One of the biggest issues with previewing indoor track meets is that so many athletes get entered in at least two (sometimes three or four) events, but often end up scratching in at least one race. While that certainly holds true for the UW Invitational this weekend, no amount of scratches could eliminate some of the great match-ups this meet promises to have. As one of the biggest meets in the country, this competition will feature some of the NCAA's best runners, including a large number of big debuts.
This meet is also somewhat unique in that it runs the distance medley relay (DMR), an event that is run at the national meet but seldom throughout the season. This means that the UW Invitational should see some strong performances in the DMR from schools looking to run qualifying times for the national meet.
Of the teams currently entered in the DMR, there are four big names to watch; Washington, BYU, Oklahoma State, and Boise State. Normally, Stanford would be included in this list but they appear to have entered their top athletes in other events this weekend. The four teams above have all loaded up their squads with their best runners and while many are entered in numerous events, given the scarcity in which the DMR is run, they will likely be going all in for this one.
The new Husky duo of Lilli Burdon and Katie Rainsberger will be looking to propel Washington to a win on their home track. These two will likely run the 1200 meter and mile legs with Rainsberger the more likely candidate for the lead-off given her experience over shorter distances.
Whoever runs the mile leg will likely be facing competition from Allie Ostrander as she is listed as one of Boise State’s runners. Ostrander will be making her 2019 indoor debut after racing once back in December where she ran 15:16 for 5k. Right now, Ostrander is entered in both the DMR and the mile and will be looking to mix in some “speed work” after her strong showing at the longer distance. After finishing 5th during indoors last winter, Boise State will certainly be looking to put up a big mark and get back to NCAA's.
One of many big debuts at this meet will be Whittni Orton making her return to the BYU lineup. After two strong races to open up her cross country season this fall, she disappeared from competition, but is slated to finally return this weekend. Last indoor season she finished 7th in the mile and will be joining fellow All-American Erica Birk on BYU’s DMR squad this Saturday. Both women are also entered in the mile, Birk in the fifth heat (fastest) and Orton in the fourth.
Another debut this weekend will be high school phenom Caitlin Collier running in a Stanford kit for the first time on the track. She was one of the best middle-distance runners in prep history, posting a 2:00.85 in the 800 meters which stands at #5 all-time. She has also run 54.14 for 400 and 4:18 for 1500, showing a bit of range that could make her one of the best in the country this season. Collier will be racing in heat four of the 800 this weekend and will be one to keep an eye on.
Shifting focus to longer events, the 5000 meters this weekend lacks the depth of other events, with many big names choosing to run a combination of shorter races. That said, the event features one woman who is coming off a great performance in her last competition at UW and will be looking for something similar this weekend.
Caroline Kurgat of Alaska Anchorage is the current NCAA leader in the 3k. The Division 2 star ran 9:07 at the UW Preview a few weeks back, a time that chopped 18 seconds off her personal best and is 11 seconds faster than the top Division 1 mark this winter. Right now, her personal best in the 5k is 15:41 from Payton Jordan, but she has only run 16:46 indoors. The Division 2 auto-qualifying standard is 16:33 and it would be surprising to see Kurgat run anything slower than that this weekend. The field lacks many women who can challenge her, but Angie Nickerson of Southern Utah could be someone to mix things up. Nickerson is coming off a strong cross country season and owns an indoor best of 16:30 over this distance.
Kurgat won’t be the only Division 2 star looking to make her presence felt this weekend. Addy Townsend of Simon Fraser is one of the best milers in the country and is currently entered in a ridiculous four events this weekend. Barring a scratch, Townsend will run the DMR on Friday and then come back for a Saturday triple of the mile, 800, and 4x400. Two weeks ago, she was made her season debut at the UW Preview, but ultimately dropped out of the mile. This weekend will provide a chance for redemption, as well as an opportunity to run an NCAA qualifying time. The Division 2 standards are 4:58 (provisional) and 4:44 (auto), respectively.
Despite her talents, Townsend ended up in the third heat of the mile because the event is absolutely loaded. The fastest heat (fifth) could produce some NCAA qualifiers with a slew of stars going head-to-head. After the DMR on Friday, Allie Ostrander, Lilli Burdon, Katie Rainsberger, Sinclaire Johnson, and Erica Birk are all coming back for the mile on Saturday. Add in Taryn Rawlings of Portland and an unattached Elise Cranny, and this race should be VERY fast. Five of these women were All-Americans in cross country and six own personal bests of 4:40 or faster in the event. The one exception is Johnson who has never raced the mile indoors, but has run 4:11 over 1500 meters outdoors which converts to a 4:29 mile. This race is shaping up to be fast and there is a great chance that the current NCAA lead of 4:36 is bested by at least one woman from this heat on Saturday.
Finally, here a few quick takes before this weekend’s big event...
The women’s 3k could be a coming-out party for someone on the indoor scene. The race will have Clare O’Brien of Boise State and Lauren LaRocco of Portland battling for the win, but keep an eye on Courtney Waymount of BYU as well.
Molly Sughroue of Oklahoma State is the current NCAA (D1) leader in the 3k and is slated to race both the DMR and mile this weekend.
Kaylee Dodd was an NCAA qualifier in the 800 meters last year and is entered in the event this weekend. She owns an indoor best of 2:04.52 and is coming off a win in the 600 meters at the Arkansas Invitational two weeks ago.