Which Distance Races Should You Be Most Excited About at 2018 NCAAs? We Rank Them All, #1 Through #10

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By Robert Johnson
June 5, 2018

The 2018 NCAA Outdoor Championships are almost here as they take place Wednesday through Saturday. This year, instead of doing really extensive distance event previews, we decided to feature the top story lines for the men’s and women’s meet as the talent in the sprint events is incredible this year. You can check those out at the links below:

LRC What to Watch at 2018 NCAA Outdoors for Men: A Historic 400, A Battle of NCAA Champs in the 5K, & The Brilliance of Holloway, Saruni, & Kerr
LRC What To Watch At 2018 NCAA Outdoors For Women: Schweizer & Orji Go for #7, The Sydney McLaughlin Show, & Could the Last Race at Hayward Be a Classic?

That’s not to say we aren’t excited for the distance events. Come on — this is LetsRun.com and we are all former or current distance runners. We just thought it would be good to force our visitors to think about the meet as a whole. As society has learned over the last few years, one of the problems of the Internet era is people can totally focus on their narrow interests. That’s why whenever someone makes fun of me for subscribing to three different newspapers, I laugh at them. Newspapers are great as you read about a wide variety of topics — not just what some algorithm feeds you.

Anyway, enough with the philosophizing. I briefly preview the mid-d and distance events at the 2018 NCAA Outdoor Championships for you below, starting with the events I’m most excited to see and working my way down to the events I’m least excited to see.

1. Men’s 5000: Three NCAA Champs Battle It Out Fresh

Fisher was excited after his NCAA win last year

Fisher was excited after his NCAA win last year

When people talk about repackaging track and field to make it more marketable, some advocate getting rid of the 10,000. Not me. I generally prefer the 10,000 to the 5,000. Maybe some of the reason is the 10,000 is run first and is a big focal part of the early days of a championship when the other events aren’t finals, whereas the 5,000 often comes at the end of a championship on a day full of finals when many of the top competitors are doubling back. It’s hard to be most excited about an event that comes near the end when there are a ton of other finals before it and for an event that was an afterthought for former and current world record holders Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele.

So please realize that since I’ve ranked this event way ahead of the 10,000 and #1 overall that it’s a testament to the incredible story line for the 5000 at NCAAs this year.

On paper it should be very exciting as you have three NCAA champions, all fresh, battling it out. Syracuse’s Justyn Knight, the NCAA XC and indoor 5000 champ, versus the NCAA indoor 3k champ Andy Trouard of NAU, and the defending champ Grant Fisher of Stanford. It doesn’t get much better than that.

That being said, I’ll admit I’m still not as excited about this as I should be. I guess I was hoping Knight would try something more ambitious than just the 5,000. Edward Cheserek‘s crazy doubles and triples spoiled me a bit, but I did rank it #1 as I’m fearful of being called an idiot by the messageboarders.

Rojo’s prediction: Fisher hasn’t had a great junior year by his lofty standards but if he wins this race the whole year will have to be viewed as a huge success since he’ll be the first American to repeat in the 5000 since Chris Solinsky did it in 2006 and 2007, but I don’t think Fisher is going to win as last year Fisher was the Pac-12 1500 champ and this year he was just 3rd in the 1500. And I’m not picking Trouard as this is a 5k, not a 3k. Trouard was just third at his conference meet in the 5k (he did win the 1500 earlier in the day). Knight FTW.

2. Women’s 1500: Unpredictability At Its Finest

Price-Weimer beat Houlihan at the line in 2015

Price-Weimer beat Houlihan at the line in 2015

One of the reasons track and field struggles for popularity is that a) it’s too predictable and b) it lacks good storylines.

Well this race has both and hence I’m very excited to see it.

Can Elinor Purrier, who had never won an NCAA title before indoors in the mile, complete the indoor/outdoor double? Quite possibly as her 4:10.90 was the best time from Regionals, but it also means she’s just one of six women who have run between 4:10.03 and 4:10.90 this year (five of them are running NCAAs).

