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College Recap: Who are the favorites now?

College Recap: Who are the favorites now?
Jesse Squire

Last week I led off with a look at a proposal that would limit the kinds of meets from which Division I athletes could get qualifying marks for the NCAA Championships. If passed, it would have a major impact on track and field and probably not in the way that its authors had intended. I’ve also been told that the way in which it was introduced at the coaches’ convention seemed a bit underhanded. There was no “smoke-filled room” because track people don’t smoke, but you get the idea. In any case, it does not appear headed towards passage.

The impetus for this proposal was that college track needs major change. It needs to be responsive to the needs of spectators and television, and right now it clearly does not, which is unsustainable in Division I. If we say that the needs of the athletes must come first, I say fine, let’s reclassify all of it as Division III and get rid of all track scholarships. If that’s not what we want, then we have to recognize that Division I athletic departments expect something from the thousands and thousands of dollars they put into every athletic grant-in-aid, and that’s attention from spectators and media.

The problems college track faces on this front are many, but they can be boiled down to a few issues. One is that most track meets are unwatchably long and with too much dead time. The other is that, with rare exceptions, college track’s regular season is about as meaningful as the NFL’s pre-season or Major League Baseball’s spring training. It’s merely preparation for the championship meets. Winning and losing has no inherent value, and nothing is on the line besides getting qualifying marks. Teams regularly split their squads, even for home meets, and most teams don’t have enough home meets to develop a following.

Oregon is one of the few places where college track gets attention, but even they fall prey to these problems. The last two meets at Hayward Field saw many Ducks sent to California in search of fast times, and this weekend’s Oregon Relays sprawled over most of two days. Even the well-publicized men’s 5000 meters turned out to be a dud of a race; one pro was merely a pacemaker, two more ran barely faster than tempo pace, and the two Oregon stars just ran to get a qualifying time. Let’s Run called it “a waste of time”.

I don’t know how we address those problems of bloated meet schedules and lack of rewards or consequences. But those are the basic problems. They are wonderfully absent from next weekend’s major meets, the Penn and Drake Relays. Those meet may be all-day affairs but they have little down time and are set up as massive parties as much as track meets, and winning and losing have inherent meaning.

This week, I decided to summarize the weekend’s competition by looking at how it affected the national championship picture in each event. I didn’t cover every single event, just those where the weekend’s action had an effect on how I see the NCAA Championships contenders in that event.

Clear Favorites

These events have athletes who are clear favorites at the NCAA Championships. It would be considered a major upset if they were beaten.

Women’s 800 meters. Oregon’s Laura Roesler, the NCAA indoor champion, ran 2:00.54 at the Mt. SAC Relays. That’s good for #8 on the all-time collegiate list and more than 2 seconds faster than any other collegian has this year. (It just so happens that teammate Samantha Murphy is that second-fastest collegian, also at Mt. SAC.) Roesler hasn’t been beaten by a collegian in the 800 this year, and in fact has never been beaten by any collegian competing this year.

Men’s 200 meters. Two weeks ago, Florida junior Dedric Dukes ran 19.97 at the Florida Relays. It’s rare for a collegian to break 20 seconds, and even more rare to do it with a headwind. At Saturday’s Tom Jones Memorial, he showed his speed endurance by running a tough 45.66 for 400 meters, losing only to pros Torrin Lawrence, Clayton Parros, and Martin Rooney. (No, not that Martin Rooney.)

Women’s hammer throw. Princeton’s Julia Ratcliffe became the 8th collegian to get over the 70 meter mark at the Tigers’ own Larry Ellis Invitational, hitting a New Zealand record of 70.28 meters (230′ 7″). Single-best mark in the hammer isn’t as meaningful as consistency over several meets, so it means a lot that her third-best meet of the year is better than anyone else’s best.

Men’s 800 meters.
Mississippi State sophomore Brandon McBride ran faster in high school (1:46.07) than any of this year’s collegians have ever run, period. He had a rough freshman year but has come back strong this year, winning the NCAA indoor title. He finally broke that two-year-old PR at the Mt. SAC Relays, finishing fourth in the top heat behind seasoned pros Duane Solomon and Erik Sowinski and Wesley Vasquez’s Puerto Rican national record. He’s now the #5 Canadian of all time.

