The Group Chat: NCAA's Preview

Which would be the better storyline? Grant Fisher winning a national title or Dani Jones winning a national title?

Garrett: The answer to this question depends on what you value more. Comeback story from injury, or solidifying your legacy. Personally, I like the idea of Fisher winning more. Dani Jones may return to the NCAA (for track) after this season while Fisher is likely off to the pro circuit. After all of the legendary names Fisher has had to go through, it would be nice to see him walk away with a win (although I also like the idea of McDonald putting together the three-season distance sweep as well).

Ben: Maybe I am biased, but this was an easy one for me. The clear answer is Grant Fisher. While it would be very cool to see Dani Jones rebound from injury, I don’t think a national track title will ever mean more to her legacy than her cross country title. When we look back at this year for Jones we will remember the cross country title first and foremost. We will think of the track title, but we will assume that was a given after her cross country title. For Fisher to beat McDonald in his final race would give his legacy so much more juice.

Garrett: That’s a great point Ben. While I think many of us see Jones as a track runner, it’s her XC title that really validates her incredible overall talent.

Maura: I agree with both of you regarding Grant Fisher. I want to see him finish what he started when he won his first title in the 5k. Fisher seems to have a new spring in his step this outdoor season and that will to win another title will hopefully be accomplished this season. Fisher has run PR's from the 800 to 5k this season. Jones, on the other hand, has not yet raced enough this season for me to feel fully confident in her winning the 5K.

Matt: I completely agree with all of you. While Jones grabbing a national title, in an event she has never won after being out all indoor season would be a great feat (one that I do not think happens) the easy answer for me is Fisher. He has been so close so many times, it feels like he should have more than just one national title. After having his rivalry with Justyn Knight, and getting the better of him once, it would be a great ending to his collegiate career to finally take down McDonald and be a national champion once again.

Sam: I’m a bit torn on this one. Fisher winning would certainly boost where he currently stands, but at the same time he’s always been and will be a big name. Sure he hasn’t had the success that many people expected, but think about others like Austin Tamagno and Cooper Teare who also ran very close to sub-4 as high schoolers and will never win NCAA's? I think I personally would rather see Jones win because it would cap off a stellar year and potentially help vault her onto bigger things post-NCAA. Plus, this is the first time we’ve seen her at a longer distance on the track and she hardly even raced this NCAA season.

Sean: There’s really not too much more I can say on this one. I agree with Matt and Ben that Fisher taking down McDonald is more of a storyline than Fisher actually winning. For Jones, there isn’t really a clear favorite in that race, and if there is, you could argue it’s her. There just isn’t enough there for Jones winning to be a bigger storyline. If Hull and Jones had been racing together at 5k or 1500, I think a Dani Jones storyline takes the cake. But since that didn’t happen, Fisher gets the honor on this one.

Elliott: I have to go with the general consensus here. In my opinion, Fisher winning a national title would carry slightly more intrigue. In no way am I discrediting Dani Jones, as I believe she is a phenomenal talent and her race should be exciting and memorable. It’s just that these championships do a lot more for Fisher’s reputation than they do for Jones. Everybody knew that Fisher was going to be a unique talent out of high school. However, he never had the consistent success that guys like Edward Cheserek had for sustained amounts of time. Winning a title this weekend would do a ton to help bolster his name as he prepares to enter the professional circuit.

Which heavy favorite is the least likely to win this weekend?

Maura: I’m just going to say it: Oliver Hoare in the 1500. After not getting the win in the mile during indoors, I just haven’t seen the same outdoor performances that got him the 1500 title last year. That’s not saying Hoare won’t go down without a fight, but there are other men out there who are also deserving of a title, say Notre Dame’s Yared Nuguse.

Garrett: I really wanted to go with Maura on this one (and I almost did). But on the men’s side, I think I’ll actually go with the steeplechase and say Ryan Smeeton. It’s painful to say this after he absolutely dominated the steeplechase at Payton Jordan with an 8:27. Still, guys like Obsa Ali and Matt Owens aren’t far behind him. The race will likely be fast (which benefits Smeeton), but I just feel like there are too many veterans and established superstars who could potentially take him down. I’ll probably get ripped for this (and rightfully so), but I’m always a little cautious of breakout runners who are new to the top-tier of distance running.