Or might Mississippi State’s Rhianwedd Price-Weimer, who won the NCAA title in 2015 over Shelby Houlihan, end her career with a win? Possibly as she’s also run 4:10 this year.

Will Stanford’s Elise Cranny, who ran 4:10 in HS and was 4th at World Juniors in 2014, really end her NCAA career with zero individual NCAA titles? That’s also quite possible.

Prediction: Purrier FTW.

3. Men’s 800: The World #1 Looks To Shine

I love true excellence at its highest form. Well Michael Saruni is a) the collegiate record holder and b) the world leader. It’s an honor to get to see him run as an amateur one last time. And as a fan, I’m really appreciative of it. Hell, I’m really appreciative of what I’ve witnessed in this event for the last three years. Prior to 2016, in the history of collegiate track and field, a collegian had never run under 1:44 during the collegiate season and now it’s happened three straight years thanks to Donavan Brazier in 2016, Emmanuel Korir in 2017, and Saruni this year.

And while victory is expected, it’s not a 100% certainty. Remember, Saruni only made the final indoors, which he won, on time. And outdoors he lost to teammate Jonah Koech at the Conference USA meet — twice. And oh yeah, US World Championship team member Isaiah Harris of Penn State, who has a 1:44.54 pb, is also in the field.

Prediction: Saruni FTW.

4. Men’s 1500: Josh Kerr Looks To Complete the Double Double

I know most people wouldn’t rank this event this high, but I’m very excited about watching Josh Kerr go for history. Here’s something about my sport-watching preferences. I’ve always liked two things that are somewhat contradictory — by nature I’m pretty anti-authoritarian and thus I love the underdog. But at the same time, I’ve always loved dynasties — true excellence at its highest form. With Kerr, I get both. He’s incredible but he also runs for New Mexico — a non-Power 5 school.

No man has ever won NCAA mile/1500 titles indoors and out for two straight years and Kerr is favored to do so. If he loses, I think Ole Miss’s Robert Domanic is your champ.

Prediction: Kerr FTW.

5. Women’s 5000: Karissa Schweizer Goes for History

Schweizer has done a bunch of post-race interviews with ESPN's John Anderson at this point

Schweizer has done a bunch of post-race interviews with ESPN’s John Anderson at this point

Here’s a stat that’s hard to believe. Guess how many women have won both the 10,000 and 5,000 since 1999?

Two.

Yes, that’s right. Missouri’s Karissa Schweizer is looking to become just the third woman to win the 10k and 5k at the same NCAAs in the last 20 years (Dominique Scott did it in 2016 and Lisa Koll did it in 2010; before that you have to go back to 1997 and 1998 when Amy Skieresz did it in back to back years). Assuming Schweizer wins the 10,000 on Thursday, this race becomes historically significant and should probably vault up to #2.

Prediction: This race is far from a guarantee for Schweizer. XC champ Ednah Kurgat ran the fastest time during the regular season (Schweizer ran faster at regionals) thanks to the 15:20.06 she ran at Payton Jordan in a race where she beat Stanford’s Vanessa Fraser by just .04 (Kurgat’s New Mexico teammate Weini Kelati has also run 15:22.71). Fraser has run 4:10 for 1500 this year. Plus Kurgat, Fraser, and Kelati will all be fresh while Schweizer is doubling back.

6. Women’s 800: Can Southerland Continue Her Dream 5th Year?

Sabrina Southerland — a Georgetown grad — is having a great post-grad year. After never making an NCAA final in four years at Georgetown, she not only made the final indoors, she won the 800 title.

If she wins outdoors, it will be the 5th straight year an Oregon woman has won the 800 as Raevyn Rogers won the last three and Laura Roesler won in 2014.

Prediction: Southerland is the favorite as she ran the NCAA’s #1 time (2:00.72) at regionals, but Texas A&M frosh Sammy Watson, who was third indoors, is quite good (2:00.65 pb). Southerland FTW.

