Here at TSR, we typically focus on the distance races (and don't worry, we'll still have plenty of that in this article). But the team races for some of the top conferences in the nation are packed with talented athletes across all event specialties.
Below, we break down the top teams in the Power Five conferences and give you a bit of a resume evaluation for the top potential point scorers that we could see at their respective conference meets come late February.
Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC)
1. Miami Hurricanes
How They Did in 2019: 1st - 91 points
The Hurricanes of Miami came out on top of a very tight ACC Championship in 2019. This team excelled in the speed and power events, while failing to score in events above 800 meters and not even fielding a DMR. Michelle Atherley, the 2019 NCAA Pentathlon champion, was crucial in helping the Hurricanes eke out a title. She won the pentathlon, was 4th in the 60 meter hurldes, and 3rd in the high jump to score a whopping 21 points. Event wins in the 400 meters and 4x400 relay were also crucial.
Key Names to Watch
Brittny Ellis (200m, 400m, 4x400): Ellis won the 400 meters at the 2019 ACC Indoor Championships to avenge a runner-up finish in 2017. She also helped lead the Hurricane's 4x400 team to a five second victory. Additionally, she competed in the 200 meters in what was clearly a play to sneak into the final for a few extra points. However, she placed 12th. Ellis holds a very quick 51.66 PR and has been an All-American in both the 400 meters and 4x400. Since 2017, Ellis has been one of the most consistent, top 400 meters runners in the nation.
Tiara McMinn (60mH, 200m): McMinn was crucial for the Hurricanes in 2019, winning the 60 meter hurdles and earning points in the 200 meter dash. McMinn broke the eight second barrier in the hurdles, running 7.95 at the ACC meet and eventually placed 11th at the NCAA Indoor Championships. She then earned First-Team All-American honors in the 100 meter hurdles during outdoors. McMinn is also a major factor in the sprints, running 23.89 in the 200 meter dash. While she was not on the 4x400 meter team last season, don’t be surprised to see her step up with the meet on the line.
Kayla Johnson (800m, 4x400): Johnson is on the outside looking in on the NCAA favorites at 800 meters. She was 12th on the NCAA Indoor Qualifying List in 2019, taking 2nd place at the ACC Championships. She’s run 2:03.04 before, but has yet to finish better than 15th at an NCAA Championship. Johnson’s one strength over other 800 meter competitors is her 400 meter speed, having run sub-53 seconds. Johnson’s impact will also be seen in the 4x400 relay where she helped the Hurricanes to a 7th place finish in the NCAA and tops in the ACC last indoor season.
The defending champions will always return looking to continue their reign at the top of the conference. Still, the loss of Michelle Atherley - as well as Carolyn Brown, a key 60 meter scorer last year - puts the Hurricanes seriously at risk. Their lack of scoring in the distance races and the horizontal jumps is also a concern. On the positive end, they’ve got the favorite in at least individual three events and the 4x400 relay. That sort of star power, combined with a strong contingent of rising juniors and sophomores in the sprints and throws, should put the Hurricanes in the title contention.
2. Virginia Tech Hokies
How They Did in 2019: 3rd - 84 points
The Hokies were potentially the most balanced team in the ACC last year, only failing to score in five events at the conference meet. Rachel Pocratsky and Sarah Edwards led the team from Blacksburg with individual event wins on the track at 800 meters and the mile respectively, while they combined to put the Hokies atop the podium in the DMR. Rachel Baxter skied above the rest of the field in the pole vault with her vault of 4.47 meters to lead the field events for Virginia Tech. Depth outside the middle distance events is what likely left the Hokies a few points short of Miami.
Key Names to Watch
Rachel Baxter (Pole Vault): By far the best returning member for Virginia Tech is Rachel Baxter. She was 6th at NCAA's during indoors after setting her indoor PR at the ACC Championships. Baxter has also been 4th in the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 2018, showcasing her poise under pressure. She won the ACC Championships by almost 20cm last year which is equivalent to three or four additional bars cleared over the next best vaulter. Baxter may not win by quite that margin in 2020 as the rest of the league should be aiming for her, but it would be a major upset if Baxter does not make it to the top step of the podium.
Sarah Edwards (mile, DMR): Edwards matched Baxter’s NCAA result in 2019 with a 6th place finish in the mile last winter. Edwards qualified with a converted mile PR of 4:33.78. Her indoor season also included an ACC title in both the mile and DMR. It’s unlikely that Edwards will appear in any other events at ACC's, but she does have a 2nd place in the 3000 meters from her 2018 ACC Championship appearance. She should be considered a favorite in the mile and help make the Virginia Tech a challenger in the DMR.
