The Weekend's Best Matchups: USATF and Conference Championships
Jesse Squire | On 27, Feb 2015
The USATF Championships are just half of the great action coming your way.
(Photo credit: Dane Schubert for Daily Relay)
This is one of the weekends when everything seems to happen all at once. It’s conference championship weekend in college track and the USATF Championships will be in Boston on Saturday and Sunday. I have twenty great matchups for you to watch–and you can watch most of them, either online or on television.
What’s the top matchup?
Your team vs their conference
The great thing about college track and field is that there are well over a thousand teams in the USA and Canada. They are everywhere, from the biggest cities to the most remote small towns. You undoubtedly have a personal connection to at least one of them. You attended the college, or maybe you live near the campus, or someone you know is on their team. Many of us ran for one of those teams. It’s those connections that allow college sports to exist in the way they do.
This is conference championship weekend for most of those teams, and for all but a handful of them it is the biggest weekend of the indoor season. Some are fighting for a team championship and they’ll be going all out. For example, the son of one of my colleagues is running a mile/3k/5k triple in pursuit of a team title. Others are trying to improve on past performance, or trying to stay out of last place.
It’s not just the team competition, either. This is the last chance to get a qualifying mark to the various national indoor championships, and the cutoffs will be fluctuating all weekend.
So if your team’s conference championship is near you, head out and see them compete. If not, follow their progress on the internet. This is the weekend when it really matters.
The rest, presented in chronological order…
Arkansas vs Texas A&M vs Florida
In any given year, these are three of the five or six best men’s teams in the nation, and that always makes the SEC Championships a real dogfight. The current computer rankings have them at #1 (Florida), #3 (Arkansas) and #4 (Texas A&M). While the Razorbacks are underdogs here, they know how to win—the Hogs haven’t lost an indoor or cross country SEC Championship in three years, and their outdoor win streak ended just last year.
Arkansas vs Georgia vs Florida
Men’s competition, SEC Championships
Friday and Saturday
It’s not often that you get a #1 vs #2 matchup before the NCAA Championships, but how about all of the top three? That’s what we have here. #1 Arkansas rates as a slight favorite, #3 Florida is the defending champion, and #2 Georgia hasn’t won this meet in nine years.
Texas vs Kansas State
Texas and Kansas State were among the founding members of the Big 12 in 1996, and the #4 Longhorns won last year, their first win in eight years. #6 Kansas State has never won the indoor title (and hasn’t won outdoors since 2002).
Dendy vs Lawson
Men’s long jump, SEC Championships
The best jumps recorded by Marquis Dendy (Florida) and Jarrion Lawson (Arkansas) in 2015 are separated by just one centimeter, but it’s their history that makes this a great matchup. Lawson won last year’s NCAA indoor title with 8.39 meters (27’ 6½”), the world’s longest indoor jump since 2009, which turned out to be a bit of a one-off performance. Dendy swept the long and triple jumps at last year’s NCAA outdoor championships, and his long jump PR of 8.28 (27’ 2”) gives him world-class status as well.
Orji vs Brewer
Women’s triple jump, SEC Championships
Ciarra Brewer (Florida) is the three-time defending SEC champion in this event (indoors and out) but does not come in as the favorite. That role goes to freshman Keturah Orji (Georgia), who is just 3 centimeters off the US junior record. Orji has won both of their head-to-head matchups this season.
Lihrman vs Enekwechi
Men’s weight throw, Big Ten Championships
SPIRE Institute, Geneva OH
This is a matchup of #2 vs #3. Not this year, but of all time. Michael Lihrman (Wisconsin) has gradually come closer and closer to Kibwe Johnson’s collegiate record of 25.08 meters (82’ 3½”), but Chukwuebuka Enekwechi (Purdue) has also gone over 80 feet. No other collegians ever have thrown that far. This is the first head-to-head meeting between these two in 2015.
Bromell vs Teeters
Men’s 60 meters, Big 12 Championships
Saturday, 2:00pm local time (3:00pm ET)
This is the sprint race I’ve been waiting for. Trayvon Bromell (Baylor) set a new world junior record last year while winning the NCAA title, and his 2015 indoor season is vastly improved from that of 2014. John Teeters (Oklahoma State) has seemingly come out of nowhere to record the year’s fastest times; he has three races at 6.54 or better to Bromell’s one. They were slated to meet at the Tyson Invitational two weeks ago but both withdrew from the final. They can’t avoid each other any longer.
Williams vs Kynard
Men’s high jump, USATF Championships
Reggie Lewis Center, Roxbury Crossing MA
Live webcast at USATF.tv
Live TV coverage from 4:00 to 6:00 (Saturday and Sunday) on NBC Sports Network
Jesse Williams (Nike/Oregon TC) was the 2011 World Champion but since then has struggled with injury more often than not. So far this is about as well as he’s done indoors since that 2011 season. Erik Kynard (Nike) has taken over as the USA’s dominant jumper over the last three years. Their best 2015 marks are just one centimeter apart; Williams won the Millrose Games with 2.31 (7′ 7″) and Kynard won a low-key meet at Kansas State with 2.30 (7′ 6½”). Their competition will come to its peak during the live TV portion of the meet, which may or may not get much attention on that broadcast, but the USATF.tv webcast will go to full-time field event coverage during that time.