Ben: While I agree with you Garrett, I don’t really see Smeeton as a heavy favorite. I think he should be considered the favorite, but with so many other guys, it is hard to point him out as the favorite. I am going to go out on a limb and say that the heaviest of favorites, Morgan McDonald, is least likely to win. I worry about his overall fitness after a unique season. I think among the big favorites on the men’s side (Hoppel, Hoare, McDonald), he will face the stiffest competition in Grant Fisher as well as other guys like Kyle Mau, Cooper Teare, and Geordie Beamish.

Matt: Everyone knows I am on the Obsa Ali train, so I agree with Garrett on Ryan Smeeton. He is a newcomer to this national scene, and we already saw him make a mistake that almost cost him at regionals. With veterans in the event like Ali, Owens, Shumway and others, it is going to be very difficult for him to run them into the ground like he has with others so far this season.

Sean: I’m troubled by the claim that there are any heavy favorites on the men’s side beyond McDonald and Hoppel. Maybe Hoare, but I don’t think I could say heavy favorite. But a favorite? Yes. So out of McDonald and Hoppel, I’d have to pick McDonald. The McDonald vs. Fisher buzz has to be weighing on him and there’s sure to be some other guys using that buzz to try to surprise that duo.

Garrett: As for the women, this is a tricky answer. Weini Kelati is a heavy favorite for the 10,000 meters, but I worry about the names that she will have to battle in the 5000. Dani Jones will be fresh and could give her some trouble if the race is tactical. Plus Ostrander will be doubling back to join a handful of other top talents who aren’t racing the 10k like her and Kelati are.

Maura: Women wise, Ostrander in the steeplechase will be interesting. Cohen seems to be the stronger steeplechase runner this season even though she lost to Ostrander earlier. Ostrander will easily qualify for the finals, but Cohen and Birk will not let Ostrander walk away with the title for a third year in a row.

Ben: For the women, it pains me to say Ostrander as well. I think Allie O is running incredibly well right now, but I think she has some stiff competition in Cohen and Birk. Plus, it is the steeple, so anything could happen.

Sam: Dang…I thought I was about to be original by saying Ostrander but now everyone is going that route. Regardless, Ostrander is going to have her hands full with Cohen.

Matt: I think all of you are crazy for picking Ostrander, I think she has looked as good as ever. With that said, as much as I am a fan of hers, I am going to go with Danae Rivers. As consistent as she has been over the years, this year especially, the 800 is so deep that it really is up in the air. It is most likely going to be very similar to indoors, a very tactical race that comes down to a homestretch kick, and that usually does not bode well for favorites.

Maura: I do see where you’re coming from Matt regarding the deep field in the 800, but I think Rivers has shown her experience on the national level and has what it takes to win her second title of the year in the 800.

Sean: What about Jessica Hull? I think she’s the easiest answer here. She has to navigate two rounds which is always difficult. Then she has to handle Sinclaire Johnson who has shown she can succeed at this distance after setting the NCAA lead at Regionals. There’s also some great competition from Jessica Harris, Rachel Pocratsky, and Karisa Nelson from the East region.

Who is the biggest guarantee to win a national title?

Sam: Jessica Hull. She has not lost a race in ages and at this point there’s no reason to think she will. There are a lot of arguments to be made as to why she might - heat could hurt her, the 1500 is unpredictable, lots of good competition - but at the end of the day she’s the reigning champ and isn’t going to lose. If she was double entered in the 5000, I still think she would end the season undefeated.

Maura: Hull is a very good option, but I’m going to have to choose Weini Kelati in the 10k. Kelati has the ability to take a slower start in the 10k and pick up the pace quickly. It is surprising that Kelati has yet to win a title given her record at New Mexico. Even though the 10k is later at night, the heat and humidity could still be an issue.

