LetsRun.com's Preview Of Day 1 Of The 2011 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships
June 8, 2011
The 2011 edition of the Outdoor NCAA Track and Field Championships gets under way on Wednesday in Des Moines, Iowa. Tight 3-way team battles are being projected on the men's and women's side, as Texas A&M is going for an unprecedented dual 3-peat at the meet, which serves as the 30th edition of women competing at NCAAs.
It certainly will be a great meet to follow/watch. Each day we'll preview and recap the action, focusing as always on the mid-d and distance action.
Below we take a look at the mid-d and distance action that gets started on Day 1 when the men's and women's 800 and men's steeple get under way and the women's 10,000 final will be run. The men's 800 may be the highlight of the meet for LetsRun.com visitors, as the field is totally loaded. All four races really are very hard to predict, so it should certainly be exciting.
Please note that all times listed below are Eastern Standard Time even though the meet is in Des Moines.
7:00 PM: Women's 800 Semis: Is There A Favorite?
Take a look at last year's 800-meter results and this year's indoor results:
2010 NCAA Outdoor Results
2011 NCAA Indoor Results
Looking at that, one thing should be abundantly clear to just about anyone. The women's 800 has no clear-cut favorite. Only two scorers are back from last year and even crazier is the fact that only two scorers are back from indoors.
In looking for a favorite, it would make sense to start with two-time NCAA indoor champ Lacey Bleazard of BYU.
However, recent form is the biggest thing for us in making a preview and based on recent form, Bleazard can't be considered the favorite. At the NCAA regionals, Bleazard, unlike a lot of the indoor scorers, did qualify for NCAAs but in qualifying, she was trounced in her heat. Sacramento State's Lea Wallace ran 2:03.69 to Bleazard's 2:05.08. Now the top three from each heat automatically advanced and since Bleazard was comfortably in second, one might think she was taking it easy.
However, we aren't buying that argument, as it's the second time this spring that Wallace has beaten Bleazard, as at Mt. SAC, Wallace was the top collegian.
Wallace can't be dismissed - nor can a number of other people. In the NCAA field, there are 7 people who have run under 2:04 outdoors this year, plus the big names in Bleazard and former high school phenom Chanelle Price of Tennessee. We present all nine of them to you in order of their seasonal bests and give you a little scoop on all of them.
1. Anne Kesselring - So - Oregon - 2:02.44 - Finished behind Roesler at PAC-10s and West regional.
2. Stephanie Brown - So - Arkansas -2:02.59 - Trounced Roesler and Kesselring at West regional (2:02.59 to 2:03.12 and 2:03.49). Runner-up at SECs to Chanelle Price, but Price beat her by more than a second at SECs.
3. Lea Wallace - Sr - Sacramento St. - 2:02.95 - Defeated indoor champ Bleazard twice this spring.
4. Laura Roesler - Fr - Oregon - 2:03.12 - Oregon frosh was third at PAC-10s; defeated faster Kesselring in two biggest meets of year.
5. Kate Grace - Sr - Yale - 2:03.41 - Senior is undefeated for 800 on the year and she crushed Chanelle Price at East regional by 1.13 seconds. Her coach, Mark Young, is retiring after NCAAs. Could this be a storybook ending?
6. Anna Layman - Sr - Washington St. - 2:03.48 - PAC-10 champ only got out of the West region on time.
7. Natalja Piliusina - Fr - Oklahoma State - 2:03.91 - Ran the mile at NCAAs indoors but is undefeated outdoors at 800 (ignoring prelim at regional) and was the Big 12 champ outdoors at 800. Only thing not to like is her PR.
8. Chanelle Price - Jr - Tennessee - 2:04.22 - SEC champ was crushed by Grace at East regional. Did beat Brown handily, though, at SECs.
9. Lacey Bleazard - Jr - BYU - 2:04.78 - Indoor champ has lost to Wallace twice this spring and it wasn't even close either time.
Of those nine, we think many of them aren't likely to win. If you are getting routed at PAC-10s and/or regionals, how are you going to win? To us, that rules out Kesselring, Roesler and Layman. Anyone who was at the East regional saw Price get smashed by Grace, so it's hard to see that reversing. We've already told you why we don't think Bleazard will win.
So that leaves us four for the title - Wallace, Piliusina, Grace and Brown. Brown is young and didn't win her conference, so we'll rule her out. Piliusina, while undefeated for the year, is the most inexperienced and more of a miler, so we'll rule her out. That leaves us Grace and Wallace.
Could an Ivy Leaguer actually win it and give coach Mark Young a storybook retirement tale? Sam Burley won it not too long ago (Penn, 2003) on the men's side, so it's not inconceivable, but it's hard to not pick Wallace. She has strength, as shown by her 4:11 1,500 PR as compared to Grace's 4:20. We gotta go with Wallace as a result.
