Both the men’s and women’s 5k fields in the West are incredibly deep, meaning that with only 12 qualifying spots, accomplished athletes will miss NCAA's. Beyond the “locks”, how did you make your selections?
Michael: I had a tough time making picks for both West 5k fields. On both the men’s and women’s side some people got left out, and ultimately for me, it came down to experience. Especially with the 5k on the last day of regionals after many entrants have run the 10k, the races will likely be tactical. Teams like the BYU and NAU men, as well as the New Mexico women, will have the serious advantage of being able to come up with a team strategy to get as many athletes through as possible. Younger/less experienced athletes might not have the skills to change gears in a large championship race like this, especially if they’re coming back from another race. Even beyond age and experience, I looked at conference performances as indicators of late-season fitness. Some of the highly seeded individuals ran crazy fast early in the season and did not really show up for conference championships.
Sean: This was definitely a very difficult region and event to pick and experience definitely played a factor in my decision, but coaching and team success was a larger portion of my choices. I trust teams like Stanford, Colorado, Arkansas, Northern Arizona, Boise State, and New Mexico - the latter two on the women’s side in particular and NAU for the men’s - to perform well on Saturday night. Even if athletes aren’t doubling back from the 1500, 10k, or steeple, regionals is still a three-day championship meet and being able to draw on coaching experience as well as past team success can be a huge calming factor in preparing for the race. So when in doubt, I had to look to those teams to take the top slots.
Maura: The west 5k fields were the hardest for me to choose because so many of the athletes deserve to run at Nationals. When selecting my top 12, I too had to look at experience and how well the athlete had performed at their respective conferences. I am assuming the 5k will become a tactical race because so many athletes will be doubling back from another race, specifically the 10K or even the steeplechase. One cannot go wrong with choosing an athlete from BYU or NAU on the men’s side or Colorado and New Mexico on the women’s side.
Sean: Did either of you try to predict the 10k first and then see who might not go all out in the 5k after having already qualified? Or do you all think that everyone is going to try to qualify in the 5k regardless?
Michael: I picked the 5k first out of habit, but then I went back and changed some picks after choosing the 10k. I think some athletes might be pretty cooked after the 10k and ease their way through the 5k, but I could also see some people letting up in the second half of the 10k if their chances of finishing top 12 don’t look good in order to put more energy towards the 5k. Either way, I think a considerable amount of top athletes entered in both won’t have enough to qualify in two races. It’s just that deep.
Maura: I did the opposite. I started with the 10k since that race has to be run before the 5k. At least on the men’s side, since so many of the BYU guys are only entered in one race, it made it easier to choose based on who would be fresher.
Sean: I went more with Michael’s method, but you probably had the better way, Maura. Just a note on how deep this field is: I’m realizing how I’ve accidentally missed people in these fields. I was so starstruck by Day, Rockhold, Boit, Forsyth, Rogers, Dressel, and Kurgat in heat one of the men's west region, that I completely missed that Clayton Young was in the same heat. For the record, I would still not pick him for top five in that heat, but I’m now much less confident in my choices.
Maura: I too missed individuals, but they were more so on the women’s side. The amount of women under 15:45 in the west made it difficult to determine who could make it out safely. As I have noticed the previous years, the women are not as tactical as the men in their races. Dani Jones, Weini Kelati, and Taylor Werner are in heat two and should keep the race honest from the gun.
Multiple high profile athletes scratched from events that they were viable All-American picks in, such as Morgan McDonald in the 10k, Paige Stoner in the steeplechase, and Geordie Beamish in the 1500. Why do you think these decisions were made and what effect will they have at the regional meets?
Michael: I was most shocked by Paige Stoner not entering the steeplechase. She was 3rd at NCAA's last year! I am also surprised to see Rachel Pocratsky choose just the 1500 rather than go for the 800/1500 double after executing it so well at ACC's and placing 3rd in the 800 during indoor this past winter.
Maura: Stoner’s decision to focus on the 10k left me surprised as well. For someone who had a season’s best of 9:51 in the steeplechase, how could she pass up a chance to race for a title? But I guess Stoner believes her chances of taking down the New Mexico duo of Kelati and Kurgat are high. Geordie Beamish, on the other hand, left me speechless when he dropped a 13:31 5k, which definitely puts him in the running for a top five finish at Nationals.