Duffield vs Bryan
Men’s high jump, Big 12 Championships
Saturday, 3:00pm local time (4:00pm ET)
Three men are tied atop the college high jump list at 2.28 meters (7′ 5¾”). Two of them are in this meet, Jacorian Duffield (Texas Tech) and Christoff Bryan (Kansas State). They met at the Tyson Invitational two weeks ago, where Bryan, a freshman, came out the winner.
Rowbury vs doubling
Women’s mile and 2 mile, USATF Championships
Saturday, 4:04pm and Sunday, 5:09pm
Shannon Rowbury (Nike Oregon Project) is having the best indoor season among American woman’s distance runners and it’s not close. But winning the distance double at the USA indoor championships is rare. Just three other women have done it: Jenny Simpson (in 2011 and 2012), Francie Larrieu (1977), and Jan Merrill (1976).
Hill vs Derrick
Men’s 2 mile, USATF Championships
This looks like a great race and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the winner come from any of about five different guys. The two who look to be in the best shape right now are Ryan Hill (Nike/Bowerman TC) and Chris Derrick (Nike/Bowerman TC). Hill finished a narrow second to teammate Lopez Lomong in the 5k at the Millrose Games, and Derrick looked like a beast in his two major cross country races in January and February. Ben Blankenship (Nike/Oregon TC) has run some great races at the one mile distance, steeplechase specialist Evan Jager (Nike/Bowerman TC) is running well, and Garrett Heath (Brooks) defeated a murderer’s row of middle-distance runners at the Edinburgh Internationl Cross Country in January.
Lambert vs Kruger
Men’s weight throw, USATF Championships
A.G. Kruger (Nike) has won this meet eight times, while JC Lambert (This Space For Rent) has never won it. Lambert has thrown farther than Kruger so far this year, but championships can be different–and Kruger knows how to win.
Payne vs Pros
Women’s pole vault, USATF Championships
Demi Payne (Stephen F Austin) has broken the collegiate record three times so far in 2015 and is tied for 4th on the world list. Her conference championship meet was early last week and that frees her up for this meet. The withdrawal of Jen Suhr means that Payne’s top competition is likely to be Mary Saxer (New York AC), the defending champion. The last time a college pole vaulter won the USA indoor title, you ask? George Mason’s Istvan Bagyula, back in 1990 when he won the USA, European and NCAA titles in consecutive weeks.
Centrowitz vs Lomong
Men’s Mile, USATF Championships
Some events at the USATF indoor championships are decidedly lackluster, but the men’s mile has most of the USA’s top runners. Matt Centrowitz (Nike Oregon Project) had his only dud of a race last week in England, otherwise he’s been dominant. If the scoring system from the old VISA Championship Series were still in effect, he’d be leading. Lopez Lomong (Nike/Bowerman TC) showed a nice turn of speed in winning the 5k at the Millrose Games and is probably the biggest threat to Centro. That they represent crosstown clubs with an intense rivalry merely adds to the entertainment value.
Kitwara vs Sambu
Men’s race, World’s Best 10k
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Sunday, 5:25pm local time (4:25pm ET)
The name of this race is not hyperbole; more often than not, it is the year’s deepest and most competitive road 10k. The men’s race features a long list of top-level runners, led by Sammy Kitwara (Kenya) and Stephen Sambu (Kenya). Kitwara won this race four times between 2009 and 2013, then skipped last year. He ran 2:04:28 for a runner-up finish at Chicago last fall and is the favorite. Sambu, the former University of Arizona star, dominated the US road circuit last year and broke 27:00 on the track. The biggest question in the women’s race is what kind of form four-time world champion Vivian Cheruiyot (Kenya) will show after a long maternity leave.
Montano vs Wilson
Women’s 600 meters, USATF Championships
Alysia Montano (Asics/New York AC) was one of the world’s best at 800 meters in 2013, then (mostly) missed the 2014 season due to pregnancy. In her absence, young Ajee Wilson (adidas) posted the year’s best time and was ranked #2 in the world by Track & Field News. Wilson has won a number of races so far this season while Montano is still just getting started. I wouldn’t think this was going to be particularly close, but…it’s not 800 meters. In an off-year experiment, they’re running 600 instead. Montano has always been a front-runner and would have won a whole lot more races if they had been just a little shorter. An upset is possible.
Loxsom vs Spratling vs Sowinski
Men’s 600 meters, USATF Championships
Cas Loxsom (Brooks) broke the American record at this odd distance earlier this year. The record he boke belonged to Erik Sowinski (Nike), who set it two years ago in a huge upset when he was just a late addition to a race set up as a record chase for others. Brycen Spratling (This Space For Rent) is a bit of an unknown quantity here but he broke the world record for the 500 meters two weeks ago at the Millrose Games. Three record setters in one race? Awesome.
Kimmons vs Bracy vs Bailey
Men’s 60 meters, USATF Championships
Marvin Bracy (adidas) was the star of the indoor season last year but only has one good race to his name his year, a win at the Millrose Games. Trell Kimmons (adidas) beat Bracy at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix but finished last at Millrose. Ryan Bailey (Nike) has the year’s fastest time by an American, run on the opposite coast in Seattle.