Men’s Long Distance: Cheserek Aims For NCAA Titles #4 And #5; Can Seniors Kithuka And Lalang Stop Him?

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By LetsRun.com
June 10, 2014

Last year, Arizona’s Lawi Lalang ran away from the fields early to easily win NCAA titles in the 10,000 and in the 5,000. Kennedy Kithuka was red-shirting but Lalang had no problems with two sub-13:20 guys who were fresh in the 5,000 (Diego Estrada and Eric Jenkins). And for good measure, later in the year, Lalang would beat Galen Rupp and Bernard Lagat in a 5000 where he ran 13:00.

This year, Lalang is trying to end his incredible NCAA career by doing the 1500 and 5000 double. We know one thing – Lalang won’t have it as easy as he did last year. Last year’s competition was by no means easy, but Lalang will have his hands full as the guys he’s facing this year are even tougher. Plus he lost twice at 2014 NCAA Indoors.

Lalang returns to defend his 5,000 title, but he’ll be joined by 2012 XC/2013 indoor 5k champ Kennedy Kithuka of Texas Tech, 27:36 man Shadrack Kipchirchir of Oklahoma State and 2013 XC/2014 indoor 3k and 5k champ Edward Cheserek of Oregon, who will look to put on a show in front of the home fans at Hayward Field. Kithuka, Kipchirchir and Cheserek all have to run the 10,000 before the 5,000 (Lalang will have to run a 1500 heat before the 5000 final, the 1500 final is after the 5000).

We break down the 5,000 and 10,000 for you below.

Men’s 10,000 (Wednesday, 10:15 p.m. ET)

The first track final of the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships comes on Wednesday with the men’s 10,000 meters. It’s a strong field with NCAA champs Kithuka and Cheserek on the line in addition to two men — Kipchirchir and Wisconsin’s Olympian Mohammed Ahmed — who rank in the top 10 at the distance all-time among NCAA runners.

NameYearSchoolPBComment
Kennedy KithukaSRTexas Tech27:41.73’12 XC champ won Big 12 10k by 1:39, 5k by :50
Edward CheserekFROregon28:51.973-for-3 at NCAAs so far: wins in XC, indoor 3k/5k; great speed (3:36 1500)
Parker StinsonSROregon28:34.712nd in Pac-12 10k; 3rd at NCAA indoor 5k. 6th in this race last year.
Jim RosaJRStanford29:00.134th in Pac-12 5k; 5th at NCAA XC
Chris EnriquezSOLong Beach St.29:12.462nd at Big West 10k
Joe BosshardSRColorado28:41.56Feel-good story: 8th in NCAA 10k in ’11, then missed 2+ years before returning as 6th-year SR
Mohammed AhmedSRWisconsin27:34.649th at worlds in 10k last year for Canada but just 14th in NCAA indoor 5k. PB is #7 all-time NCAA.
Trevor DunbarSROregon28:52.392nd in Pac 12 5k; 5th in NCAA indoor 3k
Luke CaldwellSRNew Mexico28:59.63Brit was Mountain West 5k/10k champ; 10th at NCAA XC and 6th in indoor 5k
Shadrack KipchirchirSROklahoma St.27:36.79PB is #9 all-time NCAA; 2nd behind Kithuka in Big 12 5k/10k
Adam BitchellSRNew Mexico28:50.43Brit was second behind teammate Caldwell in Mountain West 5k/10k; 9th in NCAA indoor 5k
Jason WittJRBYU28:36.84Won Stanford Invite 10k in April
John MascariSOIndiana St.29:10.32Won East prelim. MVC 5k/10k champ.
Jim SpisakSRDuquesne29:02.09A-10 5k/10k champ; 8th at USA indoors in 3k
Chris BendtsenSRPrinceton28:49.08Ivy 5k champ but just 4th in Ivy 10k. Won Ivy XC in ’12.
Martin HehirJRSyracuse29:10.12ACC 10k champ/5k runner-up. Won Big East XC in ’12.
James LeakosSRHarvard29:26.83Ivy 10k runner-up has checkered history at NCAAs: DNF in indoor 5k; 253rd and DNF in XC
Thomas PorterSRVirginia29:34.15Only 14th in ACC 5k/10k but somehow qualified. 16th in this race last year.
Brandon LordJRGeorgia29:10.87SEC 10k champ/5k runner-up
Tyler ByrneJRLouisville29:30.62AAC 5k champ/10k runner-up
Adam VisokayFRVirginia29:14.50Even worse than teammate Porter at ACCs (15th in 5k, 23rd in 10k) but 9th at East prelim
Brian AtkinsonSRDuke29:27.857th at ACC 10k
Andrew SpringerSRGeorgetown29:21.67Big East 10k champ was 13th in this race last year.
Morsi RayyanJRMichigan29:12.947th in Big 10 10k/13th in 5k

Who will win?