Sara Freix (3k, 5k): The long distance specialist for the Hokies, Freix scored important points in the 3k and 5k last winter. Placing 3rd in the 5000 meters in 2019, Freix should be the highest-placed returner in 2020 with Paige Stoner graduating and Dorcas Wasike not appearing in over nine months. Freix only has two individual track wins to her credit, both in weak fields. We’ll see if she’ll be able to step into the role of being a "favorite" to earn a conference title and crucial points for the Hokies.
Virginia Tech needs to score big in their best areas: distance and pole vault. While they have a smattering of returning scorers in the sprints and horizontal jumps, if they underperform in their top areas, they might fall off the podium. Luckily, they do have the breadth of scoring opportunities to pick up for any mishaps...and they’ll need it to challenge for the victory.
3. Florida State Seminoles
How They Did in 2019: 2nd - 85 points
Frankly, this team should have won the ACC title in 2019. The Florida State 4x400 relay team was DQ’ed and Jayla Kirkland pulled out due to injury, scoring zero points at the meet. Even then, if the 4x400 relay had finished 2nd - a mark that they should have been able to achieve given the five second gap between 1st and 2nd - Florida State would have won the title by two points. The Florida State sprinters absolutely crushed the rest of the league to score 40 of their 85 points in the 60 meters, 200 meters, and 400 meters. A big area of weakness was the field events, where apart from the long jump, they only scored three points.
Key Names to Watch
Ka’Tia Seymour (60m, 200m, 4x400): A sprint star for the Seminoles, Ka’Tia scored 20 points for the Seminoles at the ACC meet last year. She won the 60 meters in 7.23, just .02 off of her season best, and ran 23.24 for victory in the 200 meters. Seymour’s season times were good enough for 7th and 19th nationally at 7.21 and 23.19, before placing 3rd at NCAA's with a PR 7.19. Seymour is far and away the top sprinter in the league, apart from her teammate Jayla Kirkland.
Kamirah Davis (200m, 400m, 4x400): Just a first-year in 2019, Davis scored 16 points at ACC's, placing 2nd in the 200 meters and 400 meters. Davis showed potential and poise through those efforts in order to bring home major points to Florida State. Davis ran 53.02 and 23.55 for those runner-up results, both of which were PR's. Davis did not improve much during the outdoor season, but did gain experience on the Seminoles’ 7th place 4x100 relay at Nationals.
Jayla Kirkland (60m, 200m): Kirkland scored 0 points at the ACC meet last year after withdrawing mid-meet due to injury. Kirkland’s prowess would have easily secured the Seminoles the ACC victory though as she qualified in both the 60 meter and 200 meter dashes at NCAA's, earning Second Team All-American status in both events. Kirkland holds PR's of 7.24 and 23.00 and should challenge Seymour for the top spot on the team and top spot in the conference.
With the exception of Kirkland, Davis and Seymour do not have much (if any) area to improve from a conference scoring perspective. Kirkland’s points would have certainly sent the title to Florida State in 2019, and her return in 2020 should cement their spot as the favorites heading into the season. Major improvements in the Florida State distance group of Maudie Skyring, Jodie Judd, and Elizabeth Funderburk should raise their totals in the longer races which helps replace Militsa Mircheva. The biggest challenge for Florida State will be in the field. After scoring very few points apart from now graduated Rougui Soi’s long jump title, Florida State will almost have to win the ACC title with only track events.
Southeastern Conference (SEC)
1. Arkansas Razorbacks
How They Did in 2019: 1st - 151 points
The Razorbacks were absolutely dominant in 2019. They scored in every single track event at SEC's, featuring event wins in the DMR (Clark, Peoples, Underwood, Viljoen), 60 meter hurdles (Payton Chadwick), 5000 and 3000 meters (Taylor Werner), and the mile (Lauren Gregory). In the field, they also grabbed victories in the Pentathlon (Kelsey Herman) and Pole Vault (Alexa Jacobus). Combined, those seven event victories would have been enough to tie for 1st place with Texas A&M. This team was certainly led by the distance group, but had multiple scorers in eight events including the pole vault, 60 meters, 200 meters, and 400 meters.
Key Names to Watch
Katie Izzo (3k, 5k, DMR): One of the newest members of the Razorbacks is showing what a change of scenery can do. Izzo has run only one track race for Arkansas, but it resulted in a NCAA #2 All-Time 5k at the BU Season Opener in December. Izzo’s cross country season also showed her newfound prowess, ending in a 3rd place finish at the NCAA XC Championships. Izzo also earned her first SEC Championship this past fall. Combined, these results landed Izzo on USTFCCCA’s Preseason Bowerman Watch List (Note: Taylor Werner was also selected, but after running unattached in the BU 5K race where she would have broken the NCAA record, is currently projected to redshirt). We aren't completely sure how Lance Harter will utilize Izzo at the SEC Championships, but she should beat everyone not wearing a Razorback jersey with ease in the longer distance events.