Michael: I agree that Beamish’s decision seems like an easy one. I like his chances in the 5k better despite his indoor mile title. He will have a solid group of teammates to run with in the 5k with Tyler Day and Brodey Hasty, and that seems preferable over what may be a tactical 1500.
Sean: Just a note on the Morgan McDonald 10k, McDonald choosing to scratch should not have actually made an effect. McDonald’s 10k from BIG 10's would have placed him at #49 after scratches, but there was a medical scratch by Ryan Murphy of Arkansas which could’ve put McDonald in the field. Still, choosing to scratch signals that McDonald is not risking his summer season on two back-to-back doubles. The only effect of his scratch is that there’s an extra spot in the 10k. Had it been in the 5k, I think it could’ve played a much larger factor, but in a 48-person race, I don’t think the presence of one more (or less) big star changes the race.
Michael: I was just a little surprised that McDonald didn’t focus on the 10k more this season as his competition might not be as tough (since there's no Grant Fisher) if he were to chase a national title in that distance. He has a reason to be confident though given how he has performed on the national stage in cross country and indoors this year.
Was there a bold prediction you were too afraid to make?
Michael: Part of me really wanted to pick Brodey Hasty in the 5k. Going back to the depth in that field, I’m just not sure he is ready to take on some of the studs in the west in a championship setting.
Sean: Not that this is a particularly bold pick, but I was afraid to pick anyone outside the top 20 seeds in the steeplechase. Of all the events, I feel like the steeplechase runs closest to seeds and picking any upsets there was just too scary.
Maura: I agree with Sean about the steeplechase because those athletes do not want to get stuck in any traffic. I was afraid to pick Jaci Smith in the 5k. Even though she finished as an All-American during indoors, she has only raced once this event once this season. I can't gauge where she is based off of her MW performance.
Any big names you left out? Why?
Maura: As successful as she has been this season, I left out Nevada Mareno in the 1500. I know she has the potential to be an All-American, but I'm not sure that this is the season. Mareno only finished 7th at the ACC Championships behind some women who are entered in the east 1500. Mareno needs a little more experience, in my opinion, before she qualifies for Nationals.
Sean: If you found a way not to leave out any big names, I’m jealous. Clayton Young and John Dressel were two of the toughest people to leave out and I just could not find a way to get them in the meet.
Michael: You didn’t pick Clayton Young in the 5k OR 10k?? I think he’s bound to qualify in one.
Sean: Sorry. I had both qualifying in the 10k. Was thinking mainly about the 5k. Had to leave off Cameron Griffith there too, but I have him in the 1500. I left Pocratsky out of the 1500 too for the women’s east region which in retrospect feels really stupid, but I just have a feeling that the rounds could end up not going her way.
Michael: I may regret it, but I passed on Thomas Ratcliffe. Way back in the beginning of the season when we did the draft, Sean used his last pick on Thomas Ratcliffe with the possibility of bonus points. I think Ratcliffe will either miss NCAA's entirely or make it and get on the podium. It seems like Ratcliffe gets one good race per season, and I’m worried he already had it. He ran 13:32 early in the season and then had an underwhelming performance in the 1500 at PAC-12's. I also left out John Dressel and Ryan Forsyth, not because they don’t have what it takes, but because the 5k and 10k races are just so deep. I also left out Sarah Edwards of Virginia Tech in the 1500, which was honestly an oversight on my part. I think she has a good shot.
Maura: Looking back at my picks, Ratcliffe is the 13th man in the 5k for me. His 3:55 1500 at PAC-12s was not promising, but I could always be wrong come Saturday. Switching over to a shorter distance race, I left off Ersula Farrow in the east women’s 800. That race has so much depth and I feel like she hasn’t been in a loaded race besides SEC's.
Sean: I’m pro-Farrow, but she’s definitely risky with her front-running style and how fast she goes out normally. I think she stays far enough to the front of her 2nd round at regionals and she pulls them to the time qualifiers.
A few questions relating to our Over/Under article
Did you pick an bottom-half (#25 - #48) seeds to advance?
Maura: I think Ben Veatch of Indiana will slide into the top 12 in the east 10k. The 10k is a long race and anything can happen. Veatch is seeded at #29, so he will need to work for a spot, but it is doable. At BIG 10's, Veatch finished two-tenths behind McDonald.