Tyler Day: America's next great 10k runner? Michael Scott photo

Tyler Day: America’s next great 10k runner? (Michael Scott photo)

7. Men’s 10,000: Can An American Win?

While I’m bummed Justyn Knight isn’t in this one, I still think this race has an interesting storyline. Can NAU’s Tyler Day become just the second American to win this event in the last 15 years (Galen Rupp 2009) or will the foreign domination continue?

At 28:04.44, Day is the NCAA leader but his best career finish at an NCAA track championships is just 8th (2017 NCAA 5k). That being said, he was third in cross country in the fall and NCAA XC winner Knight isn’t racing the 10,000. Day’s Kiwi teammate, Matthew Baxter, who was 2nd at NCAA XC, is in this one but I’m giving the edge to Day as Day beat Baxter in both the 5000 and 1500 at the Big Sky Champs a few weeks ago.

Rojo’s Prediction: The foreign streak continues. Nine in a row. Alabama’s Vincent Kiprop, the NCAA runner-up indoors at 5000, wins yet another NCAA title — but his first at the D1 level.

8. Women’s 10,000: Schweizer Starts The Double

Schweizer can’t get the double unless she wins here but this race would be a hell of lot more exciting if Michigan’s Erin Finn was healthy or Notre Dame’s Anna Rohrer was in tip-top form (she owns a 31:58 pb but has been hurt for much of this year). That being said, the 2-6 place finishers from last year are all back so Schweizer isn’t just being handed the title.

Rojo Prediction: Schweizer FTW.

9. Women’s Steeple: The Allie Ostrander Show

Allie Ostrander won this event in dominating fashion as a redshirt frosh last year. She won her heat of the West regional by 12.86 seconds. She’s run 9:38.57. The next fastest woman in the field is Colorado’s Val Constien at 9:47.97.

Rojo Prediction: While there is little drama in this one, I love the chase for history. Ostrander becomes just the second women to ever repeat as NCAA steeple champ, joining Jenny Barringer who did it in 2008 and 2009 (Barringer also won in 2006). Ostrander’s quest for a 4-peat will make this much more interesting in the year’s to come.

10. Men’s Steeple: Someone Has To Win

Heading into regionals, only two collegians had broken 8:40 on the year. And the NCAA leader in the event heading into regionals — Yusuke Uchikoshi of Boise State/Japan — didn’t even make it to Eugene. How is that possible?

If Uchikoshi was in this event, I’d be much more excited to watch it. As far as I’m aware, a Japanese man has never won an NCAA title.

Guess how many scorers from last year are back?

Can you say “zero”?  y

So this event isn’t of a really high quality (although to be fair I should point out that five guys did break 8:40 at Regionals) and it’s lacking in star power.

So am I supposed to be really excited to see if BYU “freshman” Matt Owens (8:36 pb) can win, even though this would be his senior year if he went straight through out of high school (this is his first year of eligibility since he did a two-year mission and a redshirt year). Sorry, I can’t do that. Now if Syracuse true frosh Noah Affolder (8:45 pb), who won his heat in the East regional, wins, then I’ll be excited, but I don’t think that’s happening.

Rojo prediction: I have no idea. The top returner from last year, 9th placer Emmanuel Rotich of Tulane, has an 8:36 pb from last year, but he lost to Portland’s Simon Grannetia at Mt. SAC. Grannetia is Dutch — when is the last time a Dutch man won an NCAA title?

If forced to choose between the Netherlands and Kenya, I’d have to go with Kenya. But what about Ethiopia? Minnesota’s Ethiopian-born Ali Obsa ran 8:36.49 at the West regional and has a 13:43 5000 pb.

Wait a minute, what am I thinking? I forgot about Houston’s Brian Barraza. He has the best pb in the field as he ran 8:32 while redshirting last year. Plus he’s run 13:38 this year. I’d love to see him win it as I’d like to see a non-Power 5 team win the NCAA title. I’d also love to see Steve Magness coach someone to the NCAA title as some fools on the messageboard consistently say he’s not a good coach as they think a coach should be defined by where a team places in cross country, not realizing the scholarship situation is far from even.

Barraza FTW as controversy is good for the messageboard.


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