The Group Chat: D-Med Discussion

Give us your tweet-length review (280 characters or less) of the DMR action from this past weekend.

Maura: You’ve got to love oversized tracks and flat-track conversions when it comes to distance medley relays.

Sam: The dominoes are finally starting to fall.

Garrett: Notre Dame is still good...who would’ve thought?

Ben: Is there anyone better at photo finishes than Yared Nuguse?

Michael: The men’s DMR picture just got a lot more interesting.

Sean: Huge reorderings of the qualifying picture, but this process isn’t done quite yet.

The Wake Forest women upset Virginia Tech at the JDL DMR Invitational this past weekend. Does this tell us more about Wake Forest or Virginia Tech?

Sam: Probably neither. On paper, both teams are solid, but nothing spectacular. When you look at Virginia Tech, they realistically were not going to do anything crazy because either Freix was going to run the 1200 leg or the 1600 leg. She has only run 4:42 this year and is largely a 3k/5k runner. Sarah Edwards is a true middle-distance talent (and should have run on the anchor leg), but was the only one on their roster who is national-caliber talent in any of those distances.

As for Wake Forest, I guess their run was a bit surprising, but 11:01 is not going to get them in the top three (and probably not top five) at Nationals. It will, however, likely get them to Nationals, so kudos on that performance.

Maura: I agree with Sam. Wake Forest did catch my eye here by taking down Virginia Tech, but neither team is in contention to be a top contender on the national stage. Sarah Edwards did a great job of getting Virginia Tech a solid lead on the 1200 leg, as the team was leading by five seconds. They started to lose their lead on the 400 leg as the lead was cut down to three seconds. Wake Forest’s Johanna Schulz ran a 4:38 1600 and pulled away from Sara Freix at the tail-end of the race.

The JDL DMR Invite didn’t have as deep of a field as Notre Dame’s Alex Wilson Invite, but a flat-track conversion to 11:01 for Wake Forest is a solid time for a team that most weren’t expecting to qualify for Nationals.

Garrett: I think it tells us more about Virginia Tech. Sure, Wake Forest was better than expected, but I think they may be closer to their ceiling than VT right now. On paper, the Hokies are too talented to not be in the All-American conversation, so a different lineup combination will likely benefit them at the national meet.

Freix seemed like a perfect fit for 1200 meter leg, but was instead employed on the anchor. That felt like an odd move considering that she’s not even the second fastest miler on the team this season. I would have liked to see her on the 1200 meter leg with Edwards anchoring. I think that gives Virginia Tech more upside for future races.

Ben: In a race where running a fast time was more important than taking home the win, I agree with Garrett. Virginia Tech has one easy lineup change to improve their team and push them closer to All-American status at Nationals. Simply moving Edwards to the anchor would not only improve their overall time, but it would also give them someone who can be competitive at the end of the race.

Michael: I think this result tells us more about Wake Forest. Virginia Tech may have been experimenting with their lineup as nearly everyone has mentioned so far. Athletes like Sarah Edwards and Sara Freix have experience running on NCAA-qualifying DMR teams, so I don’t think this loss means a whole lot for them.

However, this result may be a much bigger deal for Wake Forest. Not because they beat Virginia Tech, but because it is indicative of the direction their program is moving in. Wake Forest has a strong group of young, talented runners. They have also been quietly putting together an impressive recruiting class. National-caliber results like this will likely become a more common occurrence for Wake Forest, and this relay is a step in that direction.

Sean: In any other year, I think this would mean more for Virginia Tech, but Wake Forest gets the nod in 2020. Normally, Virginia Tech’s run would have meant that the Hokies would miss the NCAA Championships, but they’ve survived and landed in the NCAA #7 spot.

And then there’s Wake Forest. With none of their individual legs likely to qualify for NCAA’s, this is a huge result for the Demon Deacons. All four of their runners had great days and showed that they can defeat a probable All-American relay. I would definitely expect to see this team on the podium in three weeks time.

