There were a few athletes who improved their stock over the course of the last two weekends. Who do you think will make the biggest impact at NCAA's?
John: This might be a cop-out, but Enael Woldemichael of Grand Valley State should make the biggest impact at the NCAA meet. After debuting at the GVSU Big Meet where he ran 14:12, he finished 2nd two weeks later at the GLIAC conference meet in a time of 8:07 for 3000 meters. Those times now rank at NCAA #16 and NCAA #9 (respectively) on the NCAA performance list.
To be quite frank, Woldemichael is a top-three talent in both of those events. I’m not sure if he is in title-contention fitness, but with another two weeks for him to train, I would not be surprised one bit if we saw him inside the top five for both events. At the very worst, he's going to mix up the placings for a bunch of runners who we had already pinned to be within the top eight.
Grace: I am going to go with Lauren Bailey of Indianapolis. Yes, she is already a well-known runner with several accolades to her name, but this past weekend she took over the NCAA #1 spot in the 5k with her converted 16:14 from the GLVC Championships. She is now listed at NCAA #3 in the 3k and NCAA #1 in the 5k.
For perspective, Ida Narbuvoll (U-Mary) also ran 16:14 back in December in a competitive race (and at the “fastest track in the country”), while Bailey ran a solo 16:14 on her home track. This performance shows us that Bailey isn't afraid to race hard, even if that means she’s running alone. Bailey’s odds of winning the 5k are only looking better and better.
Eric: Taylor Stack of Western State is someone who was already a well-known runner, but he is looking to win his first national title. He picked up his second straight RMAC indoor 5000 meter title this past weekend and has been in the national title conversation since cross country. When stacked up against the nations' best athletes, Stack ranks at NCAA #3 in the 5000 meters and NCAA #6 in the 3000 meters. He will have two individual opportunities in Alabama as he will be running the 3k and 5k at Nationals. His other opportunity would be on the DMR, but that's if the Mountaineers decide to go all-in on the relay.
Quenten: Grace mentioned Ida Narbuvoll and I am going to discuss her a bit more. Just recently, Narbuvoll improved her stock tremendously at her conference meet, running 9:26 in the 3000 meters which moves her up to the NCAA #2 fastest time in D2 this year. Along with this, she also owns the NCAA #5 ranked mile time (4:45) and the NCAA #2 5k (16:14). With her most likely scratching out of the mile, I believe she will have the biggest impact out of everybody in the 3k and 5k at NCAA's where she is one of the top contenders in both events.
Which runner surprised you the most at their conference meet?
Eric: I'll take Jake Mitchem of Colorado Mines. It seems like the Orediggers have an endless supply of talent and it is hard to distinguish one runner from another. However, Mitchem made his name known when he finished runner-up in the 3000 meters at RMAC's to Marcelo Laguera of CSU-Pueblo. He lost by just 0.02 seconds which means that he got out-leaned at the line. His time of 8:30 converts down to an 8:06 which places him at NCAA #7 and cements his status (in my mind) as someone who is going to contend in Birmingham.
Grace: Taylor Hestekin of U-Mary was having an alright season prior to the NSIC Championships, but seemingly peaked perfectly for this past weekend. She won the 1000 meter conference title with a time of 2:52 and was runner-up in the mile with a converted time of 4:52. Hestekin’s mile performance was an eight second PR and it puts her in position to qualify for Nationals in the event. Her progression in the mile and recent middle distance PR's tells us that she could surprise some people at NCAA’s.
John: How about Stefanie Parsons? She started the weekend out by helping Edinboro win the DMR as she anchored them to a six second win over the weekend. She then came back the next day and proceeded to win the mile (4:57), the 800 (2:15) and then the 3000 (10:03). We definitely knew that she was talented, but I personally didn’t think she would take home four different titles this weekend. She scored 40 points of her teams' 76 points on the weekend and helped pace them to a 3rd place finish, the second best in school history. Can she ride this wave into NCAA's where she’ll be competing in the mile and 3000 meters?
