Answers to the Big Questions at 2019 NCAA Indoors: How to Build an NCAA Program, How to Win NCAAs, & Why Mondo Duplantis Didn’t Turn Pro

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By Jonathan Gault
March 7, 2019

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — It’s the day before the 2019 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships kickoff at the CrossPlex down here in Alabama, and at today’s pre-meet press conference, some of the NCAA’s most successful athletes and coaches were sharing their secrets. Let’s take you behind the curtain with what I learned today.

Here’s how you win an NCAA team title

In the final question of the press conference, coach Mike Holloway — whose Florida men have won three NCAA titles in the last three years between indoor and outdoor track — was asked for his thoughts about the Wisconsin men potentially winning the team title with essentially just two guys, Morgan McDonald and Ollie Hoare.

USC’s Caryl Smith Gilbert, Florida’s Mike Holloway, Arkansas’ Lancer Harter, & Texas Tech’s Wes Kittley

Holloway wasn’t surprised, and said that Wisconsin contending for the title is simply a reflection on the way the sport is structured: it’s better to be elite in one or two events than solid in all of them.

“You come to this meet with five to six guys or five to six girls, and that’s how you win the meet,” Holloway said. “Now they all have to be good, and they all have to be on point, but this concept that you have to have these large numbers to win is not how you win championships. You win championships with quality, not quantity…Just because you have 100 kids at the meet doesn’t mean that you have 100 kids that can score.”

Indeed, only six men scored for Florida’s 2018 NCAA indoor title team — and that includes the 4×400 team, which finished third. Grant Holloway and jumpers KeAndre Bates and Clayton Brown were the only individual scorers.

Here’s why Mondo Duplantis didn’t go pro

LSU freshman Mondo Duplantis isn’t just one of the best pole vaulters in the NCAA; he’s one of the best in the world, as only one man, the great Sergey Bubka, has ever vaulted higher outdoors than Duplantis’ 6.05 meters at last year’s European Championships.

Clearly, he could have turned professional last season — Duplantis passed up a fair amount of prize money/bonuses by not doing so — but LSU runs in Duplantis’ family. His parents were both on the track team at LSU, his oldest brother Andreas is also an alum (and also vaulted for the Tigers), and another brother, Antoine, plays on the LSU baseball team. Mondo, a native of Lafayette, Louisiana, wanted to be a part of that too. And it helped that the Tigers have a good track and field facility.

“I definitely considered it (going pro) but my plan was always to go to college, go to LSU,” Duplantis said. “LSU has one of, if not the best facilities that there is, so to be able to go to LSU and be able to train in great facilities, I knew it was, for the long term, was going to be the best decision for my future in track and field.”

Duplantis, ND State’s Payton Otterdahl, Florida’s Grant Holloway, Georgia’s Lynna Irby, Wisconsin’s Alicia Monson, & Arkansas’ Alexis Jacobus

Given that Duplantis is already among the best in the world, it would make sense for him to turn pro sooner rather than later — a Sydney McLaughlin-style, one-and-done NCAA career makes sense — but this way he gets to enjoy the LSU experience just like the rest of his family (and perhaps get to continue to use their facilities once he is pro).

Duplantis entered this season with three goals: win SECs, break the collegiate record, and win NCAAs. He already killed the first two birds with one stone by clearing 5.92 meters to win SECs two weeks ago. Now only one goal remains.

“I’m glad I got [the NCAA record] out of the way before I came here because I wouldn’t want to have that in the back of my mind because I think the main goal here is just to win,” Duplantis said.

And here’s how you build an NCAA contender

Three of the coaches invited to today’s press conference have won NCAA Division I titles — Holloway, USC’s Caryl Smith Gilbert, and Arkansas’ Lance Harter. The other, Wes Kittley, has Texas Tech contending for its first men’s national title in any sport. How are the Red Raiders mixing it up with the sport’s blue bloods?

Well, Kittley knows something about building a program: he won a ridiculous 29 NCAA Division II titles at Abilene Christian. But it’s taken him 20 years at Texas Tech to be in position to win his first, and he says the biggest factor has been the commitment to the sport from his superiors.

“I give them all the credit, from the board of directors to my president, to my athletics director,” Kittley said. “They’re very committed. I’ve been able to have a staff stay together, several of them with me for a long time. I just feel like with our facilities, we built a $50 million new indoor facility that’s just incredible. And I think if you come to our campus and you visit, you’re going to see that we care a lot about track and field. And I think the biggest thing there is that’s what’s changed.”

More: See LetsRun.com’s full NCAA coverage including event previews here.