Are the Oregon men still your national title favorite for the DMR after this past weekend?

Maura: To be completely honest, Oregon was never my national title favorite. Even though the Ducks broke the DMR collegiate record earlier this season, there are just other teams who stand out more.

For me, Notre Dame is the team to beat. The Fighting Irish are returning all four of their members from their 2019 title team: Dylan Jacobs, Edward Cheatham, Sam Voelz and Yared Nuguse. At their very own Alex Wilson Invite, Notre Dame took down Wisconsin by 0.04 seconds with Nuguse on the anchor.

Nuguse and Oliver Hoare pushed each other to the line and somehow, Nuguse always leans just the right amount to win. Also, take into account that Notre Dame ran 9:25, a new school record and the second fastest time in NCAA history (which isn’t official since it was on an oversized track). It will not be easy for Notre Dame at the National Championships given their competition, but they have the upper-hand.

Sam: I am in agreement with Maura on this one. Oregon is very good, but I have not and do not consider them the favorite. Yes, they have the fastest time in the NCAA, but in an event with so many other factors, a gap of 1.27 seconds is not enough for me to give them the title.

I also like Notre Dame, largely because I do not think Oliver Hoare will run the DMR fresh. If he were to, then Wisconsin would be my favorite.

Nuguse has looked phenomenal this season and he has proven that he can compete in any kind of race. Plus, Notre Dame has the added incentive of trying to defend their national title which is always motivating.

Garrett: I thought I was going to be super edgy by saying that Oregon wasn’t the national title favorite to begin with...looks like I’m late to the party.

I said at the beginning of the season that Notre Dame was the national title favorite, I continued saying that when Oregon ran the national record and I am once again repeating myself following Notre Dame’s 9:25 result.

The Fighting Irish have the best team in the nation when it comes to the DMR over the past two years. They have plenty of experience, their non-Nuguse legs have made tremendous improvements and they have the best anchor in the NCAA (I will not be accepting any arguments at this time).

With the Oregon men likely doubling, Notre Dame seems like an easy favorite to win another title in the distance medley relay.

Michael: With Oregon breaking the NCAA record relatively early in the season, they put a target on their backs. I don’t think it was any secret that Notre Dame was going to be this good this season. They’re the defending the national champions in the DMR and bring back everyone from last year’s relay. The fact that their time at the Alex Wilson Invite was so close to Oregon’s tells me that they are essentially just as talented.

The DMR at the NCAA Championships could turn into a time trial, which could produce a great race. The way I see it playing out is with Cooper Teare, Oliver Hoare and Yared Nuguse (and potentially other guys like Kyle Mau) all close together with a lap or two to go. If it comes down to a kick, I would not bet against Nuguse.

Ben: Looks like I will have to be the contrarian. Oregon is my national title favorite because I think they have the most talented relay team. Sure, Nuguse is the best anchor and probably the best miler in the country, but a team of James West, Charlie Hunter and Cooper Teare has to be considered the favorite. Dylan Jacobs and Sam Voelz have improved tremendously, but at the end of the day, I trust West and Hunter more at Nationals.

I think the real question to consider big of a lead do you need to have over Notre Dame going into the anchor leg in order to win? I think that if Oregon has a two second lead or more at the exchange, then they take home the title. With Teare anchoring the Ducks with a 3:55 or faster, I don’t think that even the DMR king Nuguse would be able to catch him. I’ll take the front three of Oregon to give Teare a big enough lead to take home the title.

Sean: The more I reflect on Oregon’s collegiate record, the more I’m convinced that they benefited from running alone. While the collegiate record was probably in their minds, the primary goal was to gain a national qualifier. Given that they were clearly on pace and didn’t have to deal with much traffic, I think the Ducks benefited by being alone and having less pressure than the other teams that ran this past weekend.