LRC Prediction: 1) Wallace 2) Grace 3) Brown 4) Roesler 5) King 6) Piliusina
Note: We didn't mention ACC champ Caroline King of BC as a contender for the win up front based on her modest 2:04.79 PR, but she's been running great and likely will score.
7:15 PM: Men's 800 Semis: What A Race! What A Field!
What a race! What a field!
The men's 800 is the exact opposite of the women's 800. It features a ton of returners from last year, with the notable exception of 800/1,500 champ Andrew Wheating, plus a bunch of indoor scorers.
2010 NCAA Outdoor Results
2011 NCAA Indoor Results
The race features some big names and some guys with some incredible personal bests. Ten guys have already broken 1:47-flat this year. There are six guys in the field with personal bests under 1:46.00. And every single one of them has run his PR this year except for Robby Andrews.
The chart on the left should give you a good idea of how incredible the field is at this year's NCAAs. Let us try to put those stats into words.
1. Cory Primm - UCLA - Sr - 1:44.71
Much has been made of the fact that Penn State sophomore Casimir Loxsom is 0 for 3 in making NCAA finals (as well as Oregon sophomore Elijah Greer). Well, there isn't too much shame in that, as Loxsom only has the 7th-best PR of the guys racing the NCAA finals. Imagine if you are Minnesota sophomore Harun Abda. You have already run 1:46.81 in your young college career but you are the only the 4th-fastest sophomore at NCAAs this year.
So who will win? It seems easier actually to start with who we don't think will win.
We've got to admit, we don't think it will be indoor champ Fred Samoei of Alabama. Indoors, Samoei seemed to clearly be the class of the field (particularly in the prelims), although Michael Rutt made him work very hard to win. But outdoors we think he's a bit past his peak. He lost SECs to Dorian Ulrey and lost the NCAA East regional to Loxsom.
The West region is totally loaded and it's hard to say who we think the leading entrant is out West. Cory Primm has the fastest PR and he won the PAC-10s over Greer and Joe Abbott. But his highest NCAA finish is just 5th and he was defeated at regionals by Charles Jock. He said he entered the season off of an injury, so will he run out of steam? Jock, of course, lost his conference meet to Ryan Martin. But Martin is only the third-fastest based on PRs even though he placed the highest last year at NCAAs. How do you pick between those three as they seem to be basically all the same? We guess based off of last year's outdoor showing, we'll give the edge to Martin, but we're not confident with that pick, given that he was clobbered at Mt. SAC by many of the top entrants.
Since it's hard to find a West guy we are confident in, that seemingly leaves us to pick Robby Andrews for the win. With his patented kick, what is there not to like? The problem with Andrews is he's been low-key all year, so we don't really know if he's in great form or not. Also, as was shown last year, the seemingly unbeatable kick really only works if you are close to the win and with so many fast West guys, Andrews might be too far back and have too much traffic to contend with.
But we like Andrews as the guy that has "it" and is a proven winner. He won at Penn Relays earlier this year, so that's good enough for us.
LRC Prediction: 1) Andrews 2) Martin 3) Primm 4) Jock
8:45 PM: Men's Steeple Semis: Lots Of Contenders, But Look For Cabral To Win
The men's steeple is another event that is extremely deep and tightly bunched at the 2011 NCAA championships. Five of the top six scorers are back from last year and the top 11 seeds are separated by just less than 5 seconds.
2010 NCAA Outdoor Results
Top 12 Steeple Marks For 2011
Any of those guys probably could theoretically win. The question is who will win.
Defending champion Matt Hughes certainly is having a good year, as he comes in as the national leader. Hughes knows he is a marked man but seemingly has been handling the pressure great so far. If you are looking for a reason to think Hughes won't win, we'd just start with the fact that winning is incredibly hard to do once - let alone twice. Then we'd add that his non-steeple times are a bit slower than what they were last year heading into NCAAs (3:49 versus 3:47, 14:05 versus 13:59). Moreover, the rumor at the East regional was that Hughes was going to try go out and run the World Championships B standard time of 8:32 but he ended up with an 8:35. Hughes ran 8:34 last year and has done 8:35 this year, but given the way regionals went two weeks ago, we're not sure if he's ready to go a whole lot faster. Hughes deserves to be considered the favorite on paper, but odds are certainly against him repeating as they are just so many guys near him. If one is given the option of taking the field or Hughes, you'd be foolish to not take the field.
The 2nd-fastest steepler in 2011 in the field is Temple's Travis Mahoney, who is having a dream season. Mahoney stayed right on Hughes heels throughout their East regional heat, but that being said, we don't think Mahoney will be victorious. Very few guys win NCAAs in their first attempt and Mahoney's non-steeple (3:50 for 1,500/8:23 for 3,000) times just don't seem to be fast enough for an NCAA champion.
Oregon grad student Steve Finley has talked big all year about winning for the Ducks and he could do it. Heading into regionals, Finley had led all collegians with his 8:36.98 seasonal and personal best. Finley has great speed, as he ran on Virginia's Penn Relays -inning 4 x 800 in 2010. But last year, he was just 11th.
