title under his belt, and their remaining guys are clearly very fit. We could see a handful of All-Americans from their team during the track season, which could showcase their impressive depth. As for cross country, we all know what they have for next year, so I don’t need to add any more there.

As for the women, I’m going to go with Stanford. Their cross country lineup was comprised of mostly juniors this year, so they will return the bulk of their squad, minus Fiona O’Keeffe. Ella Donaghu & Jessica Lawson took 6th and 10th in the 1500 meters last year, and they clearly performed very well in cross country this past fall. They should have a solid group of All-Americans on the track and will be a major force on the grass.

Sam: Give me the Stanford men. Thomas Ratcliffe will bounce back in 2020 and finally put together his best year of running both in track and cross country. Alex Ostberg has potential to be great on the track and I think as a whole, Stanford will really find their stride in 2020.

On the women’s side, I like NC State for obvious reasons. The additions of Tuohy, Starliper and Walters for cross country will be huge for a team that returns Zachgo, Clairmonte, and Chmiel. Yes, Henes is gone for the fall, but she still could make a big impact on the track and I would not sleep on Chmiel either.

Sean: I think we’re ignoring the Colorado women. Dani Jones and Sage Hurta are favorites for national title victories for both indoors and outdoors. Rachel McArthur, Makena Morley, and Tabor Scholl should also be expected to make huge impacts in both track seasons. Heck, with the introduction of Rachel McArthur last summer, we began thinking that Colorado could assemble one of the greatest DMR's ever and I think that still holds true. Plus, with Holly Bent, Emily Venters, Emily Covert, and more, the Colorado women should be a top seven team in 2020 during cross country. That said, I think the Arkansas women are only going to continue their dominance on the track along with a better than expected cross country season nine months from now.

I’m going to take Iowa State on the men’s side. While I don’t think that they’re going to dominate in cross country, they should be a consistent top five team throughout the fall and I think they’re going to be the most dominant squad on the track.

BYU and a few other teams have greater depth, but Iowa State has a national title candidate in the 800 meters, 3000 meters (maybe), 5000 meters, and the DMR. No other team can claim that (although Indiana is pretty well-rounded). While outdoors might not be as strong for them, the Cyclones will still have earned enough of a gap to be the better three-season team.

True or False: After a disappointing fall, the Washington men will redeem themselves in 2020.

Ben: True. This is a team set up to run well on the track and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them do what Oregon did last year by stacking the mile this winter and the 1500 meters during outdoors. I think this will translate to a good cross country season next fall.

Sean: This roster was always set up better for track than cross country. Still, I think this group is much better set up for a DMR-type performance than anything major on the individual side this indoor season.

Maura: True. The Huskies are better equipped for the track. The mile/1500 distances and the 5k are where the Washington men thrive.

Brett: I think 2020 should be when the Washington men thrive. Their squad should see a multitude of names qualifying in the distance events on the track, and can hopefully pull it all together for a good cross country season.

Sam: What’s between true and false? I think the men of Washington will run better in 2020 than they did in 2019, but I don’t think they suddenly become NCAA title favorites (at least not in cross country).

The biggest upset of 2020 will be…

Ben: Sam’s upset pick, whatever it is, actually comes true.

Maura: Weini Kelati only wins one individual title in 2020.

Sean: Danae Rivers misses both NCAA finals.

Brett: Carlos Villareal wins an NCAA title.

Sam: The NC State women don’t win the cross country national title this fall.

Give us your boldest prediction

Ben: Katelyn Tuohy won’t be the top freshmen next fall at NCAA's.

Maura: NC State places in the top two at the NCAA XC Championships in the fall.

Brett: BYU handily defeats NAU once again in the fall.

Sam: Three freshmen finish in the top 15 at the NCAA XC Championships next fall for the women’s race…AND Katelyn Tuohy places 2nd individually.

Sean: Peter Seufer makes a breakaway NCAA victory (this winter or spring).