This actually leads me to believe the Ducks ARE the favorite. Even though running alone might have benefited them on that run, the team is best set up for NCAA’s. It’s tough to imagine that we’ll get much more out of Nuguse and Hoare, while I think each of the Oregon quartet could still improve their times. I would also give Oregon the edge in the first three legs which I think can put Cooper Teare just far enough in front to be out of reach of Nuguse.

Now, if there is a team that could be considered the favorite other than Oregon, I think it’s the other team that did not compete at Alex Wilson or JDL.

I am, of course, referring to Iowa State.

We aren’t sure what other events they’ll be running at Nationals, but I think the Cyclones can match Oregon on every leg. Meanwhile, I see teams like Wisconsin and Notre Dame trying to make up ground leading into their anchor legs.

Which men’s DMR surprised you the most?

Sam: It was good to see the Minnesota men have a great day at Alex Wilson. I tend to keep an eye on them given that a good portion of their team consists of guys who I ran against in high school. To see them put down a 9:31 showing was better than I anticipated heading into the weekend.

From what I’ve seen, they split roughly 2:54-??-1:48-4:00. I knew Streich was capable of a fast lead-off and Hoeft has looked really solid this year as well. Dawson LaRance running 1:48 was probably the most surprising. All in all, it was a great day for the Gophers and arguably the biggest surprise of the weekend.

Maura: I’ve got to go with the BYU men on this one after they ran a converted 9:30. For a team that usually succeeds in the 3k/5k during indoors, it was nice to see them pick up the win at the JDL DMR Invite.

Matt Owens handed the baton off to the second runner in 8th place, but it was BYU’s 400 and 800 meter legs that helped get the team back into contention. Talem Franco, who was on the anchor leg, has been progressing very nicely this indoor season after running a 3:58 mile earlier in the year. His 3:59 1600 meter split secured the victory for the Cougars against the likes of Arkansas and Virginia Tech.

BYU could surprise a few teams at Nationals if we continue to overlook their group as a whole.

Garrett: I probably would have said Minnesota as well, but the UCLA Bruins ran much better than I anticipated. They ran 9:32 at the Alex Wilson Invite which now has them ranked at NCAA #9. Without knowing splits, it’s hard to really say which part of their lineup helped carry the team. However, the decision to place top miler Arturo Sotomayor on the 1200 meter leg appeared to be a great choice and one that ultimately paid off big-time.

Michael: I’m going to take this in a different direction and say that I was most surprised by Georgetown’s DMR. Back in December, Garrett wrote, “Death, taxes, and Georgetown having a competitive DMR” in our 2020 Indoor DMR Preview. I don’t think that was a hot take by any means given Georgetown’s DMR success in recent years and this year’s roster.

Georgetown taking last in the JDL DMR Invitational with a 9:48.54 (9:40.66 converted) to put them at NCAA #21 is underwhelming to me. They will have another shot to run a qualifying time at the BIG East Championships, but that DMR field will not be nearly as deep, making their chances of running an NCAA qualifying time somewhat slim.

With the talent that the Hoyas have, I’m surprised that they haven’t put together something better this season.

Ben: I agree with Maura. I was very surprised by BYU’s performance. Not known for their middle distance talent, it was impressive to see them qualify. Talem Franco has been underrated and is emerging as one of the top milers in the country. This is a good sign for the development of their team.

Sean: I’m going to go in a similar direction as Michael and say Washington. I’m severely disappointed by their performance yet, they somehow managed to stay in qualifying position for Nationals. While 9:35 isn’t a terrible time, it would rarely qualify for the national meet during most years. As a result, I think that means they’ll need to go after the DMR again next weekend.

One of the most surprising bits of information is that Washington left Sam Tanner off the relay. When you look at their splits from Winston-Salem, the Huskies underperformed across the board which puts a huge question mark over this team. Hopefully they can turn it around next week.

Which women’s DMR surprised you the most?

Sam: Honestly, no one. We saw a lot of women’s teams run times between 11:01 and 11:15 which really means nothing when thinking about the National Championships. At this point in the season, if you’re not running at or under 11:00, then you have zero impact in regards to the national title.