Matt: Like Maura, I am going with Kelati. She is the prohibitive favorite in both the 5k and 10k, and with how she has been running, I think she takes not just one of them, but both. As much as some of you think the heat is going to have an impact on her, it is going to have an even larger impact on the women chasing her.

Ben: I completely agree with Maura and Matt. Kelati has to be the pick because she could very easily win a title in both the 10k and 5k. If she misses out on the 10k (I don’t think she will), then she will have a great chance to avenge that loss and win the 5k.

Garrett: Wow, really?

Ben: I just feel like she is at the top of her game right now and peaking at the perfect time. Maybe I’m overrating her a bit, but I think she is running at her peak right now.

Garrett: I can totally understand where the Kelati pick comes from (and would agree that she is peaking at the right time), I just figured this section would be entirely about Jessica Hull. She is just so overwhelming good and the 1500 is one of the weaker distance events of the weekend. I feel extremely confident about the Oregon Duck.

Sam: I’m with Garrett on the shock of the Kelati pick. She’s good for sure, but she thrives on taking the race out honestly and that could be difficult in Austin where it’s hotter than…hot

Sean: I’m with Garrett and Sam here too. I don’t think Kelati is the biggest favorite. And if she does not win the 10K, her shots at beating Jones in the 5k have to go down drastically. I guess I have to pick Ostrander. She definitely has competition with Cohen and Birk, but her losing in the steeple seems unimaginable.

Ben: For the men, I think Bryce Hoppel has to be the answer. I mean the guy hasn’t lost on the track this year, and I don’t think that streak is going to end. Plus, some of the preseason favorites (White, Arop, Heppenstall) failed to qualify for Nationals which weaken the field further.

Garrett: On the men’s side, I’m going with Morgan McDonald. It feels crazy even typing that because of the threat Grant Fisher brings to the table. Still, the 10k and steeplechase are super wide-open in my mind and the 800 is too short for me to feel comfortable when trying to make accurate predictions. Plus, the 1500 is the deepest it has ever been this year. So, by the process of elimination, I’m going with McDonald.

Maura: As much as I wanted to go with Morgan McDonald in the 5k, I just don’t think he has it in him against Fisher. I do agree with Ben though on Bryce Hoppel being a title guarantee in the 800. He has had an incredible year not losing a single race. I was able to watch Hoppel race at the West Regional meet and he is prepped for any type of race, be that taking it from the gun or letting the race play out until he makes his kick.

Matt: Yeah I am with Ben in choosing Bryce Hoppel. He has not lost a race this season and after the debacle by some of the top contenders at regionals, the only person at this point that I would have a concern with him losing to is Devin Dixon. He has been too consistent to have a let down now.

Sean: It feels ridiculous not to pick Bryce Hoppel, but sometimes it’s fun to be ridiculous. This is not one of those times. There’s just no other men’s favorite worth picking here.

What was the most difficult event to predict?

Sam: The 800 for men because it’s arguably the most unpredictable event in the sport. Plus, while Hoppel should be the favorite, this year doesn’t bring an athlete like Donovan Brazier or Michael Saruni who has run substantially faster than everyone else.

Ben: Predicting the 10k on the men’s side was excruciating. There is no clear favorite, and I feel like I could have picked about six different guys to win the title. Trying to pick a winner and then pick a top eight with about twelve deserving candidates was next to impossible.

Garrett: Completely agree with Ben. There is no real favorite in this one. If you would have asked me how many men I think will be in contention to win a title, I probably would have said six as well. If picking a champion was that hard, just envision how much time I spent on the rest of the All-American spots.

Sean: Men’s 1500. Trying to figure out who gets through the heats was a challenge in its own right and then trying to figure out who to leave out of the medals was excruciating. For the women, the 800 was also unbelievably hard. Jazmine Fray presents a challenge since you never know which version you’re going to get. Plus, all of the medalists are essentially determined in the heats.

Garrett: I’m with Sean when it came to women’s predictions. Rivers is the favorite, but after her I don’t feel confident about my order at all. I’ve said this all season, but the women’s 800 is super deep and Jazmine Fray’s new NCAA #1 time from regionals only complicates the picture even more.