Lauren Gregory (mile, 3k, DMR): Gregory stepped up in a huge way in her 2019 season, qualifying for NCAA's in the mile and 3000 meters, eventually earning first-team All-American status in the latter. Gregory also earned her first conference title in the mile during indoors. The end of her outdoor track season and her cross country season have left us wondering exactly what sort of form Gregory will exhibit this season. At her best, she’s an NCAA title contender having run a PR of 4:32.
Carina Viljoen (mile, DMR): At last year’s SEC Championships, Viljoen was drafted into the mile and DMR, where she anchored the relay to victory and slotted in behind Gregory in the mile. Come NCAA's, Viljoen was pushed towards the mile only, and emerged with a first-team All-American result in 5th place. Of all the members of the Razorbacks, Viljoen is potentially the most predictable, almost certainly sticking with the mile and potentially a DMR depending on how the rest of the team is set up. Given her 4:33 PR and cross country success, don’t think there’s any race at the mile distance that she can’t win.
This Arkansas team has a lot of holes to fill from the 2019 group. Losing Janeek Brown, Payton Chadwick, Kiara Parker, Alexis Jacobus, Victoria Hoggard, and Desiree Freier are all huge losses, but there still should be enough fire power with the Razorbacks to win the title. Yes, the distance squad will be a major portion of the title defense run, but they’ll need to score in the sprints and hurdles in order to hold off their challengers.
2. Texas A&M Aggies
How They Did in 2019: 2nd - 70 points
Texas A&M performed well in many events, but was only able to come up with two event wins in the 4x400 relay and 800 meters. Jazmine Fray returned to top form last year in order to take the 800 meter conference title and a strong group of 400 meter runners came out on top. Runner-up finishes in the long jump and the 400 meters were enough to help bring Texas A&M to the 2nd place team spot. The Aggies also outperformed most of the other SEC schools in the distance events, but couldn’t get close to Arkansas.
Key Names to Watch
Tyra Gittens (HJ, LJ, Pentathlon): Gittens is best in the heptathlon during outdoors, but should be strong enough to make a major title run for the Aggies. Gittens was 8th in the pentathlon as a freshman at the NCAA Indoor Championships in 2018 before taking a redshirt season in 2019. In that 2018 SEC Championship, Gittens was 5th in the pentathlon and finished 7th in the high jump. She is also a star long jumper, having placed 9th in the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 2018. If Texas A&M is going to win the conference title this year, Gittens will need to end up scoring 20 points or better.
Syaira Richardson (400m, 4x400): Richardson did nothing less than impress in 2019, her first indoor season with the Aggies. Richardson qualified for both the indoor and outdoor national meets individually, and as a member of the 4x400 relay. That ended in the Aggies winning the national title in the 4x400 relay later that spring with Richardson on the anchor. Richardson ended the outdoor season with a PR of 51.17, but no SEC individual titles. Finding the top of the podium will be difficult given that South Carolina's Abrams is still in her way (Jonathas turned pro), but Richardson will have to bring home the points for Texas A&M.
Deborah Acquah (LJ): Acquah made her way into the top three at both NCAA Championships in the long jump last year. A 2nd place finish at the indoor national meet and a 3rd place finish at the outdoor national meet meant that Acquah actually had better results at the NCAA Championships than at SEC's where she went 2nd and 4th. Yanis David of Florida has graduated though, leaving Acquah as the front-runner in the SEC. Acquah’s point scoring potential is likely limited to the long jump unless she returns to the triple jump, an event she has not contested since being in the NJCAA.
The Aggies suffer a few losses in the short sprints and Jazmine Fray at 800 meters, but bring back a very strong squad overall. Gittens, Richardson, and Acquah will surely be huge along with the 4x400 relay. In order to become the top team in the conference, they’ll need to pick up points other places though and cut down the lead that Arkansas is likely to grab in the distance events.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide
How They Did in 2019: 3rd -67 points
The 2019 Alabama team was strong across the board, earning top three finishes in a number of events, including the shot put where they scored 21 points. ‘Bama also gained an event win in the 200 meters with Tamara Clark. The team was lead by a number of seniors, but has a nice cast of returning characters, too. The potential for a higher score was definitely there in 2019.
Key Names to Watch
Tamara Clark (60m, 200m, 4x400): Clark is the Rolling Tide’s top sprinter, qualifying for the 60 meter and 200 meter dash at the NCAA Indoor Championships last year, and claiming a runner-up finish in the 200 meters. However, qualifying for NCAA's in the 60 meters was not enough to get Clark into the SEC final, as she finished 9th in the prelims. Personal bests of 7.23 and 22.53 will certainly bring Clark to the front of the SEC sprint races, but nothing is for sure in the SEC.
