Updated: May 2, 2019
Conversation by Ben Weisel, Michael Weidenbruch & Garrett Zatlin
______ has been the most important headline of the outdoor track season because...
Ben: Does the prospective change of the distance for the NCAA XC Championships count? Because I think we could see more and more middle distance men compete at a high level in cross country (or at least have more of a scoring role). On the women’s side, changing the distance from 6k to 8k could prevent the next Dani Jones from winning Nationals. This change could alter how coaches recruit as well as the tactics used at Nationals. Whether you like the distances or not, I think it would be cool to see the men and women run the same distance.
Michael: I’m going to make an argument for Cole Rockhold here. His 13:35 performance at Bryan Clay is the most important headline because he has been battling injury for a while now and we weren’t exactly sure how well he would be able to run this season. However, he has put himself in a great spot at this point in the season. I’m not sure if we can call him a national title contender yet, but 13:35 is pretty darn fast. His return adds yet another name to the men’s 5k conversation, which could be a pretty intense race come NCAA's.
Garrett: Aneta Konieczek transferring to Oregon from Western Colorado has been the most important (or at least the most underappreciated) headline of the outdoor track season because of the implications it has on the 2019 cross country season. The 5x D2 All-American with a 10:02 steeplechase PR could be a super lethal scorer for the Ducks next fall, especially with the Ducks losing five of their top seven from last year’s 3rd place podium team at XC Nationals. Konieczek will be a huge piece that Oregon can lean on to keep them competitive in an already stacked PAC 12 conference. At the same time, her absence from Division Two opens up a huge opportunity for Simon Fraser’s Julia Howley to win her first national title in the steeplechase later this spring. She is now the overwhelming favorite to take home NCAA gold with a D2 time that is 20 seconds faster than the next woman.
Who are your Breakout Runner of the Year nominees?
Garrett: I feel like I could already give you the winners. Indiana’s Daniel Michalski is taking down the NCAA steeplechase elites and running incredibly fast times in the process. His indoor times were strong, but no one was expecting these kind of performances from him. I would also throw in Iowa’s Matt Manternach. So far this season, he has improved his personal best from 1:48 to 1:47 to 1:46 which ended in him winning the 800 at Bryan Clay. I had never heard of the guy before this season, but he’s certainly on my radar now.
Ben: For the men, give me Mississippi State’s Daniel Nixon. To PR by two seconds in the 800 (from 1:49 to 1:47) is impressive, but it also puts him into the All-American conversation as well. I’m not sure if it was a one race wonder, but my goodness, it was quite a sight.
Michael: My pick on the men’s side is Stanford’s Thomas Ratcliffe. The junior has finished only seven races in his collegiate career, and he finally looks like he might be able to make an impact. He got some coverage when he won the Stanford Cross Country Invitational as a freshman (unattached), and then ran 7:54 at the indoor MPSF Championships this past February. He ran a few 1500's earlier this season, but only hit 3:44 which is good, but not necessarily what we would expect from a guy who was running 4:01 for the mile in high school three years ago. I was very pleasantly surprised to see him run 13:32 for 5k at the Cardinal Classic, which puts him at #3 in the NCAA right now. Ratcliffe and I both graduated from high schools in Massachusetts in the same year, so I was paying close attention to what he would end up doing at Stanford. We hardly saw any results from him over the last two and a half years, but it’s safe to say that Ratcliffe has broken onto the elite level in the NCAA.
Garrett: I don’t even think I need to list off nominees for the women because the winner is obvious (well, at least in my eyes it is). Georgetown’s Josette Norris has come out of nowhere to suddenly become one of the top talents in the country. After running 15:46 at Stanford (16 second personal best), she dropped a 10 second personal best in the 1500 to run 4:13. She’s at a completely new level right now which is what happens when you stay fully healthy and are able to accumulate some solid training. As for the other women nominees, I’ll go with BYU’s Lauren Ellsworth and Washington’s Isobel Batt-Doyle as other names to keep in mind.