Maura: I have a very different opinion than the rest of you regarding the women. It was difficult for me to predict the women’s 5k. There seem to be such strong talents in the women’s race and there are plenty of women who have what it takes to win. Come on, you’ve got the three New Mexico women, Dani Jones, Fiona O’Keefe, Allie Ostrander, and the list goes on. As for the men, the 1500 stressed me out. With some of the top men not qualifying, I had to look at who had the most experience and who is strongest in a sit and kick race.

Ben: Yet again, I very much agree with Maura. I felt like I was throwing darts picking the women’s 5k. What makes it so hard, besides all of the talented runners, is that so many athletes will have already run a race that weekend (or in Ostrander’s case, two races). I don’t think there is any clear favorite AND we don’t know how strong runners will bounce back after racing in the heat during during the 10k. Those two variables made predictions very difficult.

Maura: Don’t forget about the toll the heat could take on the women doubling back.

Matt: For the men’s side, the answer is extremely easy when picking the 10k. Just put a bunch of names in a hat and draw them out...that is how tightly bunched this field is. It is likely going to be an extremely tactical race, so there may be 20 or so men in contention with 400 meters left.

Sean: I think BYU makes it too fast for there to be that many men still in contention that late. One member of that group is going to end up sacrificing their chances to push the pace if it helps the team.

Matt: The women’s 800 is so deep that there are some huge names that are not even going to make the finals. When making my predictions, I was shocked at some of the names I had to leave out of the top eight. Though I think Rivers is going to take it. Still, it is also likely that she does not even finish in the top five.

How many All-Americans will BYU have in the 10k?

Sean: I think the over/under should be 2.5 and I would have to pick over. With six entries out of the 24 total, and assuming equal odds for every athlete, then there will be two BYU Cougars on the medal stand. Based on who they have and the ability to run as a group, two seems very reasonable. Still, three seems like the most realistic prediction. It’s just too tough to pick against Mantz, Young, and Linkletter.

Sam: I 100% agree with Sean. He spelled it out more logically than I would have but Linkletter, Young, and Mantz are a great trio that can run together if tactics get interesting. Plus, BYU tends to close well during races which benefits them in a setting like Austin.

Ben: I predicted two so I guess I have to go under, but man it really hurt not to include Mantz or McMillan in the top eight. I think it is very likely that one of those two sneaks into the top eight to join Linkletter and Young, but they are going to have to beat some absolute studs to make it.

Garrett: I had three Cougars on the podium and I feel pretty confident in that answer. Still, I think Connor McMillan is a good candidate to get inside the top eight as well. But I would also have to agree with Sean that Mantz, Young, and Linkletter are the big three to watch.

Maura: Similar to Garrett, I have three BYU men on the podium. I see Linkletter, McMillan, and Mantz placing in the top 8. Linkletter will be out for blood, especially with Tyler Day of NAU in the race. Mantz has shown his strength all year long and there is no slowing him down. As for the three other Cougars, they should most likely finish in the top 14 as the BYU men will dictate how the race plays out.

Matt: Like Garrett, I had three Cougars also on the podium in McMillan, Young, and Linkletter, but you never really know which of the six are going to be major players. Any combo of them could be All-Americans, and while I have three of them in the top eight, I am leaning towards it being more.

Elliott: I got a lot of flack for picking Dallin Farnsworth way back in our indoor draft. I’m happy to say that his performances have semi-redeemed the quality of that pick. With that being said, I can’t say that I believe he will be in contention for an all-American position as an individual racer, but given the unique position him and his teammates are in, anything is possible. We’ve never seen this many people from one squad in a National Championship 10k. If hot conditions create a tactical pace, and the BYU men can employ some strong cross country tactics, it could be feasible to see maybe three or more men achieve All-American status. We are treading into unknown water a bit here, and I for one am excited to see just which strategy the Cougars employ, especially considering guys like Linkletter and McMillan have solid chances of being on the podium.

What percent chance do you give Weini Kelati to be double champion this weekend? What about Allie Ostrander?