Esther Gitahi (mile, 3k, 5k): Gitahi was somewhat of an unknown last winter. She placed 8th in the mile at SECs and 35th in the 3000 meters - not exactly the most impressive weekend. Then the outdoor season came and Gitahi burst onto the national scene. A couple 4:18 1500 meter results followed by a string of sub-16:00 5k's pushed Gitahi into a good position. She then won the NCAA East Preliminaries and emerged in 3rd at Nationals in the 5000 meters. Gitahi was absent this past cross country season, but should return strong this winter and be aiming for the top of the NCAA yet again. Expect her to be one of the strongest non-Arkansas distance athletes in the league.
Abigail Kwarteng (HJ): Kwarteng was one of the unluckiest athletes last indoor season. Having jumped 1.82 meters, Kwarteng was the only athlete to clear that height who missed NCAA's. She stepped up the following outdoor season to jump 1.81 meters at NCAA's for a 4th place overall finish. Her luck at SEC Championships has been up and down, jumping to 2nd during indoors, but only 7th during outdoors. Kwarteng should be one of the top high jumpers in the nation, but will need to come out on top at SEC's to help the Tide.
Alabama has a great shot to be the #2 team in the SEC this season, with lots of areas to improve from 2019. Gitahi should be able to challenge for top points in the distance events, where in 2019 she only earned one point. Clark should also have a greater impact, given she can find her way into both finals. They lose a few top athletes in the field events, but can hopefully regain their stronghold on the throws and jumps to fend off the rest of the league. Vying for the top spot does seem slightly out of reach though.
1. Texas Longhorns
How They Did in 2019: 1st - 128 points
The Longhorns came out on top in 2019, led by some powerful senior leaders in Teahna Daniels and Ashtin Zamzow. Daniels grabbed an event win in the 60 meter dash, while Zamzow emerged victorious in her specialty event the pentathlon. They weren’t the only event winners though as first-year Kennedy Flannel grabbed a 200 meter title. Texas was well-rounded, scoring in every event group and maintaining competitiveness in every event.
Key Names to Watch
Kennedy Flannel (60m, 200m): Kennedy Flannel was the Longhorn's top scorer in 2019, earning 16 points. Six of those points came from a 3rd place finish in the 60 meter dash, an event she barely missed qualifying for the NCAA Championships on a tie-breaker. Her trip to NCAA's was in the 200 meter dash, although she was disqualified in the final. Flannel won that event in 2019 at the BIG 12 meet. She has yet to earn points at the NCAA meet, but based on her having the third best time in the NCAA (22.88) heading into the indoor national meet last year, Flannel will be winning a lot of races over her BIG 12 and NCAA careers.
Elena Bruckner (Shot Put, Weight Throw): Bruckner was another high scorer for the Longhorns in 2019, grabbing 14 points. Bruckner placed 3rd in the shot put with a throw of 15.76 meters, but has thrown over 16.70 meters multiple times. Bruckner earned her other 8ight points from the weight throw, where she threw 19.60 meters, a PR. Bruckner may not be an NCAA title threat in either event, but she will be crucial for the Longhorns with a high point total from the throws. They’ll likely need a PR-type distance in the shot put too, as their gap over league rivals should shrink.
Georgia Wahl (Long Jump, Triple Jump): Wahl performed well in her signature event, the long jump, at the 2019 BIG 12 Championships, earning a 2nd place finish with a mark of 6.27 meters. That jump was clutch, taking place in the sixth round, jumping her from 6th place into her runner-up position (it is also her PR). Wahl should also factor in the triple jump this winter where she was 10th last year. Only one lady ahead of her graduated, so Wahl will need to be at her best to help tip the scales in favor of Texas.
Even with Daniels and Zamzow graduating, Texas still has a number of returning athletes who scored in the top 3 at the conference meet. Their ability to replicate their 2019 results will be important, as those athletes cannot improve much from a point perspective. Texas will also need to use their depth in the distance events. While they aren’t a particularly strong team, there are many points to be gained at the BIG 12 meet, as the 600 yard, 800 meters, 1000 meters, mile, 3000 meters, and 5000 meters are all contested. If the distance grouping can’t improve their point totals from 2019, this team is in trouble.
2. Texas Tech Red Raiders
How They Did in 2019: 2nd - 108.5 points
Texas Tech was strong apart from the distance events in 2019. A strong group of senior sprinters scored consistent points in the shorter events, while the field event athletes came up big as well. Zarriea Willis took home an extremely impressive 1.85 meter victory in the high jump, while Chinne Okoronkwo won the pole vault. Outside of those two, there was no standout events for Texas Tech, but they just continued to grab points in basically every event.
