The Group Chat: Indoor Nationals (Part 1)

By: Michael Weidenbruch, Ben Weisel, Sean Collins, Garrett Zatlin

The biggest meet of the season is right around the corner which sparked some interesting discussion for a few writers at TSR. Below, we brought our typical group texts to a Google Doc and gave you some of our thoughts on the upcoming National Championships...

Who has been the most disrespected runner when it comes to the national contender conversation?

Michael: On the men’s side, I think Geordie Beamish is extremely underrated in the mile. With the conversions his times have undergone, I think a lot of people have discredited his ability. While it’s true that he hasn’t run a mile at sea level this year, he did run 7:56 in the 3k at Iowa State. I think he is certainly capable of 3:57 (his converted time), which doesn’t necessarily put him in the conversation to win the title, but he could easily get him on the podium for sure. I overlooked him when making my predictions and I think that may come back to bite me.

Garrett: Good point on Beamish. Along with Grijalva, I think people are just growing numb to the NAU dominance.

Garrett: In regards to the men, I don’t think people realize how much of a legitimate title contender Amon Kemboi can be. Sure, he was two seconds behind Fisher and McDonald at Millrose, but he has shown that he has some of the best range in the country with season bests of 3:59, 7:44, and 13:33. I think he could walk away with a national title this weekend as he may be the best equipped in terms of potential race execution.

Sean: Kemboi is a great choice and my pick to win the 3K, although he might be an even better 5K runner. Not having Kipkoech in the field with him is limiting his exposure this year, probably to his advantage actually.

Sean: For the men I think it has to be Conner Mantz of BYU. Mantz had a ton of accolades coming out of high school and he’s been forgotten a little bit since he came back from his mission trip. He doesn’t have quite the kick as the other runners, but if the 5K or 3K gets pushed from the gun, there’s a possibility he comes out on top. Plus, he’s got a ton of teammates to help him.

Ben: With Mantz, I’m curious to see how he reacts to his first Indoor National Championship. He is not scared of taking on the pace, but with such a deep field, I’m not sure if that will help him.

Ben: Although he has received a lot of praise for his performances this indoor season, I don’t think enough people have taken Kyle Mau seriously as a contender. He is #4 in the mile, #6 in the 3k, AND could be anchoring Indiana’s very fast DMR squad. He, like Hoare, could score a ton of points for his team.

Garrett: Mau is a personal favorite of mine. He has become a truly elite distance runner this season with impressive range. Great choice.

Sean: For the women, I would say the majority of the 800 meter field qualifies. but Allie Wilson definitely takes the crown across men and women for most underrated. Wilson ran 2:02.65 and a number of other good races at the 800 and mile distance. Unfortunately, she has been almost completely ignored. I get that Rivers and Pocratsky are larger names, but Wilson has been a star and might even be my favorite to win the title.

Garrett: I’ll argue in favor of someone similar to Allie Wilson and say that Martha Bissah needs more recognition. She has the top time in the NCAA and although it was a flat-track conversion, it was still an incredibly fast result. She has been very consistent this season and needs to be in the conversation along with Pocratsky and Rivers.

Ben: You guys took both of my answers, so I’ll go in a different direction. I think Karisa Nelson has been slept on by everyone. The 2017 Indoor Mile Champion suffered a foot injury last year, but has come back strong this year. Perhaps everyone isn’t sure if she is all the way back from injury, but I think she could be a top contender in a hard-to-predict mile.

Garrett: She can absolutely be an All-American, but I’m just not sure we’ve seen the same spark from her as we did in 2017. Regardless, she’s talented enough to make some noise.

Michael: Portland's Lauren LaRocco stands out to me as being underrated. Her mile and 3k PR's don’t stack up with some of the top women in the 5k field, but she is very solidly in the mix behind the top four or so entries. She has only raced two 3k's since she ran her 5k qualifier in December which has kept her out of the conversation a bit. She is only running the 5k at NCAA's so she should be at her best.

Which DMR is the best all-around relay when it comes to the 1200, 800, and mile legs?

Sean: Boise State women. The group of Alexis Fuller, Kristie Schoffield, and Allie Ostrander will be very dangerous if they put all of their pieces together. I don’t think any other team has a qualified individual at every distance leg.