Quenten: I have to agree with Stefanie Parsons also. We all know it’s hard to double, nonetheless to QUADRUPLE at a meet and to add to it, she WON each race. What she did at her conference meet was surprising and shocking to say the least. I believe this performance did nothing but build her confidence level as she heads into NCAA's and I truly think she will make big waves and will carry this incredible performance onward.
Who had the BEST individual conference championship performance?
Eric: Ida Narbuvoll is one that sticks out from these past two weekends. She swept the Northern Sun titles in the mile, 3000 and 5000. Her 3k title is the one that jumped out to me as her 9:31 was 30 seconds faster than 2nd place and it eventually converted to a 9:26. She is now ranked at NCAA #2 in the 3k and 5k as well as NCAA #5 in the mile. Look for her to contend for a title in either the 3k and/or 5k in two weeks.
Grace: I completely agree with Eric about Ida Narbuvoll, but I think Berenice Cleyet Merle of Indianapolis deserves a mention as well. She won the 800 meters and the mile at the GLVC Championships and also was a member of the runner-up 4x400 relay.
John: There were quite a few performances that I was impressed with (honestly, more than I expected). I mentioned Stefanie Parsons in the question before this, but I think I’m going to go with someone who did the same thing on the men’s side.
One of the nation’s best runners in Christian Noble started his week (GSC was held on a Tuesday and Wednesday) by winning the 3000 meters (8:30). Later that day, he came back and anchored his DMR team to a conference title, making him two-for-two to begin conference competition. The next day, he won the mile (4:14) and capped off his conference week by winning the 5000 meters (14:41), giving him four conference titles within a span of 48 hours.
Quenten: Like John mentioned, there were tons of performances that stuck out, but what really stuck out to me was Connor Schwartz in the 3000 meters at the GLIAC Championships. Schwartz was able to capture the win, lower his time by five seconds to run a PR (8:06) and put his name at NCAA #8. He may not have earned multiple conference titles, but what was maybe more impressive was that he took down Enael Woldemichael, Tanner Chada, Ryan Talbott and CarLee Stimpfel.
This performance was more than just a big PR. It was a race that established Schwartz as a legitimate talent who is capable of challenging the top distance runners in the country.
Conference championships were going on for the last two weekends, but there were also some last chance meets. Which athlete made the most of their opportunity at those meets? Will they be able to shake things up in their respective event(s) at Nationals in two weeks?
Eric: A senior from the Academy of Art in San Francisco, Natalia Novak has put her name on my radar. Even though she has never made it to NCAA's before, she is going to be competing in two weeks as she now has the NCAA #8 mile time in the country with a 4:48. Boston was very kind to her and is likely hoping that the CrossPlex will treat her the same way.
Grace: I completely agree with Eric regarding Natalia Novak, her performance was outstanding and hopefully she’ll continue her momentum. Dania Holmberg (Seattle Pacific) is also worth mentioning. She ran a 9:38 at the Seattle Pacific Last Chance Qualifier for the NCAA #12 time in Division Two and a nine second PR. She already had the qualifying time in the 5k, but she saw the opportunity to qualify for the 3000 meters as well and she took it.
Holmberg has made very sollid progression this year and has really stepped up for Seattle Pacific after their star runner transferred in the fall. I wouldn’t be surprised if she made some noise in two weeks.
John: I’ll choose two here, but that’s only because they finished in nearly identical times over the weekend. Kayla Wooten and Maia Austin improved upon their rankings just enough to get into the NCAA meet. They took advantage of Stephanie Cotter opting to not run the mile and were able to take home 1st and 2nd place finishes in times of 5:05.26 and 5:05.28, respectively. After the conversion, their times now sit at 4:52.74 (NCAA #14) and 4:52.76 (NCAA #15).
Wooten will be looking to add another All-American honor to her resume while Austin will be competing at Nationals for the first time in her career as an individual. I’d expect both of them to be in the mix for podium spots.
Quenten: Austin Miller of Augustana (S.D.) truly made the most out of conference weekend by running a seasons best time by four full seconds in the 800 meters (1:50) to add his name to the NCAA list at #8. Miller’s back was against the wall in terms of qualifying, but he put together this performance last minute to qualify for Nationals which was very impressive and very clutch. Miller will be a true contender in this event at NCAA's with the top half of the field looking very crowded.