Key Names to Watch
Chinne Okoronkwo (Pole Vault, Triple Jump, Long Jump): Okoronkwo is one of the most interesting athletes in the NCAA. She is one of the few pole vault / triple jumpers and competes extremely well in both, along with the long jump as a third event. What made Okoronkwo even more special is that she made NCAA first-team All-American in both the pole vault and triple jump, taking 8th in both. This makes her a conference threat in both events, and should score points in the long jump as well. I’m not sure if Okoronkwo was the first to complete such a unique NCAA double, but there isn’t anyone else trying to compete in these three events like Okoronkwo.
Ivy Walker (60mH, Long Jump): Walker was another Indoor Nationals qualifying jumper last winter, jumping 6.27 meters in order to earn a place in the long jump, eventually earning a mark of 6.06 meters for 12th in Birmingham. Walker also runs the hurdles for Texas Tech, taking 8th in the 60 meter hurdles final at BIG 12's last February. Her outdoor seasons have not matched this level of success, so there’s a level of uncertainty picking Walker to be a star of the meet. They’ll need high marks from her to push their way to podium positions.
Chloe Wall (Pole Vault): Wall only tied for 4th place in the pole vault in 2019, but was a consistent jumper over 4.20 meters throughout the indoor and outdoor seasons. With the pole vault being a crucial event for Texas Tech, Wall will be under significant pressure to perform at her highest at the BIG 12 meet, a meet where she has failed to break that 4.20 meter mark in both 2019 seasons. Her PR of 4.27 should put her as the #2 or #3 jumper consistently, making Wall a crucial figure moving forward.
There’s a lot of big pieces to replace for Texas Tech, but they certainly have the firepower to head to the top of the rankings in 2020. They’ll need to bank big in their strongest areas - jumps and hurdles - while ensuring not to get swept in the sprints and distance events. It feels like this team could end up 1st, 5th, or anywhere in between.
3. Kansas State Wildcats
How They Did in 2019: 3rd - 102 points
The top K-State athlete last year was Shardia Lawrence. Having now graduated, Lawrence led the Wildcats by grabbing a triple jump title at BIG 12's before placing 6th at the NCAA Indoors Championships (and winning at the national meet later that spring). Helene Ingvaldsen also took a conference title in the weight throw, her only indoor event. Those, plus a 2-3-5 finish in the pentathlon were the major point getters, pushing Kansas State into the top three at their conference meet last year. Kansas State only scored in three individual track events which was a huge limiting factor.
Key Names to Watch
Lauren Taubert (Pentathlon, 60mH, 4x400): The NCAA 11th place pentathlete from 2019 returns for her senior season. Her PR of 4129 pushes her above the entire rest of the field significantly now that Ashtin Zamzow has graduated. Taubert placed a competitive 2nd in the pentathlon while just missing the 60 meter final at BIG 12's. Taubert was also drafted for the 4x400m relay team in a very busy weekend. With slight improvements, Taubert could score 15 or more points, especially if she has a breakout performance in the high jump in 2020. Expect a lot from Taubert, because she will be competing quite a at this meet.
Kassidy Johnson (1000m, 800m, mile): Johnson is going to be K-State’s best distance hope in 2020. Johnson finished 2nd in the 1000 meters last season at BIG 12's, running a PR 2:45.69 in the final. She also consistently tried her hand at the 800 meters and mile, making her a very versatile piece of the Wildcats' roster. Expect her to be slotted into whichever field Kansas State thinks is weakest as she should definitely be able to snag a big set of points.
Helene Ingvaldsen (Weight Throw): Ingvaldsen’s best event is the hammer throw, which is only contested during outdoors. Still, Ingvaldsen is a weight throw point machine, placing 2nd, 2nd, and 1st in her first three BIG 12 Championships. Even if Ingvaldsen never throws the shot put (looking like a high probability outcome), she continues to be a main contributor at the conference meet.
This team is going to live or die by the field events, give or take a handful of track performances. Taubert and Ingvaldsen should lead the way with help from shot putter Taylor Latimer and long jumper Taishia Price, among others. With the margin for error typically being very small there, Kansas State will need to be on the top of their game to pick up a conference title. However, any increase in scoring on the track shoots their potential through the roof, as even 20 points on the oval would be an improvement. If Kansas State can find those athletes, this is the scariest team in the BIG 12.
1. Michigan State Spartans
How They Did in 2019: 6th - 61 points
Michigan State was a relatively young team in 2019, with very few seniors graduating and only 12 points being scored by those seniors. Event wins by Ellen DiPietro in the high jump and Sophia Franklin in the pole vault were crucial. Combined, they were almost ⅓ of the Spartans’ point total.