Women’s 5000 meters. Dartmouth’s Abbey D’Agostino hasn’t lost a distance race to another collegian since a sprint finish at the 2012 NCAA cross country championships. She finished third in the Mt. SAC Relays’ invitational elite section, finishing behind two foreign journeywoman pros.

Men’s 400 hurdles. Kansas’ Michael Stigler won his second 400H race of the year in as many starts at the Kansas Relays with a collegiate-leading mark of 49.35. He didn’t get any help running that fast–he won by 20 meters, or more than half a hurdle spacing.

Women’s 400 meters. Oregon’s Phyllis Francis may not have the fastest time of the collegiate outdoor season right now, but the indoor record holder stomped the field at the Mt. SAC Relays. She beat a field that included four pros by 0.85 seconds, or nearly seven meters.

Men’s shot put. Texas’ Ryan Crouser won a shot/discus double at Baylor’s Michael Johnson/Dr. Pepper Classic. His worst shot put result of the season is better than any other collegian’s best result.

Women’s pole vault. The pole vault is an event that can be plagued with inconsistency, but so far that’s not the case with Texas’ Kaitlin Petrillose. The NCAA indoor champion and #2 vaulter in collegiate history won her fifth straight meet at the Michael Johnson/Dr. Pepper Classic.

Men’s discus. UCLA’s Julian Wruck got the weekend off. The last time he lost to an NCAA athlete was in 2011.

Women’s 100 hurdles. Arkansas State’s Sharika Nelvis hasn’t been beaten in the short hurdles this year. Her win streak stretched to nine finals after beating a Mt. SAC Relays field chock-full of pros that included Angela Whyte, who was sixth at last year’s World Championships.

Two-Person Races

These events look like showdowns between two leading contenders.

Men’s 400 meters. Texas A&M’s Deon Lendore beat LSU’s Vernon Norwood at the LSU Alumni Gold in 45.47. At the Tom Jones Classic, Florida’s Arman Hall beat teammate Hugh Graham and Pitt’s Brycen Spratling.

Women’s steeplechase. Florida State’s Colleen Quigley won the ACC Championships with a pedestrian (for her) time of 10:09.50. Colorado’s Shalaya Kipp hasn’t even run a steeplechase yet–the two-time USA national team member is plenty experienced and will be fine when she needs to get to it–but did break her 5k PR at the Mt. SAC Relays with 15:54.13.

Men’s Pole Vault. Ole Miss’ Sam Kendricks was idle over the weekend, while Akron’s Shawn Barber had his first good meet of the outdoor season with 5.60m (18′ 4½”) at the Mt. SAC Relays, good for second overall and top collegian.

New contenders?

These events saw new top athletes come to the fore over the weekend.

Men’s 5000 meters. Texas Tech’s Kennedy Kithuka ran his first race since the NCAA Cross Country Championships, winning the invitational elite section at the Mt. SAC Relays. He was considered unbeatable in cross country until Oregon’s Edward Cheserek beat him at the NCAAs. Kithuka could choose the 5k or the 10k or both for the NCAA Championships, and any combination looks like the makings of a fascinating battle.

Women’s 200 meters. Texas A&M’s Kamaria Brown is one of the favorites for the NCAA title, but she was beaten by teammate Olivia Ekpone at the LSU Alumni Gold in a wind-aided 22.80.

Men’s 110 hurdles. USC’s Aleec Harris won the A-heat of the Mt. SAC Relays invitational elite competition, beating World Indoor champion Omo Osaghae and outdoor Worlds silver medalist Ryan Wilson. His winning time, 13.32, is faster than the PRs of NCAA co-favorites Wayne Davis II (Texas A&M) and Eddie Lovett (Florida).

Women’s shot put. NCAA indoor champion Christina Hillman (Iowa State) opened up her outdoor season at the LSU Alumni Gold and was beaten by Arizona’s Julie Labonte, the NCAA indoor and outdoor champion way back in 2011.

Men’s long jump. These days, the 8.00 meter mark (26′ 3″) is far enough to make people sit up and take notice. SIU-Edwardsville’s Laderrick Ward hit it exactly at the Cougars’ own Gateway Classic and took the outdoor collegiate lead.

