Women’s Long Distance: Freshman Phenom Erin Finn Vs. 25-Year-Old Elinor Kirk In 10k; Can Abbey D’Agostino Close Out NCAA Career With Title #8?

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By LetsRun.com
June 9, 2014

The women’s distance finals at the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships get underway Thursday with the 10,000 meters in Eugene, Ore.

Unlike on the men’s side, where almost all of the top men are pulling double duty, the three best runners in the 5k – Stanford’s Aisling Cuffe, Texas’s Marielle Hall and Dartmouth’s Abbey D‘Agostino – aren’t doing the 10k two nights before.

Six women will attempt the double, including Michigan’s freshman phenom Erin Finn, UAB’s Elinor Kirk and Boise State’s Emma Bates, but we don’t see anyone taking home two titles this weekend. Historically, it has been harder for women to pull off the double. Since the women’s meet began in 1982, only three women have won the 5k and the 10k at the same NCAAs (Amy Skieresz of Arizona did it twice), compared to eight men. We break down both events below.

Women’s 10,000 (Thursday, 10:15 p.m. ET)

NameYearSchoolPPComment
Erin FinnFRMichigan32:41.65Big 10 5k/10k champ; AJR holder in 10k and 5k (15:26)
Elaina BalourisSRWilliam & Mary33:13.5411th at NCAA XC; 10th in this race last year
Emily StitesSOWilliam & Mary32:41.55#5 time in NCAA; 6th in NCAA indoor 5k
Megan CurhamFRPrinceton33:24.792nd behind D’Agostino in Ivy 10k
Hannah WalkerJRFlorida St.32:56.902nd in ACC 10k; 9th in NCAA indoor 5k
Juliet BottorffSRDuke32:25.692011 NCAA 10k champ; ACC 10k champ; 5th in NCAA indoor 5k
Sarah PaganoSRSyracuse33:42.146th in ACC 10k
Margo MaloneSOSyracuse33:15.023rd in ACC 10k; first NCAA appearance after big soph. year
Elinor KirkSRUAB32:17.0525-year-old Brit is NCAA leader, #8 all-time; 3rd in NCAA indoor 3k
Katy MoenJRIowa St.33:56.80Big 12 5k/10k champ; first in West prelim
Sarah RappJRVirginia Tech33:32.16ACC 5k champ
Emma BatesJRBoise St.32:20.83#2 time in NCAA; 2nd at NCAA XC; 4th in NCAA indoor 3k/5k. 3rd in this race last year.
Elvin KibetJRArizona32:40.22#4 time in NCAA; won Mt. SAC 10k; 3rd in Pac-12 5k/10k
Olivia MickleSRTexas33:29.85Former Brown runner was 3rd in Big 12 5k
Jana SoethoutSRSan Francisco33:57.5324-year-old German DNFed this race last year
Allison LasnickiJRWest Virginia33:36.11Former UConn runner was 2nd in Big 12 10k; 9th in this race last year
Kaitlyn FischerFRMissouri34:08.504th in SEC 10k
Jennifer FlackFRVirginia34:12.45Freshman PRed by 26 secs to take final qualifying spot in East
Megan GoethalsSRWashington32:52.784th in this race last year but only 10th in Pac-12 10k
Sheree SheaSRLoyola Marymount33:53.545th-year SR made NCAAs in her last chance
Kristen BuschSOBradley33:48.36MVC 10k champ
Lindsay FlanaganSRWashington33:15.12Like Shea, 5th-year SR made NCAAs in last chance
Kelsey SantistebanJRCalifornia33:31.852nd at PAC-12 10k; 10th at NCAA XC; won Pre-Nats in XC
Cali RoperFRRice34:18.42Conference USA 10k champ

Unlike all of the other women’s mid-d and distance events at the 2014 NCAA championships, there’s no overwhelming favorite in this one. Thankfully, you come to LetsRun.com for a reason. There’s one runner we like a lot and think is your champion, UAB’s Elinor Kirk. Her 32:17.05 leads the NCAA and she’s got the best speed of anyone in the field (4:15 1,500 PR). We don’t see how she’s not your pick to win. She’s got the best PR and the best speed. And she’s credentialed as she was third at the NCAA indoor 3k. But Kirk was only 10th in the indoor 5k and four of the women ahead of her will race in this one too.

Emma Bates (l) and Emily Stites at the NCAA xc banquet in 2013. See the rest of the beautiful people at the NCAA XC banquet here.

Emma Bates (l) and Emily Stites at the NCAA XC banquet in 2013. See the rest of the beautiful people at the NCAA XC banquet here.

Bates is #2 in the country at 32:20.83 and has run very well at NCAAs in the past. She was 4th in the 3k and 5k indoors (Kirk was the only one entered in the 10k to beat her, finishing .37 ahead in the 3k), 2nd at NCAA XC and 3rd in the 10k last year behind two seniors. With no D’Agostino to deal with, it could be Bates’s turn in the spotlight (at least until D’Agostino runs on Saturday). But her 1,500 PR is 4:26, Kirk’s is 4:15.

