UW Invitational Preview

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Sam: With the first indoor meets of February taking place this weekend, track season is in full swing. We have already seen a ton of fast times, but this weekend marks the first truly big meet of the season at the University of Washington which will feature a handful of top collegiates mixed in with some of the world’s best professionals. Maura, which event or runner most excites you looking at the entries for the UW Invitational?

Maura: The women’s mile has really caught my attention this weekend. Between a mix of Division One, Division Two, and professional athletes, this race has to be fast. Already this season, women have produced top times in the mile and I expect that to happen this weekend as well.

Sam: I have to get this out there because it has been on my mind since I read the entry list. Kate Murphy is slated to race the mile this weekend as a member of Oregon Track Club Elite after sort of “retiring” from Oregon due to a medical issue. I don’t really know what to expect from her, but I’m very interested to see how she stacks up in her “first collegiate race” so to speak.

Maura: I agree, it will be interesting to see what Murphy can do after running a 4:39 mile in high school. Even so, her time won’t affect what the collegiates do the rest of the season seeing that she can’t compete at NCAA’s. What event or athlete do you expect to be a show-stealer this weekend?

Sam: I like the potential battle in the women’s 800 meters. On the Division One side, we have Avi’ Tal Wilson-Perteete of UNLV making her 2020 debut in the event. She will face competition from the BYU duo of Lauren Ellsworth and Anna Camp-Bennett, both of whom had solid races last weekend in New York. If that wasn’t enough, top talent Addy Townsend of Simon Fraser is also in the field and currently has the fastest mark in D2 with a time of 2:08. Mix in a few professionals, and we could see a number of women run sub-2:05 this weekend.

Maura: In the 800, anything can happen. I like Townsend heading into this race considering that she will be going after her first sub-2:05 performance and I think Ellsworth, Wilson-Perteete, and Camp-Bennett can lead her to that time. It will also be interesting to see what the BYU women do together and how their competitive nature kicks in when racing one another.

Sam: Townsend is interesting to me because she has historically gotten stuck in the second or third heat at these meets which I believe has probably limited some of her potential. If she can run sub-2:06 this weekend, I have to label her as the 800 title favorite in Division Two this season.

As for the others, Wilson-Perteete should have the best odds as placing as the top collegian. She owns an outdoor personal best of 2:01 and typically runs some of the fastest times during the “regular season” of competition. If you had to pick a winner, who would you take?

Maura: Even though I agree that Wilson-Perteete has the advantage, I’ve got to go with Camp-Bennett. Her 3rd place finish and 2:06 at Dr. Sander Columbia Challenge last weekend stands out amongst the other competitors and that was only her season opener.

Sam: I like that take. Camp-Bennett is definitely going to be a sleeper pick heading into Nationals this year and could surprise a lot of people (who don’t read this preview). We sort of brushed past the women’s mile, but I’d like to jump back for a second. On paper, this looks to be a battle between Sarah Feeny (Utah) and Katie Rainsberger and Allie Schadler (both of Washington). Would you pick one of those three to finish as the top collegiate or someone else entirely?

Maura: Feeny’s breakthrough last year, running a 4:36 PR, qualifying for the indoor national meet in the mile, and finishing her season as an All-American, was great for Utah and she could easily challenge for the win this weekend. However, I’ve got to go with the experienced veteran in Rainsberger who is already off to a great season thus far after debuting in the 3k and matching her 9:01 PR. She comes in with the home-track advantage and seems to be back in top form after having a few minor setbacks.

Sam: Rainsberger is hard to bet against. She has been one of the most consistent collegiate runners over the past four years and she rarely has a bad race. Feeny is intriguing because she has yet to debut this indoor season which means we have no real insight as to what kind of shape she is in.

Similar to the 800, I do want to mention Addy Townsend as a dark horse. Her personal best is only 4:44, but I think she is capable of running sub-4:40. It may not be good enough for the win, but if she can break that barrier, it would have huge implications for the potential Division Two mile showdown looming between Townsend, Stephanie Cotter (Adams State), and Berenice Cleyet-Merle (Indianapolis). For the (collegiate) win though, give me Rainsberger in this one.

Maura: If you’re looking for a race that could have a dark horse, look at the women’s 3000 meters. Even though we see Iowa State’s Cailie Logue, who owns a 9:10 PR, San Francisco’s Aoibhe Richardson and UCLA’s Christina Rice could take down the Cyclone ace. Richardson has run 9:21, but after her 19th place finish at the cross country national meet this past fall, I’m expecting something big from her. And then there’s Rice. She has a 9:47 best in the 3k, but like Richardson, she enjoyed a stellar cross country season, placing 37th at NCAA’s and earning All-American honors. What do you think of the 3k this weekend?

