We were told that the Regional Championship declarations and scratches were going to be posted on Thursday. We were lied to.
The early release of the Regional Championship scratches takes out any predicting and analysis that we had in yesterday's article for the East Region. However, it does allow us to react to some of the key event decisions. Let's dive in...
Dani Jones (Colorado): 5000 > 1500
The absence of Dani Jones during the indoor track season essentially allowed Oregon's Jessica Hull to dominate the NCAA distance events. However, the return of the Colorado ace stirred up plenty of conversation and it may have potentially influenced the decisions of others in regards to event choice.
After running a converted 4:14 at Colorado State, all signs pointed to Jones pursuing the 1500 in the postseason. However, her ability to defeat O'Keffee and Morley en route to a PAC 12 title in the 5000 meters changed that narrative. With Jessica Hull likely entering the 1500 (which is what happened), the 5k suddenly made the most sense for Jones who may have been looking for lesser roadblocks towards a national title. She correctly guessed that Hull would enter the 1500 and got the added the benefit of having Erica Birk drop the event as well (but more on her later).
The 5000 meters won't be easy, especially with women like Weini Kelati and Allie Ostrander headlining the field. Still, I couldn't agree more with this decision to move up in distance. Jones' middle distance speed could become incredibly useful in a championship setting and I think she recognizes that. She may not be the favorite for the national title, but she'll have a better shot at winning it all than if she had to face Jessica Hull in the 1500 who is firing on all cylinders right now.
Geordie Beamish + Luis Grijalva (NAU): 5000 > 1500
This was another outstanding decision as the NAU men have opted to favor the 5000 meters over the 1500. Yes, I'm well aware that Beamish just won the national title in the mile this past winter and I know that he has the #8 fastest 1500 in the country right now (3:39.15). Still, the top men in the 1500 are not a group that I would want to face this season. It's the deepest group of 1500 runners we've ever seen and the top of the rankings make the idea of a repeat title look less and less likely.
Instead, Beamish opted to move up to 5000 meters. His 13:31 from Payton Jordan is a mind-boggling time that was kept in the shadows thanks to performances from Tyler Day and BYU's Conner Mantz. With top distance runners like Joe Klecker and Rory Linkletter no longer entered in the 5000 meters, Beamish will have even more All-American opportunities available to him. Plus, his lethal finishing speed that we saw during indoors could put him in contention with McDonald and Fisher at the end of a tactical 5000 meter race.
Believe it or not, the best event for the 2019 mile national champion is the 5000 meters.
As for Luis Grijlava, I'm a bit indifferent. He is one of the few men in the NCAA who is just as good in the 1500 as he is in the 5000. Grijalva's move up in distance might have been influenced by Theo Quax's entry in the 1500. The true freshman has been lighting up the track this season, but inexperience in a championship setting isn't super comforting. With so much talent crowding the 1500, Quax will need as much room as possible in order to earn a national qualifying spot. Moving both Beamish and Grijalva up to the 5000 meters makes Quax's life just a little bit easier.
Erica Birk (BYU): 3000 Steeple > 1500 & 5000
Gosh, I just don't agree with this decision at all. Don't get me wrong, Birk is super talented and she was likely going to be an All-American in whichever event she chose. The problem with this choice is that unlike the 1500 and 5000, nearly none of the top women scratched out of the steeplechase. Paige Stoner is the only top ranked steeplechaser who opted out of the event to pursue other races. Elite women like Ostrander, Cohen, and Prouse are still crowding the top tier of this event which makes it extremely difficult to imagine a scenario where Birk walks away with a national title.
I'm not necessarily saying that Birk was going to win a national title in a different event, but I liked her chances far more in the 5000 meters which has shown a lot of vulnerability among it's top runners. As for the 1500, she's run 4:13 on two different occasions this season. Outside of Hull, I'm not sure how many women you could convince me would beat Birk in a 1500.
Rory Linkletter + Conner McMillan (BYU): 10,000 > 5000
Earlier this season, Rory Linkletter was able to chat with TSR's Sam Ivanecky to discuss a variety of topics. In their conversation, Rory mentioned that he wanted to focus on only one event at NCAA's - preferably the 10,000 meters.