One more name worth mentioning is 2011 NCAA 10k champ Juliet Bottorff of Duke. Bottorff won NCAAs as a sophomore but her best 10k time was 27 seconds slower as a junior and she only finished 14th at NCAAs. She redshirted last year in what would have been her senior year, but now she’s back and seemingly better than ever. Bottorff ran a huge 32:25.69 PR at Payton Jordan on May 4, a mark good enough to rank her third in the NCAA this year.

That’s remarkable: Bottorff’s PR is now 53 seconds faster than it was when she won NCAAs and yet there’s no guarantee that she will win this year. That certainly speaks to Bottorff’s improvement, but it also shows you how weak the field was when she won her title in 2011. Look at the names from that race. Not a lot of familiar ones on that list. Plus Bottoff is a runner who thrives in the heat and it was hot as hell in Iowa when she won. It won’t be hot as hell in Oregon.

The Freshman

Kirk, Bates and Bottorff are all fine runners. Any of them would make a deserving national champion. But be sure to pay attention to Michigan freshman Erin Finn, who set American Junior records at 5k and 10k this season (Update: Finn turns 20 in November so she isn’t the American junior record holder), both in extremely impressive fashion. AJR #1 came at Payton Jordan on May 4, where Finn ran 15:26.08 to shave over 10 seconds off Molly Huddle‘s record. Two weeks later, Finn soloed a 32:41.65 10k at Big 10s to win by 1:19 and set AJR #2 (10 seconds better than the old mark). Finn has just the sixth-fastest 10k PR in the field, but her 5k is seven seconds faster than anyone else. The women’s 10k at NCAAs is unlikely to be super slow, but it always helps to be the best 5k runner in a championship 10k. (Finn’s 4:29.04 1,500 PR isn’t great, though).

We don’t think Finn has the wheels to get the job done here and she’s not strong enough yet to run away from people.

The Winner

It would be awesome for the journalists if the race came down to Finn, the 19-year-old American true freshman, and Kirk, the 25-year-old British graduate student as the contrast between them makes for an easy storyline. Normally these races go to the veterans – people who thought the 19-year-old Chris Derrick could beat 24-year-old Sam Chelanga at NCAA XC in 2009 were sorely mistaken – so we’ll pick Kirk to beat Finn. But Finn is the future of this event in the collegiate ranks and will be winning titles very soon. Finn has a high upside and we predict she’ll pull a mild upset to finish in the top three.

Prediction

1) Kirk 2) Bates 3) Finn

Darkhorse: If you are looking for a long shot, we say Emily Stites of William and Mary. When she ran her 32:47, her second 5k was 16-flat.

Women’s 5,000 (Sunday, 6:24 p.m. ET)

NameYearSchoolPRComment
Erin FinnFRMichigan15:26.08#3 time in NCAA; Big 10 5k/10k champ; AJR holder in 10k and 5k (15:26)
Juliet BottorffSRDuke15:49.452011 NCAA 10k champ; ACC 10k champ; 5th in NCAA indoor 5k
Elinor KirkSRUAB15:42.133rd in NCAA indoor 3k; 19th in this race last year
Katy MoenJRIowa St.15:56.53Big 12 5k/10k champ
Elvin KibetJRArizona15:57.20Won Mt. SAC 10k; 3rd in PAC-12 5k/10k
Kelsey SantistebanJRCalifornia15:50.182nd at PAC-12 10k; 10th at NCAA XC; won Pre-Nats in XC
Aisling CuffeJRStanford15:11.13#3 all-time NCAA; 2nd in NCAA indoor 5k; 2nd in PAC-12 1,500/5k; 4th at NCAA XC
Abbey D’AgostinoSRDartmouth15:11.35#4 all-time NCAA; 2-time defending champ; won Ivy 3k/5k/10k; 7 total NCAA titles
Waverly NeerJRColumbia15:37.852nd in Ivy 5k; 16th in this race last year
Dominique ScottSOArkansas15:42.422nd in NCAA indoor 3k; anchored Arkansas’ indoor DMR win; won SEC 10k/2nd in 5k
Kate AverySOIona15:27.903rd at NCAA XC; 9th in indoor 3k
Rosa MorielloJRBoston University16:03.57Entered prelim ranked 78th in NCAA but ran 6-sec PR in the heat to advance
Cally MacumberSRKentucky16:03.816th in SEC 5k, 2nd in 10k; 3rd in NCAA indoor 3k in ’13
Dana GiordanoSODartmouth15:53.96Ivy 1,500 champ/3rd in 3k; Ivy 3k champ indoors
Sarah CollinsSOProvidence15:31.03#6 time in NCAA; Big East 10k champ
Carrie VerdonSOColorado15:59.839th in PAC-12 5k
Laura NagelJRProvidence15:42.6012th last year; Big East 5k champ
Marielle HallSRTexas15:19.26#2 time in NCAA; Big 12 1,500 champ
Rachele SchulistFRMichigan St.16:01.232nd in Big 10 5k
Mara OlsonJRButler15:47.142nd in Big East 5k
Frida BergeFROregon16:17.27Entered prelim ranked 80th in NCAA but grabbed final time qualifier in West
Jessica TonnJRStanford15:32.2617th last year; won PAC-12 10k/5th in 5k
Diane RobisonJRArkansas15:47.62SEC 5k champ/3rd in 10k
Monika JuodeskaiteJROklahoma St.16:00.32Lithuanian was 5th in Big 12 1,500

