Updated: May 6
This past weekend marked one of the initial big weekends for outdoor track as Florida Relays and the Stanford Invite offer a first look at some of the premier athletes in the NCAA. This year’s Stanford Invite will be remembered not by the athletes shaking off the rust, but the officials, as one poor man did his best Mufasa impression getting run over by the fast section of the Men’s 1500 (jokes aside, we’re all wishing for a swift recovery for that official).
While that moment will be remembered by all of the “track is a contact sport” advocates, there were plenty of other notable outcomes that deserve your attention. Here are the headlines:
Winner: Southern Utah Thunderbirds Running in Heat Two
How ‘bout them Thunderbirds? Southern Utah’s unexpected success began in the second fastest heat of the men’s 1500, where Kasey Knevelbaard finished in an impressive 3:41.76. Not only did Knevelbaard take down some big names in his own heat (including Oregon DMR members Mick Stanovsek and Austin Tamagno as well as former New York standout Christian DeLago), but he also registered the fastest 1500 time of the meet. The fast heat (yeah, that’s right, fast heat, none of this “hot heat” nonsense) was won by Josh Thompson in 3:41.80.
Knevelbaard may not have been a household name, but this performance will put him on the map, and he is looking to stay. The dude has serious closing speed, and a time this early bodes well moving forward.
Not to be outdone, Southern Utah’s big gun, Mike Tate, had his own heat two heroics. Tate, a name that went missing after high expectations for Cross Country, showed his muster with an absolute dominate performance. In a solo effort, Tate eviscerated a field that included former household names like Cole Rockhold, Malachy Schrobilgen, Joe Hardy, and Chartt Miller in a time of 13:39. Tate was strong and smooth the whole way, and was described by fans in attendance (our very own Caleb Gatchell) as “one of the most impressive races” they’d ever seen in person. These boys from Southern Utah are for real. They certainly stole the show at one of the biggest headline meets of the year.
Loser: Blake Haney
It’s hard to fault Haney for his DNF this weekend after he took a tumble in the final lap of the 1500, but this is a guy who really needed a result. Two years ago, Haney looked like the future of milers in the NCAA with an All-American performance in the 1500 as a true freshman. That feat that was followed up by a silver medal finish in the mile during indoor season.
Unfortunately for the Oregon Duck, Haney struggled during the spring of 2016, failing to make the finals in the 1500 at his conference meet, and finishing second to last in the 1500 final at Nationals after barely squeaking through prelims. Haney’s troubles continued during indoor, as he failed to qualify as an individual, only managing a 4:09 in his only mile time for the season. However, Haney was given a shot at redemption, and he managed to rectify his year with a solid performance on Oregon’s DMR as the anchor. Following up that race with a solid time could’ve gone a long way in restoring Haney’s confidence, but fate would not allow for that.
To add insult to injury, other Oregon runners managed impressive times (Tamagno and Stanovsek most notably). Haney fails to answer many of the questions surrounding his performances over the past year, and leaves more questions as the two-time All-American looks to regain his form.
Winner: Alfred Chelanga
Remember when Futsum ran 27:52 at Payton Jordan and the track world (myself included) decided he would have a shot to take down King Ches? Well, Alfred Chelanga ran 28:04, and although it’s not quite what Futsum ran, it deserves more attention to begin with. Breaking 28 minutes is arbitrary (if Chelanga ran 5 seconds faster, I’m sure we’d be seeing more headlines), and 28:04 is still a time that may not be toppled by an NCAA athlete this year.
The transfer from Shorter (now with Alabama) has all kinds of talent, and the fact that he was fifth in the 5k during indoor went widely unnoticed. This is a performance that cannot be ignored. Moreover, Chelanga may be just getting started. This weekend is small potatoes compared to Payton Jordan, which won’t be for another month. If Chelanga makes a second trip across the country to Palo Alto, he could throw down an even more dominant time.
Loser: Bailey Roth
It’s hard to classify an 8:46 steeplechase in early April as a loss, but Bailey Roth should really be faring better. Roth entered college with the potential to be the next dominate steeplechaser in the NCAA, and now with Mason Ferlic running as a pro, I was ready for the Arizona runner to be in the national champion conversation.
Roth has been solid in college, qualifying for Nationals and managing a PR of 8:37, but he’s never been an All-American and he’s never broken out the dominance he flashed prior to college. I keep waiting for him to drop a mind-blowing time, but failing to beat guys like Troy Reeder (a very solid steeplechaser, but someone Roth will have to best if he wants to make All-American) leaves Roth fans like myself wanting more.
To reiterate, 8:46 isn't necessarily "a loss" but I expected more. It's decent, but nothing more and nothing less.
A lot of young guys showed their muster in their first outdoor race as collegiate runners. Most notably were Aidan Tooker (Sryacuse) and Jon Davis (Illinois)
Tooker followed up a strong indoor season with a 5k debut time of 14:04 This time sets up Tooker to pursue a sub-14 performance this year and highlights the strength he has gained throughout his collegiate training. Moreover, this time bodes well for Tooker if he should run steeplechase, an event he had some success with in high school. If Tooker can continue to improve, he could be a huge factor for Syracuse in cross country come this fall.
Davis, on the other hand, impressed by moving down in distance. After a strong cross country season, which conveyed the poise and fortitude Davis has as a runner, he won his 1500 heat in an impressive 3:45, flashing some nice wheels to beat the field in the last 100 meters. If Davis can combine his strength with the speed he showed us this weekend, the true freshman from Illinois will be dangerous for many seasons to come.
Towards the back of Davis’ heat was high schooler Luis Grijalva, who managed to notch a time of 3:49. Grijalva is not known for his speed, but this time illustrates just how talented the fan favorite is (even as a high schooler). Look out for this kid at the next level.
Loser: Men’s 800 Field
This wasn’t a bad race, per say. Chris Low’s winning time of 1:47.11 is nothing to turn your nose at. However, when 21 guys break 1:50 at another meet across the country, it leaves you wondering if some of these competitors made the right decision to race at Stanford. The 800 at Florida Relays was far and away the best race of the weekend, and may have been a better chance to run a fast time to open the season. I get that for a lot of the guys in the 800 at Stanford, staying on the west coast was far more convenient.
Truth be told, I just wanted to mention how loaded the 800 was at Florida Relays, and I wanted to have an even number of winners and losers. I’m a rascal, what’re you gonna do?
Stanford gave us a taste of what should be a very exciting outdoor season. Hopefully the times we see over the coming weeks will be better than my feeble attempts at humor over the same time frame.