Going by PBs, Kithuka, Kipchirchir and Ahmed are way in front of the field, but that’s a bit misleading. Cheserek has never run a 10k for time and would be in the 27:30-40 range if he went out and raced one right now. The winner is definitely coming from this group.

Edward Cheserek Celebrates at 2014 NCAAs (photo by Kirby Lee)

Edward Cheserek Celebrates at 2014 NCAAs (photo by Kirby Lee). More NCAA photos.

We’re picking Cheserek for the win. Here’s why:

1) The guy has won everything in sight.

Cheserek won NCAAs in cross and went undefeated in indoor track, winning two more NCAA titles in the process. Apart from the Stanford Invitational (where Cheserek ran to get a regional qualifier and didn’t race to win), his only loss outdoors was to Lalang in the Pac-12 1500. That’s under-distance for Cheserek against a guy who has run 3:33. And Cheserek still almost won, running 3:36.50 to lose to Lalang by just .16 seconds. No one has proven they can beat him in the longer distances.

2) He has the best kick of anyone in the field.

Cheserek used a devastating kick to drop Kithuka and win NCAAs in cross, and it was on display again at indoor NCAAs, where he ran the last 400 of the 5k in 54.5 secs (25.9 final 200) and the 3k in 55.7 secs (25.8 final 200). He also anchored Oregon to a Championship of America win in the DMR with a 3:57.97 1600 split (53.9 last lap) and bettered that the next day by running a 3:56.4 second leg (fastest of the race) to break open the 4xmile Championship of American in another Oregon win. Cheserek has serious, serious wheels and if this race comes down to a kick, it’s game over.

Is there any way Cheserek loses?

No one thought Lawi Lalang could be beaten ahead of NCAA indoors this year, but instead of three NCAA titles, Lalang left Albuquerque with zero. We’re confident putting our money on Cheserek but we can’t guarantee a win. That’s why they run the races, after all.

So how could Cheserek go down? It’s a similar situation to Mo Farah at worlds and the Olympics the last few years. Like Farah, Cheserek has more speed than any other long distance guy, and if it’s a tactical race, he will win. But Cheserek has never run a fast 10k in his life (and he lost the only fast final that he’s been in at Pac-12s (we’re cheating a bit here since Cheserek isn’t a 1500 runner; you could also argue that the 13:46 he ran to win NCAAs at altitude in Albuquerque was plenty fast)).

And the beauty of this race is unlike Worlds, where the Kenyans and Ethiopians in recent years have basically just committed suicide by letting it come down to a kick, we know that Kithuka won’t let it go slow. He’s used to hammering races by himself. At Big 12s, he lapped the field including Kipchirchir just 9 laps into the race.

Kipchirchir, Kithuka and Ahmed are all very fast in their own right, and if they came to an agreement about splitting the pacing duties (we hope they don’t just cowardly let Kithuka do all the work himself, but we do it) one of them might have a shot at upsetting Cheserek. But keeping up an honest pace in a 10,000 is very difficult, and as we saw at the Pre Classic, even if a pacer hangs in and finishes the race (like Stephen Sambu), he’ll end up getting his doors blown off by the guy who hasn’t done any of the work (Galen Rupp).

The battle for second

Assuming Cheserek wins, Kipchirchir, Kithuka and Ahmed will finish 2nd, 3rd and 4th in some order. Kipchirchir and Kithuka have run way faster than anyone else this year (almost a minute faster than #3 Jason Witt of BYU) and though Ahmed was just 14th in the 5k at indoor NCAAs, he ran a PB of 13:28.02 (NCAA #3) for 5k outdoors. That indicates that he’s fit, and Ahmed is better at the 10k (9th at worlds in ’13) than he is at the 5k.

Some may give Kithuka an edge over Kipchirchir for crushing him by 1:39 and :50, respectively at the Big 12 10k/5k, but those races should not have any bearing on who beats who at NCAAs. Kipchirchir clearly ceded the win early and beat everyone else in both races. When the two actually raced each other at the Payton Jordan 10k, Kipchirchir sat on Kithuka and then won by five seconds. We’re still giving Kithuka the edge, though, because of his NCAA pedigree: an XC title in 2012 and an indoor 5k crown in 2013.

Who will be the top American?