Dartmouth’s Abbey D’Agostino has been the dominant figure in NCAA women’s distance running over the past two years. She’s won the past two NCAA titles at 5,000 outdoors and indoors and also won a pair of indoor 3,000 titles for good measure. She also won NCAA XC last fall. Sunday will be her final NCAA race, and the question is whether she can close out her incredible career with her eighth NCAA title – just one short of the all-time record.

Some have made an argument that D’Agostino is ready to be beaten. D’Agostino only ran 15:30 at Mt. SAC, 19 seconds off her PR, while Stanford’s Aisling Cuffe blitzed a 15:11.13 at Payton Jordan to move up to #3 all-time on the NCAA list, ahead of D’Agostino. Cuffe was also close to D’Agostino in the 5k indoors (ended up second) and showed impressive speed at the Penn Relays (splits of 4:35.9 for 1,600 and 4:16.6 for 1,500 as Stanford finished second in the DMR and 4 x 1,500). In addition, Texas’s Marielle Hall (15:19) and Iona’s Kate Avery (15:27) have both run faster than D’Agostino this season and, like D’Agostino, will be doing this event fresh.

So will D’Agostino lose? It’s very unlikely.

The points made above are true: Cuffe has run significantly faster than D’Agostino this year, and Cuffe has improved her 1,500 speed. But they’re incomplete. When you analyze all the evidence, D’Agostino should remain the heavy favorite. Here’s why.

Abbey D'Agostino won NCAA title #5 in the fall. #8 comes this week in Eugene.

Abbey D’Agostino won NCAA title #5 in the fall. #8 comes this week in Eugene. *2013 NCAA Cross Country Coverage

1) D’Agostino Is In Way Better Than 15:30 Shape

When D’Agostino ran 15:30 at Mt. SAC on April 18, she was outkicked and finished third, less than a second behind the winner, Meraf Bahta of Sweden, a 4:05 1500 runner. Bahta also ran 15:30 at Mt. SAC and ran a 5k two weeks later at Payton Jordan. Her result there? 14:59. That doesn’t mean that D’Agostino could break 15:00 right now, but if she was outkicked in a slow race by a woman who ran 14:59 two weeks later, D’Agostino is likely in 15:0x shape at the moment, which would put her ahead of everyone else in the field.

2) Cuffe Has Improved Her Kick, But It’s Nowhere Near As Good As D’Agostino’s

D”Agostino ran the same two relays that Cuffe did at Penn. In the DMR, D’Agostino’s 1,600 split was similar to Cuffe’s (4:35.1 to 4:35.9). But in the 4 x 1,500, it was way, way better (4:08.0 to 4:16.6). You can make the argument that because Cuffe was racing for the win, time wasn’t as important for her, and that’s partially true. But Cuffe was trying to gap Villanova’s big kicker Emily Lipari and was obviously trying to run a fast leg. Additionally, D’Agostino was all alone for the entire leg and still split a 4:08.0, the second-fastest in event history. That’s scary for a woman who primarily runs the 5k. If it comes down to a kick in Eugene, D’Agostino should like her chances.

One more thing about Cuffe: she was outkicked by Shelby Houlihan in the 5,000 at PAC-12s. Houlihan is only in the 1,500 at NCAAs but that doesn’t bode well for Cuffe beating D’Agostino in a kick.

3) D’Agostino Just Doesn’t Lose To NCAA Runners

This is the biggest reason why D’Agostino will win: she hasn’t lost to a collegiate runner since March 2013 (not counting relays). At NCAAs, she’s been virtually unstoppable since she won her first title in June 2012, and she’s added she more to her CV. The only NCAA championship she’s lost since indoors of 2012 was the 2012 NCAA XC, where she lost by just half a second after not running for most of October due to injury. The plot of her NCAA races plays out the same every time: D’Agostino sits in the pack, waiting to make her move. And once she decides to go, it’s over. Apart from her first win in 2012, there’s been no homestretch drama – just D’Agostino powering away to another NCAA win. We don’t see why we should expect anything different on Saturday.

Prediction

1) D’Agostino 2) Cuffe 3) Hall