Right now, there are four (maybe five) teams who could win NCAA gold. Colorado is the slowest with a time of 10:59 and the only reason I even consider them an outside threat is because Dani Jones is that good.

This weekend may have been big for teams looking to qualify for the NCAA’s, but it has little to no impact on who will actually win in March.

Maura: Wisconsin women will be on the national qualifying bubble heading into this weekend. The Badgers currently have the NCAA #10 time this season with an 11:05. They won the Alex Wilson Invite with Alicia Monson on the anchor. It will be hard to imagine Monson bypassing an individual event for the DMR, but she could surprise people.

Garrett: It’s gotta be Wake Forest. Taking down a talented Virginia Tech squad was impressive, but to take the overall win and run a converted 11:01 is something that we have to give kudos to. I thought they had a well-rounded relay group, but I also thought that teams like Temple, Utah and (of course) Virginia Tech would have the necessary weapons to leave Wake Forest behind. Instead, a 4:38 split from Johanna Schulz put the Deacons on top.

Michael: Like Garrett just said, the Wake Forest women had the most unexpected performance of the weekend. They took down some teams that looked considerably better than them on paper and are now sitting at NCAA #6 in the country.

Sean: I think I’m surprised that Texas wasn’t able to do more at the Alex Wilson Invite, but I’m more surprised that the whole field didn’t do better. Luckily for the Longhorns, the lack of depth in the DMR still leaves them in a good qualifying position thanks to their performance from the Razorback Invitational last month.

Ben: I’m with Sam. No one really stuck out to me as none of the top times were run this weekend. It is hard to imagine any of the teams who ran this weekend earning a top three spot at NCAA’s.

The Washington men currently rank at NCAA #12 in the DMR. What percent chance do you give them to keep that final qualifying spot to Nationals as we enter conference championship weekend?

Sam: 14%. Either someone will run slightly faster or Washington will better their mark and move up. I’d assume the latter given the nature of the MPSF Championships and the fact that most of Washington’s top guys are either already qualified for Nationals or out of the picture.

Maura: 25%. Washington will need to run a time faster at the MPSF Championships than the winning time at the BIG 10 Championships.

Garrett: 45%. One scenario where Washington loses their spot to Nationals is if teams like Michigan and Penn State conspire to run an all-out DMR at the BIG 10 Championships to reach UW’s mark of 9:35.64 (converted). Even then, that’s asking a lot. Other than the BIG 10 teams, who would really challenge them? Maybe Villanova if they battle with Georgetown at the BIG East Championships? There’s a few possibilities which is why I put 45%, but I think it’s higher than Sam and Maura are saying.

Michael: 50%. I don’t think 9:35.64 will necessarily hold up as the NCAA #12 at the end of this season, but I think Washington can run faster at the MPSF Championships. The combination of an oversized track, competing at home and the pressure to solidify their national qualifier status should give them a boost.

Even if they better their current mark, there is still the possibility that the BIG 10 race goes faster, and I could see the ACC Championships going pretty fast too as teams like Virginia, North Carolina and Florida State may be looking to put together a last-ditch efforts to squeak into NCAA’s.

Sean: 3%. I think there will be a huge number of teams who decide that there’s an easy qualifying spot at Nationals. Washington will certainly be one of them and will try to help improve their time at home at the MPSF Championships.

I think Middle Tennessee State might attempt a national qualifier since they have already completed their conference championship. The BIG East is running their DMR on Sunday and will know exactly what the qualifying mark will be before their race. I also think that the Thursday ACC DMR looks promising as a potential qualifying race.

Ben: 25%. It only takes one team, but it is hard to figure out who that one team is going to be. Perhaps a team like MTSU will go all-in in one last race, but it’s tough to say how the conference championship meets will play out.

The Duke women currently rank at NCAA #12 in the DMR. What percent chance do you give them to keep that final qualifying spot to Nationals as we enter conference championship weekend?