Key Names to Watch
Annie Fuller (mile, 3k, DMR): Annie Fuller lost a barn-burner of a mile at the BIG 10 Championships in 2019, a race that saw multiple 4:32 results. Fuller placed 3rd in that race, running 4:35.63 and earning a trip to NCAA's. Fuller also jumped into the DMR, anchoring a victorious relay team at the BIG 10 meet. Since last indoor season, Fuller has continued to impress with a 34th place finish at the NCAA XC Championships. With many BIG 10 distance runners graduating in 2019, Fuller is a favorite at the mile distance.
Dillon McClintock (800, mile, DMR): McClintock had a wonderful 2019 season, reestablishing herself as a major player in the BIG 10. McClintock grabbed 2nd place in the 800 meters, losing only to Danae Rivers at the BIG 10indoor meet. McClintock also combined with Fuller on that DMR victory. McClintock’s strength was shown in the outdoor season as well, gaining a 5th place in the 1500 meter at NCAA's. Based on her indoor strength, we will likely see her in the shorter distance this season, but don’t be too surprised to see McClintock in the mile with Fuller.
Sophia Franklin (Pole Vault): Sophia Franklin was extremely consistent last indoor season with her five final competitions in the 4.10 to 4.20 meter range. This streak ended at the BIG 10 Championships, earning a huge 10 points for the Spartans. Then, Franklin’s outdoor season came which eventually resulted in a PR of 4.37 meters. That mark would place Franklin at the top of the NCAA and the BIG 10. Franklin has already jumped 4.25 meters and looks to be ready to return to the top of the podium at the BIG 10 Championships.
As a team with very few points leaving their 2019 title, Michigan State has a heads up on many teams who are struggling after an exodus of graduating seniors. The Spartans are led by a strong distance group who will need to grab 8s and 6s consistently as they are unlikely to overtake the national contenders of Danae Rivers and Alicia Monson. Combining for a DMR victory would also be a major component to a strong championship performance.
2. Iowa Hawkeyes
How They Did in 2019: 3rd - 80 points
Iowa had a significant star power dynamic in 2019, lead by Laulauga Tausaga, Tria Simmons, Jenny Kimbro, and Briana Guillory, with only Guillory and Simmons graduating. Combined those athletes scored 52 points, and all but Tausaga contributed to the victorious 4x400 team. A general lack of depth across the rest of the team is a significant issue.
Key Names to Watch
Jenny Kimbro (60mH, Pentathlon, 4x400): Kimbro had an extraordinary 2019 BIG 10 Championships, scoring 18 individual points and joining a victorious 4x400 relay team. Kimbro’s marquee event is the pentathlon, where she qualified for the NCAA Championships, placing 15th. Her 4123 point PR would have barely lost the league title to her now graduated teammate, Tria Simmons. That makes Kimbro the favorite in 2020. Kimbro also emerged victorious in the 60 meter hurdles final in a time of 8.29 seconds.
Laulauga Tausaga (Shot Put, Weight Throw): Tausaga, the 2019 discus NCAA champion, is also a major player in the Indoor Nationla Championships. She qualified for Indoor Nationals in both throwing events, leading to a 5th place finish in the weight throw. Her shot put mark of 17.79 would have also placed 3rd had she been able to replicate her performance at NCAA's. At the BIG 10 Championships, Tausaga was unable to earn a mark in the weight throw and could only place 2nd in the shot put. This was a significant underperformance, leaving a high level of potential scoring for her in 2020.
Nia Britt (Shot Put, Weight Throw): Britt definitely plays second fiddle to Tausaga and rightfully so. Still, Britt was the 20th place shot putter in the country and should not be ignored. Britt’s PR of 16.96 meters came last outdoor season which helped qualify her for the NCAA Outdoor Championships. While Britt may not be able to score in multiple events, Britt has the national potential to end up on top of the shot put at the BIG 10 Championships.
Kimbro and Tausaga will now be left to lead the team with stars Simmons and Guillory graduating. In order to maintain Iowa’s spot in the BIG 10 standings, the star power of Tausaga and Kimbro must continue to shine in 2020. They’ll also need to increase the numerous 7th and 8th place finishes from 2019 to 4th, 5th, and 6th place finishes.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
How They Did in 2019: 1st - 112 points
The 2019 season was a breakthrough season for Ohio State. The Buckeyes have traditionally been strong at the sprints and in the field, but the distance events skyrocketed. Julia Rizk grabbed an NCAA mile title (and BIG 10 2nd place place finish) and Ohio State's DMR team almost qualified for NCAA's. They also had Sade Olatoye, potentially the best NCAA thrower indoors across both the weight throw and shot put.