Sam: I really like Richardson for all of those reasons you listed. She came on very strong at the end of this past cross country season and I have a hard time believing that her 9:21 personal best makes it through this weekend still standing. Logue and Rice should also find themselves in the mix and I would expect both to be sub-9:20, especially given that the race should be faster with a handful of Bowerman women in the field.

One other name who deserves a mention is Shona McCulloch of Washington. Amazingly, her personal best in the event is only 9:56, which is the same pace as her 5k personal best. Realistically, McCulloch should be a sub-9:20 runner after the cross country season she had and this weekend should be a good shot at redemption. Maura, if you had to pick the top collegiate and a time, who are you taking?

Maura: Richardson in 9:10, but she will be closely followed by Logue, McCulloch, Rebekah Topham of Wichita State, and Rice. These five women will all be under 9:20. What are you thinking?

Sam: I also like Richardson, but I see her running around 9:02. With the Bowerman women likely stringing this one out, Richardson should be able to just hang on for as long as possible.

Switching gears, it may not be the deepest field, but the men’s 800 meters could have a great showdown between Daniel Maton of Washington and Derek Holdsworth of Western Oregon. Of these two, will either one run sub-1:50 this weekend?

Maura: Holdsworth and Maton met at the 2020 UW Preview a couple of weeks ago with Holdsworth getting the win in a time of 1:50. Maton was 4th in that race and ran 1:51. After a few extra workouts, both of these men will run sub-1:50. Maton was a stud in high school and Holdsworth was an NJCAA champion. Experience and competition will drive these men.

Sam: Not to sound boring, but we seem to agree on a lot regarding this weekend. Holdsworth narrowly missed breaking 1:50 by all of 0.20 seconds and Maton put down that solid 1:51 in his collegiate debut. With both men likely having a handful of pros around them this weekend, I could see them running 1:49 and change...which could also get Holdsworth the Division Two lead back if he can best Hugo Arlabosse’s mark of 1:49.22. Head-to-head, do you like Maton or Holdsworth?

Maura: Based on the fact that Holdsworth has more experience in collegiate races, I’ve got to go with the Western Oregon athlete.

Sam: Yeah, Holdsworth has more to race for with the top D2 mark at stake. He should edge out Maton, but it will be close.

Now seems as good of a time as any to mention that your brother (Luke Beattie) is in possibly the deepest men’s event at this meet - the 3000 meters. I won’t dare ask you to predict his time, but if you had to pick a top three for that race, who would you take?

Maura: I’m already stressing out about Luke’s 3k and I’m not even the one racing. Just looking at the entry list, there are plenty of men who could finish in the top three on any given day. There are All-Americans as well as men who were just on the cusp of earning said honor. If I had to choose three, not in any order, I’ve got to go with Arizona’s Carlos Villarreal, Washington’s Tanner Anderson, and BYU’s Jacob Heslington, but keep in mind I’ve also got my brother finishing in the top five. Sam, what are your thoughts about this field?

Sam: I would have picked that same trio…but for the sake of the argument I’ll take Villarreal, Heslington, and Luke, closely followed by Anderson and Matt Owens of BYU. I think maybe the more intriguing question here is how many of these guys will go sub-8:00? So many of them have run in the 8:00 to 8:10 range and with Bowerman men in the field, the pace is certainly going to be quick. It may be way too bold of a take, but I think all five guys I named will break the barrier, with Clayson Shumway of BYU and Elijah Armstrong of Boise State both coming within a couple seconds of it.

Maura: You are going to be the favorite in my family’s group message this week. Sub-8:00 for plenty of men in this field is extremely possible. With Washington’s Dempsey facility being an oversized track, the distance runners really benefit due to the elongated and fewer turns. But I think one more thing to mention about this race is the amount of BYU men entered. The Cougars are putting 13 men (that’s right, 13) on the starting line.

Sam: If you include the three from Utah State and one from Southern Utah, the state of Utah as a whole has 17 guys in the 3k. Utah could literally have their own heat this weekend - and it would be a very fast one at that.

Continuing to move through the men’s events, the mile is the other field that looks to have quite a bit of depth this weekend. Is it reasonable to think that at least four guys can break 4:00 this weekend?

Maura: Well, Washington’s Mick Stanovsek has broken 4:00 on six occasions thus far during his collegiate career, so I’m going to say that he’s a shoe-in for another one. His teammate, freshman Sam Tanner, owns a 3:58 mile PR and has already run 2:21 in the 1000 meters this season. With his talent, he’s another one who will go under 4:00. Nebraska’s George Kusche has a 3:59 PR and just last weekend he ran 1:49 in the 800 meters. He’s my third guy.

I know that with the professionals in this field and the fact that numerous men always break 4:00 in the Dempsey, a fourth man will slide under the 4:00 barrier.