Garrett: I’m not sure that the Boise State women will run all of their pieces which is why I’m going with the Oklahoma State women in this one. They have 800 and mile specialists on each distance leg of their relay and have already proven that they can be majorly successful. They scratched all of their open events for this race and I think it will pay off.

Ben: I 100% agree with Sean as long as everyone runs for Boise State. Each runner fits so well in the DMR from 800 specialist Schoffield to Allie Ostrander who can run with anyone in the country.

Sean: I should correct an earlier statement. The Oregon men also have qualified athletes at all distance legs, but I don’t hold them in the same conversation because they’re weaker in the 1200/800 than they are at the mile and 3K.

Michael: If Boise State runs their best squad, I’ll hand it to them. If not, I think Villanova is very well rounded. That may be a bit of a hot take, but the trio of McArthur, Keegan and Hutchinson has the potential to make some noise. None of their legs are necessarily the best in the field, but when you put them all together they are very well-rounded.

Garrett: As of the men, I think Iowa State is probably the most well-rounded as they don’t necessarily have any weaknesses. Festus Lagat is a 1:48/4:00 stud who has another a very underrated half-miler in Roshon Roomes on the 800 leg and a consistent miler in Dan Curts on the anchor. I’m not saying they’re the best out there, but they will be able to post consistent performances around the board.

Sean: Garrett, if you were coaching at Iowa State, would you anchor Curts or Lagat?

Garrett: Great question, I had never thought about it. I think I would take Lagat on the anchor since he has better mid-distance times which would (theoretically) give him better closing speed in a tactical race.

Michael: Oregon immediately stands out to me. West, Brown, and Teare are all studs who will be strong contenders for individual titles as well. These are all guys who could run away from the field on their legs, except for possibly Reed Brown. His 800 meter speed might not be good enough to put a gap on the competition, but he might not need to. This has to be the deepest team in the field in terms of raw talent.

Ben: For the men, I think the obvious answer is Oregon. They are loaded with six sub-four milers who will fill the three distance spots for the team. Even if West, Brown, and Teare don’t run they have Blake Haney and Charlie Hunter to fill in. They might be a little weak at 800 because they don’t have someone who has run 1:48 on the squad, but other than that they have no weaknesses.

Garrett: Maybe I should’ve said Oregon...

Sean: If we were talking 4xMile, Oregon gets the edge. Here, Ole Miss is definitely a little bit stronger. Waleed Suliman and Derek Gutierrez are just as good if not better than whoever Oregon puts at the 1200/mile. John Rivera is better than whoever Oregon puts at the 800 too.

Ben: I agree that Ole Miss is loaded and Suliman might just put them over the top.

Garrett: The only reason I didn’t take Oregon is because I’m not sure they have a reliable, established 800 leg. That has been a (minor) area of weakness for them over the past few years.

You have to put all of your money on one distance runner (or relay) to win a national title this weekend. Who is it?

Garrett: It has to be Oliver Hoare for the men...right? Between the mile, 3k, and DMR he’s bound to get a gold medal. He’s the top seed in both events and the numbers are in his favor.

Ben: I could not agree with you more. He is the clear favorite in the mile whereas the 800, 3k, and 5k all have at least two co-favorites.

Michael: I agree with Hoare. I will be surprised if he doesn’t win the mile, and I can see him taking the 3k as well. I’m not as confident about Wisconsin’s DMR title chances, but they are an easy podium pick there too.

Garrett: As for the women, the answer is a bit less clear. Between the 3k and DMR, Jessica Hull has the best chance to bring home a national title. She has phenomenal closing speed, even in fast races. That said, I would feel a lot more confident if she were running the mile instead of the 3k...

Michael: Between the 3k and the 5k, I have to go with Weini Kelati. She has been on fire this year. I like her chances in the 5k a bit better than in the 3k with Monson and Hull running the 3k, but those two seem beatable as well.

Ben: Danae Rivers is the pick for me as she has been dominant all season. While we talked earlier about Wilson and Bissah, I think Rivers is the best bet to win the 800.

Garrett: Rivers is surprising for me. I’m not sure I would have picked her when considering how absolutely stacked the 800 is at the top of the NCAA.

Ben: I agree that the 800 is strong, we haven’t even mentioned Rachel Pocratsky yet, but I think she is the best runner in the country right now and the other fields are stacked as well.