Key Names to Watch
Anavia Battle (60m, 200m, 4x400): Battle took the most points for the Buckeyes of anyone returning for 2020. Those came from eight points in the 60 meters and a spectacular win in the 200 meters. Battle’s PR of 22.54 (22.80 indoors) makes her the top returning 200 meter runner in the nation. Even last year, Battle was completely unchallenged in the 200 meters in the BIG 10 and her closest competitors have now graduated, along with the 60 meter champion. This leaves Battle as a clear 20-point favorite in 2020.
Alexus Pyles (Pentathlon, 60mH): Pyles was a star performer for the Buckeyes last season, earning 12 points for Ohio State. Pyles placed 3rd in both the 60 meter hurdles and pentathlon, competing directly against Jenny Kimbro of Iowa. While Pyles landed behind Kimbro in both events, she was consistent in scoring points. Pyles was absent during the outdoor season, but should reappear this winter to secure points for the Buckeyes. She’ll also be a NCAA qualifying threat too, having been the 20th best pentathlete in the NCAA last year.
Abby Nichols (3k, 5k, DMR): Abby Nichols was a big part of the increase in distance potential for Ohio State in the last year. She stepped up and grabbed valuable points in the 5k at the BIG 10 conference meet and is the 2nd place returner in 2020. She has only continued her upward momentum in the time since last indoor season, qualifying for NCAA's in the 5000 meters during outdoors and only narrowly missing All-American status in cross country. Nichols may not be the favorite in any individual event, but she will definitely pick up significant points and maintain a strong distance presence for Ohio State.
It’s tough to imagine a world where Ohio State loses the BIG 10 title after winning by such a large margin in 2019, even without Sade Olatoye. The only lack of strength for this team is that their major contributors were heavy point scorers in 2019 and don’t leave much room for a team score improvement. Still, the likelihood that those scorers fall down the conference rankings are low. Ohio State should remain at the top. Expect the sprints to lead the way, but don’t expect the rest of the event areas to get left behind.
Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF)
1. Stanford Cardinal
How They Did in 2019: 2nd - 67.5 points
Relying much on the pole vault and distance events, Stanford pushed their way into 2nd place at the MPSF Championships last year, paced by victories from Fiona O’Keeffe and Kaitlyn Merritt. Stanford also placed an emphasis on relays, scoring 13 points in those two events combined. There was lots of areas for improvement to these scores, as injuries and under performances left the distance scores less than a typical Stanford team.
Key Names to Watch
Fiona O’Keeffe (3k, 5k, DMR): O’Keeffe struggled a bit during the 2019 NCAA XC Championships with an injury, but at her best, is a top long distance threat. This was shown at the MPSF Championships last winter with a 3000 meter victory alongside anchoring Stanford’s 2nd place DMR. O’Keeffe ended the season at NCAA's finishing 3rd in the 5000 meters, while she also achieved first-team All-American status in that event during outdoors. She has indoor PR's of 15:35 and 8:58, making her a threat at whichever distance is more appropriate come the MPSF Championships.
Kaitlyn Merritt (Pole Vault): Merritt was an MPSF Champion in 2019, clearing 4.24 meters in the vault to claim victory. She was a very consistent vaulter last indoor season, jumping 4.24 meters, 4.23 meters, 4.25 meters, and 4.24 meters in four back-to-back weekends ending at the MPSF Championships. Fellow teammate Ekina Malaspina cleared the same height at the championships and will also return in 2020 to push the Stanford duo to the favorite positions. Merritt had a much more successful outdoor season, jumping a PR 4.32 meters to qualify for the NCAA Championships during the spring.
Ella Donaghu (mile, DMR): If you had guessed Ella Donaghu was the top Cardinal at the NCAA XC Championships before the season started, not many people would have believed you. But Donaghu ended up 8th overall in stellar fashion to lead the team from Palo Alto this past fall. This built off of an outdoor season in which we saw Donaghu qualify for her first NCAA Championship. She ended the season with a 6th place All-American finish in the 1500 meters and a new PR of 4:11.70 from the NCAA West Preliminary meet. This leads us to believe that Donaghu is set to be a major contributor this fall.
Stanford is full of upside in 2020. Ella Donaghu and Jessica Lawson are both top 11 NCAA XC Championship finishers and scored 0 points at the MPSF meet in 2019. Cailtin Collier and a host of other athletes are prepped to improve on their results and aim for complete dominance across the distance events in a tough battle with Colorado and BYU for that title. Earning points at pole vault and another field event or two will be a requirement for Stanford to have any shot at another MPSF podium finish.
2. USC Trojans
How They Did in 2019: 1st - 120 points
USC beat the field by almost 60 points in 2019, as the MPSF is not as hotly contested as other conferences. Behind an extremely strong sprint contingent, the Trojans grabbed victories in the 60m, 200m, 400m and 60mH. Their most impressive event was clearly the hurdles, as they placed 1-2-3-4. A 1-2 long jump result and a 1-2-5-FS in the 60 meters were the team's other major point scorers. This team did not score in the throws, long distance events, or vertical jumps, but they didn’t need to. The star power here was just too much for the rest of the federation.