Matt: I would say Kelati has about an 70% chance to be a double champion this weekend. In my opinion, it is all but a guarantee that she takes the 10k title and she is a heavy favorite in the 5k as well. With Allie Ostrander, her winning the steeplechase is extremely likely, but she is going to have to take down Kelati in the 5k to get her double. One of these two women are going to win the 5k, whichever one that does will be a double champion.

Sam: As a data science and statistics major, my expert opinion gives Kelati a 23% chance and Ostrander a 7% chance to pull off the national title double. Kelati could easily win either or both, but I think she falters in at least one. Dani Jones is a huge threat in the 5000 as she’s fresh and can close substantially faster in a kicker’s race. I’d give Kelati a 59% chance of winning the 10,000, but a lot lower in the 5,000. As for Ostrander, I don’t think winning the steeple is a guarantee. Adva Cohen is a major threat and she owns a faster personal best than Ostrander in the event. Plus, the steeple can be unpredictable so the risk of a fall lowers her odds. Ostrander has also never been a strong back-to-back racer at NCAA's. She’s good, but not good enough to win it all. I think Ostrander pulls off the steeple but not even top five in the 5,000.

Garrett: Sam explained that better than I ever could have. Ostrander doesn’t have a super great history when it comes to doubling and the heat is not going to help, especially with a small turnaround between her events. However, I will say that Ostrander is at a completely different level this season, so I’ll nudge her up to 11%. As for Kelati, the threat of facing Dani Jones in a tactical 5k after already having run the 10k is a big concern for me. Still, I’m a little more lenient about her overall talent just like I am with Ostrander. I’ll go with 29% for Kelati.

Ben: Matt, you are making me feel a lot better about picking Kelati as the most likely champion on the women’s side. While I don’t think she has a 70% chance at the double, I do like her chances. I predicted a Kelati double so I think there is a good chance, maybe 40%. For Ostrander, it is going to be so tough bouncing back from the steeple final and then running the 5k finals a few hours late in the heat. I give her a 10% chance.

Maura: I have to say that Kelati has an 80% chance of winning the 5k and 10k this weekend. I have Kelati winning the 10k, but finishing 2nd in the 5k. I think the heat will be a factor in recovering. As for Ostrander, she has a 20% of being a double champion this weekend. She will have already raced two steeple races before toeing the line for the 5k against women who are fresh.

Sean: I’ll make mine quick. Kelati has 45% chance in 10k, but a 35% percent chance of winning the 5k if she wins the 10k before. That gives her a 15.75% chance. Ostrander is a 40% chance to win the steeple. If she wins the steeple, I’m confident she will feel good for the 5k which gives her a 15% chance to win that race. The heat, Jones, Kelati, the double, and others still make that too hard. This gives her a 6% shot. It’d be mighty impressive for either to make this double.

What was the prediction you were too afraid to make?

Sam: Since I posted my predictions too late to make it in the article - Minnesota boys Obsa Ali and Alec Basten go 1-2 in the steeplechase. For the women, the Oklahoma State 1500 trio of Molly Sughroe, Sinclaire Johnson, and Jenny Celis go 2-3-4 behind Hull.

Sean: Sam, those would be utterly ridiculous. As I went through my predictions I would have to say I was terrified to pick Cohen or Birk in the 3000 steeple, but I think Birk might surprise them both. As I look back though, I realize that I should have picked Paige Stoner to win the 10k. I didn’t even consider it at the time and I think that speaks to how scared I am to have made that pick.

Matt: I really wanted to pick Casey Comber to take down Hoare, had it typed out and everything, and then thought better of it. I love the way Comber races, but I just could not go against Hoare. On the women’s side, I always want to pick Jazmine Fray, every single year it crosses my mind and I have done it multiple times, and as much as I wanted to do it again, I went with the past results and thought wiser not to. I am going to be real disappointed in myself if this is the year she does it and I did not go with her.

Ben: Like Sam, I wanted to go against conventional wisdom in the steeple and pick Steven Fahy to win the title. He just hasn’t run enough for me to make the jump. For the women, I wanted to pick against Hull in the 1500 and go with Pocratsky, but I just couldn’t predict Hull to ever lose a collegiate 1500.