Ben: So I’m going to take the easy way out for the women and completely agree with Garrett for a couple of reasons. One, I had never heard of Josette Norris before this season. Two, and really the only reason you need, is she ran a 10 second PR in the 1500. Let that sink in. A 10 SECOND PERSONAL BEST. A 10 second PR is a nice improvement in the 10k, something to take note of in a 5k, and an *insert expletive* miracle in the 1500.
Michael: Josette Norris from Georgetown is an easy pick here. She has gone from being very good to a legitimate podium contender in one race. If she keeps this momentum going, she could be threatening the likes of Dani Jones and Jessica Hull for a title. A 10 second PR puts her in a league of her own in terms of a breakout performance.
Name two super deep sleeper picks (one man, one woman) that could end up on the podium in June...
Garrett: Harvard’s Lisa Tertsch is a key name to watch over the next month. The sophomore has only raced three times since February, but every time she’s crossed the finish line it’s ended in her winning the race. After winning the 5000 meters at the Ivy League Indoor Championship, Tertsch opted to make her outdoor debut at the Penn Relays where she also won the 5000 in a time of 16:03. She is consistently improving and taking home wins against some very solid Ivy League talent. This leads me to believe that she could be a sleeper pick to become an All-American come June.
Michael: For the women, I’ll say Maudie Skyring of Florida State. She has run PR's in both the 800 and 1500 this season, securing times of 2:06 and 4:16. The 4:16 may already put her in the conversation for the 1500, but my bold prediction is that she runs the 800 at NCAA's and gets on the podium there.
Ben: For the women, give me Destiny Collins who seems to be putting together her best collegiate track season so far. Her 1500 at Bryan Clay wasn't great, but she bounced back by running a 5k PR at the same meet before winning the 1500 at the National Relay Championships in 4:19 (a personal best) this past weekend. If the talented Texas Longhorn can keep up the momentum, then she might just have an outside chance a scoring and reaching the podium.
Garrett: For the men, Wichita State’s Zach Penrod has quietly been at the top of every results page I’ve looked at since indoors. He’s got some underrated speed and just won the Drake 1500 in a time of 3:42. I’m not saying he’s going to win a national title, but he is sneaky good and someone who is gaining momentum (and fitness) as we enter the postseason. For that reason, he is my sleeper pick to watch.
Ben: I’m not even sure he should be a super deep sleeper, but no one has talked about him this year. Give me Samuel Abascal from Eastern Kentucky. The Colonel just missed making Nationals by one spot at regionals last year and is out for redemption this year. He has run 8:42 this year which is good for the #7 fastest time in the country. Like former Colonel Jamaine Coleman who was runner-up at Nationals last year, Abascal has the speed and strength to put together a strong finish. Take it from a guy who has lost to both of those men in the 1500 before...
Michael: On the men’s side, Wake Forest freshman Zach Facioni has quietly put together a very impressive year. He ran 13:48 at the Raleigh Relays, which is impressive in and of itself, but when we go back to his cross country performances, I think he is capable of more. Facioni ran 23:31 on a not-so-easy Franklin Park course to take 2nd at ACCs. He then finished 14th at the Southeast Regional Championships, taking down some big names in the process. If he can drop 10 more seconds or so (which is still a lot, I know) I think he could be a scary dark-horse pick at NCAA's…
Three bold predictions for Payton Jordan...
*Entries were not set in stone during the time that this article was published*
1) Grant Fisher runs 3:36
2) Allie Ostrander runs sub-9:30
3) Mick Stanovsek runs 1:46
1) Rory Linkletter runs sub-28
2) Jessica Hull runs 4:05
3) Steven Fahy runs sub-8:30
1) Aidan Tooker runs 8:28
2) Weini Kelati wins the 1500 over Jessica Hull
3) Tyler Day runs sub 13:30