The Group Chat: The State of D2 (Part One)

Photo assistance via Alexis Wellong

This past weekend, Christian Noble ran the fastest non-converted 5k time of the season with his mark of 14:01. How big of a contender should we consider him to be at Nationals come March?

Sam: At least thus far, Noble legitimately looks like a favorite to win the 5k title at NCAA's. He opened the year with a new personal best of 8:10 for 3000 meters and over the course of two races, has dropped 29 seconds off of his 5k personal best. Right now, Noble appears to have a certain mindset to him that has helped him find success this season and I think that mentality is going to take him to new heights in March. Of course, guys like Marcelo Laguera and Ezra Mutai will be challengers, but I don’t see any reason to think of Noble as anything less than a favorite.

Quenten: I agree 100% with Sam on this one, he is most definitely the favorite thus far. Noble’s 14:01 ranks him at #18 all-time in the history of D2 and I don’t think he’s done moving his name up the rankings either. This is the strongest and fittest we have seen him and I truly believe that he'll keep progressing not only in the 5k, but also the 3000 meters as the season continues. Who knows? He could quite possibly be a favorite for both...

John: I really liked what I saw from Noble this past weekend. He was going to run fast given his past performances, but the question fast? I certainly wasn’t expecting him to come that close to 14:00, though. He’s leveled up into the next tier of elite runners that he had the potential to be in and has a chance at taking home two individual titles at the NCAA meet in March.

He’s in the Camel City Invite section of the 3000 meters in a couple of weeks with some of the best names in the world (as well as another D2 athlete in Joshua Chepkesir). With the amount of progress he’s already made this season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him dip under that 8:00 barrier and prove to be one of the nation’s best runners.

Grace: I think Noble is definitely the favorite in the 5000 meters at NCAA's. He could certainly double given his impressive 3000 meter results, but I still think his best chance at a title is in the 5k. That could change after the Camel City Invite, which should produce some fast times and new personal bests. Like Sam mentioned, Noble has dropped 29 seconds off of his 5k time this season, which is just straight-up impressive. Whatever he’s been doing to step up to the next level has certainly worked. Noble is the real deal and his competitive nature will bring him quite a bit of success come March.

After this past cross country season, there was a lot of talk about how dominant Stephanie Cotter would be this indoor season. She has yet to race, and during her absence, Berenice Cleyet-Merle has been dominating Division 2, most recently running a 4:46 mile over the weekend. Is Cleyet-Merle a threat to Cotter in the mile at NCAA's?

Quenten: Cleyet-Merle is having her best season to date and kudos to her, but when Stephanie Cotter races she is just on a different level compared to everyone else. Last year, we saw the same exact thing where Cotter didn’t debut in the mile until mid February and the end result was a national title. Let’s pump the brakes on this one because when she does race (which I believe isn't very far away), she will prove to be the clear-cut favorite once again.

Sam: Let me play Devil’s Advocate here and say that Cotter is going to have a lot on her plate with Cleyet-Merle. Like Quenten noted, Cotter is the defending indoor mile champion and is currently following a similar plan to 2019. There’s no reason to think that she won’t return to the track in top form when she chooses to do so.

However, Cleyet-Merle is currently on another level when it comes to Division 2 performances. She just ran 4:46 over the weekend in a race which she won by 12 seconds. Imagine what she could run if there was actual competition. Cleyet-Merle also has a better 800 personal best than Cotter, pointing to (likely) better top-end speed which could be crucial in a championship-style race. The looming match-up between these two, and possibly Addy Townsend of Simon Fraser, could be one of the best races we will see in the entire NCAA this season.

John: I do agree with Sam that this might be the best race of the NCAA weekend in D2 given how fast they all might run. Cleyet-Merle is running extremely well already this season and isn’t really close to what her 4:20 mark in the 1500 says she can run in the mile. We’ve seen Cotter run just as fast in the 1500 meaning the challenge will be there if it’s fast from the gun. Add in Addy Townsend, who’s run faster than both of them in the 800 and mile, and it’s something to watch very intently.

All three of these women are capable of winning the title this season. I want to throw Elysia Burgos in the mix here, too. She’s proved to be a very good runner early on and her PR's of 4:47 and 2:10 put her into the conversation of being someone who could potentially disrupt the pecking order at the top.

Grace: Cleyet-Merle is running fantastic and does indeed have a faster 800 meter time than Cotter, but if Cotter goes out extremely hard from the gun then I think the race is hers. Cotter showed her dominance and competitiveness during last track season and this past cross country season. She’s a force to be reckoned with. I have to go with Cotter over Cleyet-Merle on this one.

The American International trio of Leakey Kipkosegei, Benoit Campion, and Ezra Mutai who have proven to be some of the top middle and long distance runners in the country this season. With these three, could American International be the favorite to win the DMR national title?

Sam: Could they be? Yes. Are they? No. American International has arguably the best overall talents across the middle and long distance ranks, which in most cases, would make them favorites in an event like the DMR. However, think about the sacrifice required by those top runners if they opted for the DMR.

Leakey Kipkosegei is one of the favorites in both the 3k and 5k. Ezra Mutai currently has the #3 fastest mark for 5000 meters in the NCAA. Benoit Campion looks to be a potential favorite in the mile and/or 3000 meters. All three of these guys would have to sacrifice at least some potential in other events to focus on the DMR. In this case, I do not view the potential DMR title as more important than each individual race for these three men.

Quenten: This would be the perfect DMR team as of this year if each one didn’t race an individual event, but as Sam mentioned, they would have to sacrifice some potential in their events and I don't see that happening. You have teams like Western Colorado and Adams State who are still the big favorites in the DMR compared to American International. All eyes will be on this team when this lineup of runners hops on the track for the DMR.