That honor will likely fall to Oregon’s Parker Stinson, who was second in the Pac-12 10k and who finished a surprising third at NCAA indoors in the 5k, after running horribly at NCAAs in the past. Oregon coach Andy Powell is very good at getting his guys to peak for championship meets, and Stinson, who was sixth last year, has the fastest PB of any American in the field. He could be challenged by teammate Trevor Dunbar, Stanford’s Jim Rosa (5th at NCAA XC) or BYU’s Jason Witt (#3 time in NCAA this year).

The West is much, much better than the East

This is true for the men’s 1500 and 5k as well. The West had 27 of the top 30 performers in the 10k this season (including the top 11), 22 of the top 30  in the 5k (including the top 13) and 22 of the top 30 in the 1500. The entrants from the West include NCAA champs and multi-time All-Americans, while the East includes runners like Thomas Porter and Adam Visokay of Virginia, who were just 14th and 23rd in the ACC 10k (yes, we know ACCs is in the middle of April so athletes aren’t totally peaked). This isn’t meant as a shot at Porter or Visokay — it’s hard to qualify for NCAAs no matter where you’re from — but they’d have almost no shot at qualifying if they were in the West.

Prediction

1) Cheserek 2) Kithuka 3) Ahmed 4) Kipchirchir

Men’s 5,000 (Friday, 9:10 p.m. ET)

It’s always hard to preview the 5,000 this far in advance because the favorite is normally the guy who won the 10k  two nights before (the winner of the 10k has gone on to win the 5k the past two years). The top guys in the 10k (Cheserek, Kithuka, Kipchirchir, Ahmed) are all doubling back and the field also includes defending champ/7-time NCAA champ Lawi Lalang of Arizona and the #2 fastest man in the NCAA this year, Kirubel Erassa of Oklahoma St.

NameYearSchoolPBComment
Kennedy KithukaSRTexas Tech13:25.38’12 XC champ won Big 12 10k by 1:39, 5k by :50. #1 time in NCAA. Also in 10k.
Edward CheserekFROregon13:40.513-for-3 at NCAAs so far: wins in XC, indoor 3k/5k; great speed (3:36 1500). Also in 10k.
Parker StinsonSROregon13:31.702nd in Pac-12 10k; 3rd at NCAA indoor 5k. 10th in this race in ’12. Also in 10k.
Mohammed AhmedSRWisconsin13:28.02#3 time in NCAA. 14th in NCAA indoor 5k. 7th in this race in ’12. Also in 10k.
Shadrack KipchirchirSROklahoma St.13:37.682nd behind Kithuka in Big 12 10k/5k. Also in 10k.
Trevor DunbarSROregon13:32.382nd in Pac 12 5k; 5th in NCAA indoor 3k. 6th in this race in ’12. Also in 10k.
Lawi LalangSRArizona13:00.95Defending champ has 7 NCAA titles. Won Pac-12 1500/5k. No collegian has run faster. Also in 1500.
Stanley KebeneiJRArkansas13:42.15Won 5k/steeple at SECs. 3rd in NCAA steeple last year. Also entered in steeple.
Weston StrumJRLoyola Marymount13:47.28First NCAA championships after breakthrough spring
Soufiane BouchikhiSRE. Kentucky13:33.09Belgian was OVC 5k champ/2nd in 1500. 16th in this race in ’12.
Matthew GillespieSRIona13:57.26Brit won MAAC 5k; 10th at indoor 3k.
Matt FischerJRPenn St.14:01.237th in Big 10 5k; 3rd at Big 10 XC
Eric JenkinsJROregon13:18.573rd in Pac-12 5k. 10th in this race last year.
Matthew SchwartzerFRIndiana14:06.664th in Big 10 5k
Curtis KingSODartmouth14:08.473rd in Ivy 5k
Isaac PressonSRNorth Carolina13:52.934th in ACC 1500; 33rd (!) in ACC 5k
Joe RosaJRStanford13:33.56Won Pac-12 10k, 5th in 5k; 5th in NCAA indoor 5k.
Wesley GallagherSONortheastern14:02.90Won CAA 10k; CAA XC champ
John BledaySRDartmouth14:04.7110th in Ivy 10k; upset Olympian Donn Cabral to win Ivy indoor 3k in ’12.
Andrew ColleySRNC State13:44.792nd in ACC 10k; ACC XC champ; 7th at NCAA XC. 12th in this race last year.
Patrick TiernanFRVillanova13:37.73Aussie won Big East 5k; Big East XC champ; 7th in NCAA indoor 5k; 9th at NCAA XC
Tom PurnellSOHarvard13:59.42Brit was last man in from East after Va. Tech’s Leoule Degfae was DQ’ed
Nick HappeSRNotre Dame13:43.55ACC 5k champ/3rd in 1500. Arizona St. transfer.
Kirubel ErassaJROklahoma St.13:27.55#2 time in NCAA; 3rd in Big 12 5k/2nd in 1500; 2nd in NCAA indoor 3k; won mile/3k/5k at Big 12 indoors