Michael: I didn’t pick any bottom half seeds in the 10k, which was probably not my smartest move as there could likely be some. In reality, I overlooked Veatch. I picked Matthew Novak of Virginia in the steeplechase (#28) because I like his 1500 meter speed which could come into play in a tactical race. I actually picked Dylan Jacobs of Notre Dame in the 1500, and he was the last guy in.
Maura: I considered Jacobs, but I don’t think he has enough experience, seeing that he is a true freshman. If he ends up making it through, you found a true underdog.
Sean: Veatch is in my rankings too. I also picked Sam Ritz of Columbia in the 1500 at #37 in the east. My only women’s 25+ was Tabor Scholl of Colorado in the 10k where she sits at #30
Over/Under 5.5 BYU men making the 10k and 2.5 New Mexico women making the 5k?
Sean: BYU under. New Mexico over. The four Lobo women are split three and one in the heats and I think Cohen and Kurgat get through together with Kelati through in the second heat. Getting six in the same 10k race just seems like too much.
Michael: I say the same as you, Sean. Six guys making it for BYU seems optimistic (I picked four), but it is definitely not impossible. Kelati, Kurgat, and Cohen making it for New Mexico was an easy pick for me to make.
Maura: BYU and New Mexico will both be under. Regionals will be similar to a typical workout for BYU considering how many men they have entered, but I predict only four men qualifying. New Mexico, on the other hand, will only see Kelati and Kurgat advancing. I may regret this decision by leaving out Cohen.
Which team (over entire NCAA) has the greatest potential in a single event?
Sean: Obviously BYU has great potential in the west men’s 10k, but I think the Ole Miss men in the 1500 are highly underrated. Cade Bethman and Waleed Suliman should be considered locks to qualify in most predictions with Dalton Hengst sitting as a strong contender. Additionally, Derek Gutierrez and Mario Garcia Romo are outsiders, but should be expected to make the second round of regionals. They are clearly good enough runners to qualify from there. Should all five athletes get through, I would consider that a greater team feat than four or five BYU 10k men qualifying since there are more BYU men entered. 100% qualifying > 75% even if BYU qualifies more men.
Michael: Ole Miss in the 1500 is a good choice, they have been under the radar with their depth and it could pay off big for them. The New Mexico women have a lot of potential in the 5k, although I think Adva Cohen and Charlotte Prouse’s abilities will be limited because of the steeple/5k double. I think they all have top five potential at NCAA's (crazy considering there are four of them) if they are all fresh. If Cohen and Prouse can effectively come off the double, look out for New Mexico doing big things.
Maura: The BYU men in 10k are at the top of my list. These men have the benefit of racing with teammates, men they train with every day. I think the BYU men will dictate the race from the beginning. But just like cross country, I think the NAU men will be tough to beat in the 5k with Day and Beamish leading the way.
Sean: I wouldn’t put the Indiana 800 men at the level of BYU 10k or Ole Miss 1500, but they deserve an honorable mention here since they could realistically qualify four guys.
Which #1 seed (any event, any region, men or women) do you think has the most challenging path to NCAA's?
Sean: I’m thinking Yared Nuguse could have some trouble in the men’s 1500 as could Gilbert Kigen in the 5k (but not the 10k). Nuguse and Kigen struggled in these races last year which is never a great sign. Nuguse fell last year so his struggles are going to be more about mentality and staying out of trouble. If Nuguse wants to run from the front in both rounds, I think he can do it and still qualify which makes him much less vulnerable than Kigen. Kigen will come down to the 5k after a hard 10k two days before and will be without Chelanga. His teammate Noel Rotich could help him a bit, but that heat has a number of people who could challenge Kigen especially if it comes down to a kick. And if the race goes out fast, Kigen might struggle with heat or recovery from the 10k.
Michael: I was thinking the same thing about Kigen in the 5k. That double is brutal and sometimes you only have one good race in your legs on a given weekend. I think both Nuguse and Oliver Hoare will have their work cut out for them in the 1500. I think they will both qualify without too much trouble, but their competitors won’t make it easy.
Maura: I agree with both of you regarding the men’s 1500. Positioning is very important in this race and if one finds himself boxed in, more energy is wasted trying to find an opening. Hoare and Nuguse will easily qualify for the quarterfinals, but once they find themselves racing against the likes of Carlos Villarreal (west) and the Ole Miss men (east), it will all come down to who has the clearest path to the finish line with 100 meters to go.