John: I do think that the Yellow Jackets are the favorite in the DMR right now. I know they haven’t technically run one yet, but I feel like they have all the pieces at their disposal. Benoit Campion has raced really well this season and is an early contender for the mile title while Kipkosgei is the elite talent level that could help separate this team in the event. Now add in Ezra Mutai who just ran 8:02 over the weekend which would indicate that he is faster than the 4:13 mile PB he currently has.

Oh, and they just had a freshman in Clement Paillon run 1:52.35 over the weekend giving them even more flexibility to race athletes in their individual events. It’s only a matter of time before we see some combination of these four runners (maybe all four) take a run at the DMR.

Grace: I agree 100% with Sam. American International has the potential to have the best DMR team this year, but I don’t see their talented trio sacrificing their energy into a DMR team when they could possibly win their individual events. If they put Leakey Kipkosegei, Benoit Campion, Ezra Mutai, and Clement Paillon (or another runner) in a DMR, they could quite possibly produce the fastest Division Two time this season, but I seriously doubt that they have that lineup run at NCAA's.

This past weekend, Lee's Celine Ritter and Chloe Flora ran 9:31 and 9:45, respectively at Boston University. At the Power 5 meet, the Adams State women put down some solid altitude conversions, with Kaylee Bogina and Haleigh Hunter-Galvan running 9:37 and 9:41, respectively. Do you consider those altitude converted marks to be just as legitimate as those run at BU?

Quenten: Personally speaking, I’ve run multiple times at the bubble at Adams State and the 7,544 feet of altitude is no joke. It is very hard to breathe, along with pushing your body to the limits. I believe if you throw Bogina and Hunter-Galvan on the BU track, they would produce the same times as the converted ones in Alamosa. D2 Indoor Nationals in March is hosted in Birmingham, Alabama, a sea level venue, which will make this race even more interesting as everyone is on the same playing field.

Sam: Altitude conversions might be the most controversial subject of track and field. When people bring this up, the first thing that comes to my mind is Cristian Soratos running a wicked fast conversion of 3:56, being criticized for it, and then dropping a 3:55 at the UW Husky Meet a few weeks later. I don’t think altitude conversions are ALWAYS legitimate, but for folks like Adams State who live and train there all the time, these times are quite meaningful. So in short, the Adams State women are running just as well as we expected and will continue to be a force.

Grace: I am a bit conflicted on this one. On the one hand, altitude is certainly a factor in track and field, but it’s hard not to question the altitude conversion. Altitude affects people differently, so having a set conversion formula is hard to agree with. This is not to say that I don’t think Bogina and Hunter-Galvan could run 9:37 and 9:41, but I don’t think their results are as “legit” as those run at sea level. Bogina and Hunter-Galvan live and train at altitude, I don’t think 35 seconds should be subtracted from their times.

John: I’m probably the biggest defender of altitude conversions between all the writers here at TSR. Bogina and Hunter-Galvan now have the #3 and #7 fastest times in the country and that’s essentially where we have seen them in their respective events over the last couple of years. There’s no real reason to believe that they aren’t capable of running this fast at sea level.

As for Ritter and Flora, it’s remarkable how well they have been running to start this season as well. Ritter is a lock to make NCAA's and last year, 9:45 was the final qualifying time to Nationals in the 3000 meters, so Flora is right on the cusp. Still, don’t let that stop you from seeing the progress of this Lee (Tenn.) program every week. It’s almost a PR a week for this group right now.

One week after Derek Holdsworth ran the Division 2 leading 800 meter time at the UW Preview, Hugo Arlabosse ran almost a full second faster at Boston University with a 1:49.22. At this rate, who should we consider as the 800 meter national title favorite?

Sam: I will take the same stance that I always do with the indoor 800 - no one is ever that much of a favorite. Arlabosse and Holdsworth are obviously phenomenal talents, but just because they have run the top times now does not mean they will do so at the National Championships. More importantly, the indoor 800 meters is arguably the most chaotic and unpredictable event year over year (unless Thomas Staines is racing). Almost no other indoor race is lost based on one tactical mistake outside of the 800. On paper, I think both Arlabosse and Holdsworth should be two guys near the front of the race at Nationals, but I don’t consider anyone too much of a favorite yet.

Quenten: With the redshirt absence of Thomas Staines, this year's 800 is still very wide open, even after Holdsworth and Arlabosse’s performances. Along with Sam’s comment, this is the one race that is totally unpredictable. There is still one person many have forgotten about and that's Texas A&M-Kingsville’s Ayman Zahafi. He has not raced thus far, but it is good to remind people of his 3rd and 2nd place finishes at Indoor and Outdoor Nationals. This is just a prime example of how much depth there is in the event. This is anyone's race come March.

John: I was excited to see a fast performance from Arlabosse this early in the season. While it is hard to determine who the favorite is at this point, I think Arlabosse has given me enough to believe that he’ll be vying for that top spot. He hadn’t run 1:49 since he did so last year at Boston’s Last Chance Meet and to set a PR now makes me think he will have that same type of run at NCAA's.

Derek Holdsworth looks like the on-paper favorite because of his PR's while Dennis Mbuta, and Arlabosse are all bringing experience from last year’s NCAA Championships. Those three are the top tier at the moment and until Zahafi runs, I’m not sure he can be part of that picture yet.

Grace: Why not both? With the uncertainty and wildness of the indoor 800 meters, I have to agree with Sam that no one can really be a heavy favorite going into the national meet. I think one of these two runners could be the national champion in March, but I can’t really argue one over the other. Arlabosse ran 1:51.44 for 3rd place at the UW Preview a few weeks ago, so Holdsworth has that win over him, but Arlabosse has the fastest time thus far this season. The indoor 800 meters is a mental game filled with strategy and chaos, so anything can happen.