Sam: Four seems solid. I think the fourth guy, not counting those you already mentioned, will be either John Carter Blunt or Arturo Sotomayer of UCLA. The pair have personal bests of 4:02 and 4:03, respectively and are definitely capable of chipping off a few more seconds. Sotomayer "only" ran 4:08 at the Dr. Sanders Invite last weekend, but he did open his season with a personal best of 8:15 for 3000 meters which is a good sign for his fitness.

Another guy in the field who deserves recognition is Justin Crosswhite of Western Oregon. Crosswhite has potentially the most conflicting personal bests of any athlete I can think of. He has only run 9:06 for 3000 meters and 1:54 for 800 meters, but owns a personal best of 4:08 in the mile and just ran 4:09 two weeks ago. While he is not likely going to break 4:00, he could be aiming for a sub-4:05 time which would put him near the top of the Division Two leader board.

Maura: Whatever Western Oregon has been doing these past few years is really working and their men are catapulting themselves up to the top of D2 rankings.

Switching gears a bit to one final individual event, we’ve got the 5k. Although neither field is knocking on the door of top NCAA times, what are your thoughts on the races, men or women?

Sam: I’m very, very curious to see what Northwestern's Aubrey Roberts does in her 2019-2020 NCAA debut. She redshirted this past cross country due to a stress fracture according to inside sources, but appears to be back now. She could be one of the best 5k runners in Division One this year, but I’m a little worried about how her lack of racing could take a toll. If she is in good shape, then this would be the perfect time for her to run an NCAA qualifying mark. The Bowerman women will be dragging this one out and Roberts could tag along on the train. What about you, Maura? Which runner stands out in your eyes?

Maura: On the women’s side, it was Roberts. But if we are sticking with runners who sat out this past cross country season due to injury, I’ve got to go with Southern Utah’s Aidan Reed. Reed may only own a 14:16 5k PR, but he is a great tactical racer. He has a way of moving with the field and not sleeping on the pace. I’m not expecting Reed to run an NCAA qualifier in this race, but for his first race back since last year's NCAA West Preliminaries, it should be a decent rust-buster in a quiet field.

Sam: I wish the 5k fields were deeper this weekend, but I’m guessing we will see more people chasing those marks in the next couple of weeks when the biggest UW meet and Iowa State Classic take place.

One final event to touch on is the DMR, specifically for the women. We could see some loaded teams between Boise State, BYU, Utah and Washington chasing NCAA qualifying marks. While all four programs are listed as "A" teams, do you think they will actually enter their top runners this weekend?

Maura: It’s really hard to say what teams will choose to do this weekend. Only the 5k and DMR are on the same day for the distance events, so no one would be doubling up on one day, but then there’s the question of whether or not athletes are going after NCAA qualifying times in individual events. If I were BYU and Washington, I would enter my true “A” team. With Camp-Bennett, Ellsworth, and Whittni Orton, BYU should easily win this one. Washington is the next best team in the field with Rainsberger and Carley Thomas. Boise State and Utah have deep rosters and could attempt at a qualifying time. But overall, this race is up in the air.

Sam: I don’t know if we can hand the win to BYU right away…Yes, Orton is absolutely dominant and easily the best runner on any of the teams in this race, but right now, Thomas is three to four seconds faster than either Ellsworth or Camp-Bennett in the 800 meters. Washington also has Allie Schadler who has run 4:14 for 1500 meters, which makes her a great candidate for the 1200 or 1600 meter legs. Obviously, Rainsberger will be somewhere in their lineup as well.

The other runner who could possibly make a difference is Mel Smart. She has a personal best of 4:20 for 1500 meters, but I have to think that she could easily better that time that right now given how well her cross country season went a few months ago. This race could be very close, but if I had to pick, I’d likely give it to BYU (in a close finish) because Orton is just so dang good.

Maura: You make a very good argument about Washington’s potential here. Both rosters are strong at each leg and that’s what makes the DMR that much harder to predict.

Onto the men’s DMR, I don’t see any of the teams looking for their national qualifier. If Washington’s “A Team” were going to race, it may be a different story, but I think the men’s DMR qualifiers will come from a meet later in the season. What are your thoughts on the field?

Sam: I agree with what you said. The depth on the men’s side simply is not there this weekend for DMR teams. If anything, the Western Oregon men could potentially run a Division Two provisional qualifying mark, but as for Division One, we will not see any qualifiers come from this meet.

With all the events covered, what’s one bold prediction you have for this weekend?

Maura: I’m going to make two, one for the men and one for the women.

Men: We see a sub-7:50 performance in the 3k.

Women: BYU women go 1-2 in 800.

Sam: That first one…wow. Okay, last week I said Whittni Orton would run 4:29 and she did. So, sticking with the theme of women’s distance running (and contradicting what I said earlier), Aoihbe Richardson will set a new personal best in the 3k by running 8:59, dropping 22 seconds in the process.