Sean: I would not put Hull as the favorite in either of her races and picking Rivers is too risky with one event only. I’m torn between Weini Kelati and Lauren Gregory. Kelati has been basically unstoppable lately. Gregory seems the closest to Oliver Hoare in terms of the women’s field.

Sean: Heading back to the men’s conversation, I am going to pick Devin Dixon. He got his biggest challenge of the year at SEC's from Marco Arop, but handled that very well. Even more than Hoare, I think Dixon is a class above the field in the 800.

Ben: This may be hypocritical considering I just picked Rivers for the women, but I think the men’s 800 field is even deeper. I wouldn’t be surprised to see five different guys take home the title. Arop challenged Dixon at SEC's by making a hard move with 300 left and didn’t have enough in the tank to finish, but that might be different at Nationals. If Dixon does catch him again, then he will have to contend with White, Hoppel, and Heppenstall who all can close hard as well.

Michael: I agree that both 800 fields are just too deep to pick a favorite from. Both Rivers and Dixon have proven that they have what it takes to win, but these fields are just too stacked for me to be sure.

Who has the most to prove this weekend?

Garrett: It took me some time to think about this one, but despite what Sean said in the earlier question, I think Devin Dixon needs to prove that he’s as good as his monster personal best from earlier this season. He dropped his indoor PR from 1:47 to 1:45 earlier this season which eventually earned a 1:44 conversion. He is clearly an elite runner, but can he take home the national title or at least contend for it? He hasn’t always been spectacular at National Championship meets which is my only concern, but I do think he has turned to corner this season.

Sean: If you think Devin Dixon has to prove himself, what do you think about Jazmine Fray?

Garrett: You were smart to ask Sean because she is going to be my pick for the women. The indoor collegiate record holder hasn’t exactly had much of a spark with this season and although she qualified, I feel like she’s capable of more. Fray will likely want to prove that she’s just as good as she was during the 2018 track seasons.

Ben: I tend to agree with Garrett on the Dixon pick because I am still a little skeptical that he can win a national title. I’ll go in a slightly different direction and say that Suliman has the most to prove this weekend. He ran his 3:56 on the BU indoor track which, as we saw after last weekend, is very fast. Suliman has shown flashes of his talent since last spring when he ran 3:39 for 1500 meters, but he hasn’t shown an ability to truly contend at the national level (yet). Even though he ran 3:39 last year, he wasn’t able to qualify for NCAA's out of his region. A solid performance this week would end all of that talk right away.

Michael: Similar to Ben’s argument for Suliman, I think Carlos Villarreal has a lot to prove in the mile. He didn’t run anything spectacular or put down a qualifying time until mid-February. He has looked great since then which is a good sign heading into NCAA's, but he is still pretty inexperienced on the national level. In his one NCAA appearance (indoor 2018) he failed to make the mile final. Villarreal has improved a lot, but he has yet to show he has what it takes to be a title contender.

Sean: I’m going to cheat on this question and pick an entire team for the men: Oregon. This is their time to step up and show that they are still a distance powerhouse and not just the biggest name in track. If the Ducks cannot pull away a top three performance from one person, I think that you have to drop them from the top five current distance programs.

Garrett: Love the Oregon pick. They’re probably hungry to show that staying in Eugene was the right move over going to Seattle.

Ben: Wow! I like it. Big weekend for Powell vs Thomas.

Michael: On the other side of the Washington/Oregon debate, my pick on the women’s side is Katie Rainsberger. She has run well this year, performing very similarly to how she did at Oregon in terms of times, and it will be interesting to see if she can follow up her move with another trip to the podium this weekend. Obviously, with her coaching remaining the same, it is safe to say not much has changed in terms of her training. However, I wonder if she will be able to match her performance from NCAA's last time around (3rd in both the 3k and DMR in 2017).

Sean: I forgot a women’s pick too since I got hung up in the Dixon debate emotionally. I think Susan Ejore has to step up this weekend. Ejore was erratic in her performances during cross country and is being relied on to run a huge leg in the DMR and uphold the Oregon tradition in the mile.

Ben: For me, the women who have the most to prove this weekend are Bissah and Wilson who are trying to show that they can compete with the big schools. Bissah especially after people have snickered a bit at the flat-track conversion.

Garrett: Agreed with you there, Ben. No doubt that they’re talented, but will be interesting to see if they can prove it at the national level.