Sam: 0%. Oregon will run faster than 11:15.

Maura: 0%. The MPSF Championships will see Oregon, and possibly even Utah, run qualifying times to knock out Duke and Michigan.

Garrett: 15%. Zero seems pretty harsh, but I get where Sam and Maura are coming from. Things don’t look so good for the Duke women. Oregon will probably give the DMR a go at the MPSF Championships and it feels like at least one other team, specifically from the BIG 10, will try to dip under the Blue Devil’s time of 11:06.

Michael: I’ll say 5%. I don’t want to say there is NO chance that anybody runs faster than Duke’s time, but it seems very unlikely. Oregon should have no problem putting together a sub-11:06 DMR, but anything can happen.

Sean: I’m also going for a low percentage...but higher than 0%! Let’s say 1%.

I just can’t imagine that Michigan State won’t attempt to run faster than that while Ohio State and Penn State will also be challenging as well. It’s also possible that we see another Mountain West DMR qualify as a team (either from Boise State or New Mexico), especially with an altitude conversion.

Plus, Oregon and Utah will likely challenge for a national qualifying time at the MPSF Championships as well. I wish I could say Duke would stay in position, but they’ll need to attempt another DMR at ACC’s to push further into the qualifying rankings.

Ben: We shouldn’t say 0%, so I’ll go 5%. Oregon will run faster, but on the off chance that they don’t, then Duke will squeak in.

Give us one major takeaway from this weekend.

Sam: I did some number crunching on Saturday night and made this fun table.

Please note that these times are slightly rounded in some cases.

Anyways, what we see is that the disparity between the top teams and the rest of the field is historic on the men's side. If the talent level was relatively deep, we would expect a closer mean and median, but because the top teams are that much better and the rest of the field is not nearly as good, the median gets pulled way down and we see a bigger differential.

So what does this mean for the National Championships? It’s pretty obvious based on what we have already seen, but the men’s (and women’s) races stand to be a three to four team competition with everyone else well behind.

Garrett: This is somewhat related to what Sam said, but the distance medley relay was FAR deeper last year than it was this year (on both the men’s and women’s side). Last year, it took 9:29.35 (men) and 11:00.28 (women) to qualify for Nationals.

If the season ended today, the final qualifying time for Nationals would be 9:35.64 (men) and 11:06.57 (women). Even if a few other teams do make their way into the top 12 nationally, the times this season will still be considerably slower. That’s just what happens when most of your qualifying times come from only a handful of races, but the significantly slower times are still surprising.

Michael: Yared Nuguse’s anchor leg on the Notre Dame DMR shows us that he might be the top miler in the NCAA. Oliver Hoare split slightly faster, but Nuguse’s finish indicates that he can beat just about anyone in the NCAA right now.

However, Nuguse will not be competing in the mile at NCAA’s unless he runs faster than 3:58.62 at the ACC Championships. He did run 3:57.93 to win the ACC title last year though, so don’t rule it out.

As the qualifying picture stands now, it looks like the Notre Dame men will once again be going all-in on the DMR, rather than chasing individual titles (Nuguse could still run the 3k on day two at NCAA’s).

Maura: Whoever is running the anchor for the other men’s teams at Nationals should be scared of Nuguse.

Sean: I’m with Sam here in that the biggest realization is how good the top couple of teams are on each side and then how big of a dropoff there is. I hope that there’s a number of quick DMRs this weekend and those races get more competitive, but this year could very well be four or five team races at NCAA’s, with a second race five seconds back for the final podium positions.

Ben: After seeing the lack of depth in the DMR, the decisions of runners like Dani Jones, Yared Nuguse and Whittni Orton become even more important. Whether they decide to run the DMR or other individual events could swing the DMR title race. We already knew that coming into this weekend, but there was a possibility that other teams would emerge as threats. As it stands, the favorites coming into this weekend remain the overwhelming favorites to take home the win.