Cheserek vs. Lalang

Given his indoor win over Lalang, Cheserek is the favorite on paper, but he’s not as strong a favorite as he is in the 10k. That’s because he’s facing Lalang, one of the all-time greats in the NCAA. We’ll talk more about Lalang’s accomplishments in our 1500 preview, but this is what he’s done at 5,000:

Won NCAA indoors in 2012

Won NCAA outdoors in 2013

Ran 13:08.28 indoors, the fastest time ever during the NCAA season, indoors or outdoors

Ran 13:00.95 in Monaco last summer after the NCAA season

Those are some LEGENDARY accomplishments, and yet Cheserek dusted him over the final laps at indoor NCAAs to pull away and win by 6+ seconds. It would have been difficult to argue that Lalang had better speed than Cheserek after that result, but it’s not a crazy argument anymore. Lalang — who has a 3:33.20 1500 PB — ran 3:36.34 to beat Cheserek in a fast 1500 at Pac-12s. And his only loss in a final above 800 meters outdoors was to reigning NCAA champ Mac Fleet at 1500 in early April, where they both ran 3:44. It’s still hard to get past the image of Cheserek shifting gears and destroying Lalang indoors, but Lalang is a total stud and it would be foolish to count him out.

Oregon goes all-out for the team title

Oregon won NCAAs indoors this year but hasn’t won an NCAA outdoor title since 1984. If the Ducks are to claim the title on their home track, they will have to pile up points in the distance events. Track & Field News’ most recent formchart has Oregon and Florida well clear of the rest of the field, with the Ducks six points up on the Gators. Florida has a lot of talent in the sprints and the 800 and also boasts the top qualifier in the long jump, triple jump and shot put. Oregon is more balanced, but its strength is clearly the distance events. Florida has no one in any event longer than 800, while Oregon has two in the 1500, one in the 3000 steeple, four in the 5k and three in the 10k. If the Ducks are going to win the title, they’re going to do it on the strength of their distance runners.

All four Ducks could definitely score in the 5k. As mentioned in the 10k preview, the West is a lot better than the East, and one-third of the qualifiers from the West were from Oregon. Since most of the scorers will be from the West, Oregon should have one or two scorers almost by default. But the Ducks will do better than that because their guys all have great championship pedigrees. Cheserek is a lock for at least 8 points, Stinson was third indoors, Dunbar was second behind Lalang at Pac-12s and was 5th in the indoor 3k, while Eric Jenkins was third behind Lalang and Dunbar at Pac-12s and was second at NCAA indoors last year before a questionable DQ. Jenkins also has the second-fastest PB in the field, for what it’s worth.

There have been some great performances by Oregon teammates at Hayward Field before (remember when Andrew Wheating, A.J. Acosta and Matt Centrowitz went 1-2-3 at NCAAs in the 1500 in 2010?). 16 points for the Ducks in the 5k isn’t an unreasonalbe prediction.

Top American

The top American will likely be the top Oregon runner not named Edward Cheserek. However, Stanford’s Joe Rosa has been running very well this spring (won Pac-12 10k, 5th at NCAA indoor 5k, NCAA #6 13:33 at Payton Jordan) and we could definitely see him beating Stinson, Dunbar and Jenkins to finish as the top American.

Last race for seniors Kithuka, Kipchirchir and Ahmed

Kithuka only started racing in the NCAA in the fall of 2012 after transferring from NAIA Wayland Baptist but has won two NCAA titles since then. He’s the NCAA leader at 5k in 2014 and should not be discounted in this race. Kipchirchir and Ahmed won XC team titles at Oklahoma St. and Wisconsin and both have run in the 27:30s for 10k and will finish in the top-10 on the NCAA all-time list at that distance. Kithuka has an outside shot at the win but Kipchirchir and Ahmed will both struggle to finish top-three. Kipchirchir and Ahmed are proof that even really fast guys have a hard time winning NCAAs, so we should appreciate guys like Cheserek (who’s won three and counting) and Lalang (seven titles) while they’re around.

One more guy to watch

Oklahoma St.’s Kirubel Erassa ran 13:27 this year and had an amazing indoor season: he won the mile, 3k AND 5k at Big 12s and was second in the NCAA 3k. Unlike most of the other top guys, he’s only entered in the 5k, which could give him an advantage if the 10k goes fast.

Prediction

It’s stupid to make picks before the 10,000 final. Based on what they’ve done so far this year:

1) Cheserek; 2) Lalang; 3) Erassa