Garrett: Cooper Teare winning the 5000. I don’t think anyone realizes how wildly strong he has been this season. Beating Fisher at PAC-12’s was a big deal and he’s been running at a consistently high level all season. On the women’s side, I really wanted to have Erica Birk winning the steeplechase, but with Ostrander, Cohen, and Prouse on the line, I struggled to find the odds in my favor.

Ben: I agree with you on Teare. The hot streak he is on has been relatively unnoticed, but there are just too many studs ahead of him to predict another Oregon Duck winning the 5000.

Elliott: I also have to jump on Garrett’s Cooper Teare prediction. The kid has been absolutely stunning this season. The win over Fisher at PAC-12’s really validates the hot streak he’s been on. That being said, I believe he needs one more year to truly come into his own and be a solid contender for a national title. We forget that this guy is only a sophomore. Give him another year to mature and improve and I believe there will be no doubt to this guy tearing up the track. On the women’s side, this will come as a bit of a shock, but Erin Finn has been pretty average overall this season. However, I believe that there is always a bit of championship magic that can occur. For an experienced athlete like Finn, this might be enough to propel her to another All-American finish or potentially even a podium grab if everything plays into her hands.

Maura: I agree with Ben, I think Fahy has what it takes to win the steeple title. Not racing enough this season also makes me question his placing this weekend, but I still think he is primed to be in the top three. As for the women, Ohio State’s Julia Rizk, the indoor mile champion, has left me puzzled this season. She was somewhat of an underdog indoors, but hasn’t shown much of that same dominance this outdoor season.

Quick! Who will win the draft(s) and why...

Maura: I think most of us want to say, “I will win the draft.”

Garrett: Maura can read the future because I will absolutely suggest that I can win this draft. I have multiple guys who can be national champions. Plus a few of them are doubling. As for the women, I really like Ben’s team. He had a few big misses with Lokedi and Robinson, but the women on his team are all capable of doing some serious damage.

Ben: I will resist the temptation to pick myself and say Sam will win the women’s draft, barely beating Garrett, because he has three women who will likely medal this weekend with Hull, Cohen, and O’Keefe. Bissah and Ilarda should also provide points.

Sean: Yeah, I’m taking myself. I could see Ratcliffe getting triple points followed by help from Hoppel and Dixon in the 800. Mantz on the double and two high class steeplechasers, including a hometown favorite make me tough to beat. I’ll give the women’s draft to Garrett, Sam, and Ben. I’d like to think I can get onto the podium, but those three have very strong teams with some serious point potential.

Matt: Maura is actually a great person to have pick because she was not with us when we drafted.

Maura: After taking a quick glance at the draft, I think Sean has the win on the men’s side because he has six men still alive and they cover the three different races. As for the women, Garrett looks to have some good odds with Birk, Prouse, Morley, and Stoner.

Matt: REMEMBER THE EXTRA POINTS FOR THE LAST ROUND…..I believe Sean and myself are the only ones who have them for the men’s side and John is the only one with one on the women’s side.

Ben: For the men, I think it will be a close race between Garrett and John. I’ll go with John because he has five guys I expect to score in Fisher, Mau, Brandt, Suliman, and Nuguse. I predicted medals for Fisher, Mau, and Nuguse, so I think John has the slight edge. Although, like Matt said, I think Matt and Sean could pull an upset if Ratcliffe or Girjalva manages to finish in the top five in either of their events.

Elliott: I’m really liking John’s team as well. Fisher and Nuguse are a couple guys that could be potentially lethal. I also think James West not qualifying might put a little bit of a ding on Garrett’s team, as that was a guy that I believe had at least some potential to score with a good weekend. For the women, I think Garrett can swing a win if Prouse and Stoner perform up to standards. They might even get some help if Erin Finn rounds into form!

Ben: Finn would not earn any extra points right? Since she had qualified and scored at Nationals before.

Matt: Yup Ben, you are correct!

Elliott: Point conceded…

Maura: Now if we were talking about the predictions we just made earlier this week, I’d have to say I made some pretty good choices about who finishes in the top 8 and in what order.