Key Names to Watch
Chanel Brissett (60m, 60mH): Chanel Brissett has established herself as one of the most feared athletes on the straightaway, competing in both the 60 meter dash and the 60 meter hurdles. She placed 5th in the 60 meter final at MPSF's last winter, helping secure a big point total in the event for the Trojans. More impressively, Brissett did not lose a hurdle final at all during the 2019 indoor season en route to an NCAA title in the event as well as a league title. Brissett holds an especially important part of the USC title roles as she can score points in both events at the MPSF Championships, while most of the team did not attempt doubles.
Twanisha Terry (60m, 200m): Terry false started at the MPSF Championships last February, failing to earn a single point for the Trojans. She upped that result by 10 the next weekend out, cruising to an NCAA title in the 60 meter dash in a personal record 7.14 seconds. Terry continued to be on a streak during outdoors, finishing 3rd in the NCAA in the 100 meters and earning Second-Team All-American in the 200 meters as well. She should be a force at both events given her experience.
Anglerne Annelus (60m, 200m): Annelus was the beneficiary of that false start from Terry in 2019, picking up a MPSF 60 meter victory in a PR 7.29 seconds. Skipping the 200 meter at that meet, Annelus still qualified for the single-lap affair at NCAA's and finished 13th. Annelus found her own during the outdoor season, emerging victorious at the NCAA Championships in her marquee event, the 200 meters. Annelus also qualified for the final in the 100 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, finishing 7th.
The Trojans have three members on the Bowerman Watch List (those listed above) compiled by USTFCCCA, with two others on the "Also Receiving Votes" list (Kaelin Roberts and Anna Cockrell). It’s almost impossible to see the Trojans losing this meet, unless they simply decide to rest for NCAA's. Even in 2019, the Trojans didn’t attempt sprint doubles outside of returning for a relay or utilizing the 60 meter dash, 60 meter hurdles tandem. If they do decide to enter a large number of athletes in multiple events, they could easily double up the next best team. The MPSF, and the entire NCAA, should definitely be scared of this team.
3. Oregon Ducks
How They Did in 2019: 3rd - 61 points
Oregon clearly used this meet as a preparation for the NCAA Championships, resting many athletes and aiming for NCAA qualifying marks in others. Jessica Hull only competed in the DMR, while Mackenzie Dunmore, Hannah Waller, and Rhesa Foster all opted out of primary events. They still emerged in the top three, just a few points above the 4th, 5th, and 6th place teams. A stacked lineup definitely would have left the Ducks much closer to USC.
Key Names to Watch
Susan Ejore (800m, mile, DMR): Ejore had to play 2nd fiddle to Jessica Hull in 2019, but last indoor season ended with an NCAA DMR title. Ejore also qualified for Indoor Nationals in the mile, but failed to advance into the finals in Birmingham. At the MPSF meet, Ejore doubled in the mile and DMR, earning a new PR of 4:34.83, taking 2nd place, and helping the DMR to victory. During the spring, Ejore focused on the 800 meters, eventually taking 4th at NCAA's. Her versatility across the middle distance events make Ejore a major player at the MPSF meet and nationally.
Hannah Waller (200m, 400m, 4x400): Waller had a dreadful MPSF Championships in 2019, finishing second to last in the 200 meters, over three and a half seconds behind a PR from the previous weekend. Waller did rebound at NCAA's to finish 13th in the 400 meters. Waller continued her strong career later that spring, setting a new 400 PR in 51.60 and qualifying for the 400 meter final in Austin where she placed 8th. Waller’s inconsistency at the end of 2019 indoor season shouldn’t be a big issue, however, it will be something to watch out for.
Rhesa Foster (Long Jump, 60H): Foster opted not to compete in her top events at the 2019 MPSF Championships, the long jump. In the long jump, Foster jumped to an NCAA 5th place distance of 6.31 meters (indoors) and a new PR (outdoors) of 6.43 meters for a 7th place finish at Nationals. Foster is also an outside contender for securing points 60 meter hurdles at the MPSF Championships, having run 8.47 for 11th place last year. If Oregon has a shot, Foster will need to be in her top event at the MPSF meet.
Some of Oregon’s best performers were either absent or missed the scoring in 2019 at the MPSF Championships, leaving a huge opportunity for success in 2020. Foster, Waller, and Cardama Baez all missed the scoring all together and should rebound with top results based on their caliber. A young group of sprinters will also continue to battle with the USC contingent, hoping to chip away at their lead in those events. Still, it will be tough to go any higher than 2nd with USC’s strength.