Women’s discus. Texas A&M’s Shelbi Vaughan, who had the weekend off, is the clear favorite for the NCAA Championship. Colorado State’s Jessica Sharbono came out of the woodwork over the weekend in two meets. She was the top collegian at both the Mt. SAC Relays and Beach Invitational and went to #2 on the yearly collegiate list.

Men’s hammer throw. Kent State’s Matthias Tayala finished third in the hammer throw at Ohio State’s Jesse Owens Classic behind the USA’s two 2012 Olympians, pros A.G. Kruger and Kibwe Johnson. He hit a mark of 71.65m (235′ 1″), his third straight PR and just 1.13m (3′ 7″) off the yearly collegiate lead.

Men’s Decathlon. Oregon’s Dakotah Keys scored 8027 points at the Oregon Relays. While a PR and a notable score, it’s a far cry from what Duke’s Curtis Beach and Georgia’s Garrett Scantling and Maicel Uibo can do–but Keys only had a good meet, not a great one. He scored PRs in “just” three of the ten events, so it looks like there’s room to improve.

Wide Open

These events have no clear favorite.

Men’s 100 meters. Florida State’s Dentarius Locke, the NCAA indoor champion at 60 meters, ran a quadruple at the ACC Championships. He won the 100 meters by 0.20 seconds, the same gap as between 2nd and 5th. Baylor freshman Trayvon Bromell caught a cramp in the 200 at the Michael Johnson/Dr. Pepper Classic and still won in 20.59. Alabama’s Diondre Batson won the Mt. SAC Relays 100 over USC’s Aaron Brown and pros like Ryan Bailey and Mike Rodgers.

Women’s 100 meters. Oregon’s Jenna Prandini is usually thought of as the Duck’s second-best sprinter, but she won the A-heat of the Mt. SAC Relays Invitational Elite sections with 11.11 over Alabama’s Ramona Burchell, the NCAA indoor champion at 60 meters. The Ducks’ Jasmine Todd won the second heat in 11.25. Texas’ Morolake Akinosun was second in the 200 at the Michael Johnson/Dr. Pepper Classic behind teammate Ashley Spencer. Kentucky’s Dezerea Bryant had an easy time of it at the Wildcats’ own Kentucky Relays, winning in 11.55. Texas A&M’s Aaliyah Brown was second at the LSU Alumni Gold in 11.31, behind pro Kimberlyn Duncan.

Men’s high jump. This looks like a three-way battle, but the high jump can surprise you at times. James Harris won the ACC Championships on the countback at just 2.16m (7′ 1″) but he also ran the 200 and both relays to help his Florida State Seminoles win the title. Arizona’s Nick Ross won his third straight outdoor meet at the LSU Alumni Gold with 2.26m (7′ 5″), and Ole Miss’ Ricky Robertson was the top collegian at the Mt. SAC Relays (over pros such as Jesse Williams) with 2.23m (7′ 3¾”).

Women’s 1500 meters. There can be a favorite in the 1500, but the nature of the race makes it always wide-open. Arkansas’ Stephanie Brown recorded the year’s best collegiate time at the Mt. SAC Relays (4:11.40), with Georgia’s Carly Brown just four seconds back. But when you get into a championship race, fast times amount to Jack Squat, to paraphrase Matt Foley.

Men’s triple jump. Maybe this event isn’t “wide open”, but it’s hard to read at this point in time. None of the major contenders for the national title–Felix Obi (Baylor), Mark Jackson (UTEP), Jonathan Reid (Florida State), Ben Williams (Louisville)–have jumped yet during the outdoor season.

Men’s javelin throw. Oregon’s Sam Crouser is the favorite to be NCAA champion but hasn’t gotten off a good throw (by his standards) in his three meets. In past weeks, Kyle Quinn (Tennessee), Ray Dykstra (Kentucky) and Rob Robbins (Cornell) have shown that they could contend if Crouser leaves the door open.

Comments

  1. Phyllis Francis as clear favorite seems a bit premature. Nothing against Francis but Ashley Spencer has run faster and is two-time champion. I’m not saying Francis can’t or won’t win but clear favorite she isn’t.

  2. I think you can add in Cornell’s Rachel Sorna for the steeplechase discussion as she got. Major PR at the Larry Ellis Invite, running 9:43.45 to finish 3rd behind 2 pros (winner was Ashley Higginson in a world leading 9:35).

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