I'll be honest, the decision to scratch out of the 5k in favor of the 10k always confused me a bit. At the regional and national meets, the 10k comes before the 5k. The gap between the two events is two nights of rest. If the 10k is your priority, why would it hurt to add the 5000 meters to your racing schedule? If anything, the 5k acts as a sort of insurance if something goes wrong in the 10k.
If you need an example, let's go back to the 2016 West Regional Championships where Houston's Brian Barraza could've entered himself in both the 10k and 5k. However, he decided to focus on just the 10,000 meters. The end result was a 13th place finish, one spot outside of qualifying for Nationals. If he was entered in the 5000 meters, Barraza could have rallied for another race that could have potentially put him on the starting line at NCAA's.
Instead, he ended his season early.
I'm not going to sit behind my laptop and act like I know what the right decision is in these kind of scenarios. The 10k/5k double is doable, but the mental and physical strain of the double is likely not easy. I'm just someone who likes having options and a Plan B.
Other Notable Decisions
Allie Ostrander (Boise State): 3000 Steeple + 5000 > 10,000
I felt pretty confident that Ostrander was going to run a double at NCAA's and one of those events was going to be the steeplechase. The only thing I was unsure about was whether her second race would be the 10k or the 5k. As it turns out, she chose the latter. I like this decision to run the steeplechase/5k double. Unlike the steeplechase/10k double, the scheduling with the 5000 meters allows Ostrander to run the steeplechase completely fresh. The 10k would require Ostrander to put six miles of racing under her legs between rounds.
Alex Rogers (Texas): 3000 Steeple + 5000
This is a great decision by Rogers. The steeplechase in the West Region is super deep, but it's also the best event for Rogers who has a ton of experience in that race. By the time he's finished with the prelims and finals of the steeplechase, Rogers will have the luxury of having the 5000 meters as a backup plan if he's unable to qualify for NCAA's in his primary event.
Jessica Hull (Oregon): 1500 > 5000
With each passing week, it became more and more clear that this was the decision we were going to see. Hull is simply unmatched in the 1500 and with Dani Jones opting for the 5000 meters, I'm not sure there is really anyone capable of taking down the Oregon superstar.
Michael Wilson (New Mexico): 1500 > 800
This was a really interesting choice. I always viewed Wilson as an 800 guy, but he may have some new-found confidence after he upset Cole Rockhold in the 1500 at the Mountain West Championships last weekend. I don't entirely dislike this decision as I think his middle speed will bode well for him in tactical rounds.
East Region: Quick Thoughts (since they already got an entire article yesterday)
Josette Norris (Georgetown): 5000 > 1500
Whoa! I would've bet everything I had on Norris running the 1500 over the 5000 meters. This is a surprising decision and I just can't find a way to justify it. She's only run the 5k once this season and although she posted a nice time (15:45), her 1500 PR of 4:13 is far superior in my eyes. Her performance at the BIG East Championships showed off a lot of impressive speed which left me thinking that the 1500 was going to be her main event for the next three to four weeks. Looks like I was wrong...
Cade Bethmann (Ole Miss): 1500 > 800
Not a bad decision. Tactically, it'll favor him at the regional meet. However, he might end up stealing a national qualifying spot from one of his teammates.
Rachel Pocratsky (Virginia Tech): 1500 > 800
This was another surprising choice, but I don't dislike it. The 800 is super deep this year and trying to battle through so many top-tier women is going to be exhausting. After seeing how tactical the mile was at the indoor national meet, you can't blame Pocratsky for wanting to see how she could manage this 1500 field.
Kyle Mau (Indiana): 5000 > 1500
Yes! Such a great choice. Mau could have very easily chosen the 1500, but he made the right decision to move up to 5000 meters which is missing a few of the top men in the country this season.
Paige Stoner (Syracuse): 10,000 > 3000 Steeple + 5000
Yep, no idea why. Pursuing the 10k over the steeplechase is completely understandable, but simply choosing not to run the 5000 meters is always a decision that will leave me scratching my head.
Daniel Nixon (Mississippi State): Nothing > 800
Not sure why the #3 ranked 800 runner in the East Region is scratching out of the 800. Is he on the Mississippi State 4x400? Even if he is, the decision wouldn't make a ton of sense. I imagine an injury is likely the reason for his absence.
Anyone who could have run 10k/5k double, but is just running the 10k and nothing else
*see Linketter & McMillan section above*