Iowa State senior Hilary Bor, the Big 12 champion, is someone that has been very close to winning an NCAA title but hasn't done it yet. Fourth, second and third at NCAAs his first three years. Can he finally get the win in Iowa where he'll have some fan support? Possibly. But truthfully, we don't think his desire to win it is as great as that for some of the Americans. For Bor, there probably are no more races after this for him in his career, whereas an American steepler could use an NCAA steeple title to spring himself to a pro career.
Last year's 4th placer John Sullivan of Stanford was soundly beaten by Finley at PAC-10s, so we don't see him contending. The same logic applies to last year's sixth placer in Steve Sodaro of Cal, who was just 7th at PAC-10s this year.
If one thinks indoor 3,000 form is crucial for outdoor success at the steeple, then you should look at Air Force's Justin Tyner, who was 5th in the 3,000 indoors. The former walk-on is the 4th fastest so far this year at 8:37. But last year he ran 13:37 for 5,000; this year 13:58. Indiana's Andrew Poore is the only other guy in the field who scored indoors in the 3,000 (he was 7th), but if a Hoosier takes the title it won't be Poore but rather his teammate, De'Sean Turner, who won Big 10s and had a nice PR at the East regional.
That being said, we don't think any of the above named people will win. The man that we think will be crowned the champion is Princeton's Donn Cabral. Cabral has a ton going for him. First of all, he was the runner-up last year as a sophomore and he then backed that up by coming back to score in the 5,000 later at NCAAs. He's not just a steeple specialist like so many guys in the field. That double certainly proves he's a true distance stud, as have his exploits this year (Heps cross-country domination last fall and a 13:46 PR in the 5,000 this spring).
Moreover, he comes into the meet in great form. At the NCAA regionals, there were six heats of the steeple and in four of the heats, the winner won by less than one second, which is what one might expect given how tightly everyone is seeded in the steeple. In a fifth heat, Steve Finley won by just over 2 seconds. And in the sixth heat? Well, Cabral killed everyone in his heat by 8+ seconds.
Cabral's clearly in great shape, he's got great steeple form and he was the runner-up last year. What's not to like about that?
LRC Prediction: 1) Cabral 2) Tyner 3) Hughes 4) Bor 5) Finley
9:45 PM: Women's 10,000: Weather May Play Big Role In Race That Is Wide, Wide Open
The one women's distance final on the first day of the 2011 NCAA outdoor track and field championships is one that is pretty much devoid of big names and pretty wide open. Finding a favorite in this race is very, very hard.
2010 NCAA Outdoor Results
Top 14 10,000 Marks For 2011
As the table shows, there are three runners in the field who have run under 33:15 this year. Leading the list is the runner-up from last year, Betsy Saina of Iowa State, who has the third-fastest time of the year. Additionally, of all the 10,000 entrants, she finished the highest in the 5,000 indoors, where she was third. As a result, she can't be discounted. That being said, she was amazingly off in the 10,000 at the Big 12 championships, where she was just 4th and lost by 30 seconds. How can one say she is a heavy favorite? That being said, she did come back two days later and win the Big 12 5,000.
The two people who beat Saina at Stanford and lead the 2011 NCAA 10,000 list are Loyola Marymount's Tara Erdmann and Tonya Nero of Wichita State. Of those two, it seems that Erdmann has the best odds of winning, as she is the second returner (6th last year). She also enjoyed a good indoor season, as she was 6th in the 3,000 and has the best 5,000 seasonal best of the top three seeds at 15:50. While Nero won the West regional, she only has a 16:07 seasonal best and didn't score indoors in the 5,000.
No one in the East has run really fast for the year, but a few people can't be discounted. East regional champion Kate Harrison of West Virginia comes in very lightly raced. Before winning the Big East 10,000, she had run one race all of outdoors according to tfrrs.org. Indoors, she only ran 17:19, so she is really coming on even though her time probably ranks her near 30th for the NCAA on the year (she was 29th heading into regionals).
The person who won the Big 12 10,000 over Saina by 30 seconds was Oklahoma's Jessica Engel. The 16:07 5,000 performer will almost certainly be the champion if she defeats Saina by 30 seconds again on Wednesday night.
If you are looking for an upset pick, you might also want to look at Duke's Juliet Bottorff. The ACC runner-up at 5,000 has some good speed, as she ran on Duke's DMR indoors. She has the 5th-fastest time for the year. Boston University's Katie Matthews is the fourth seed at 33:16.97.
Time For A Prediction?
We thought we were ready to make a prediction but then realized the weather might have a huge impact on this race. The forecast for 9 pm on Wednesday in Des Moines (scheduled start is 8:45 pm) is 82 degrees and 56% humidity. The final three days of NCAAs are going to be much cooler, but if this race goes off as scheduled (there is a good chance for thunderstorms which might delay the race), people who don't run well in heat and humidity will be toast. We think the weather will make it tough on people who aren't proven good heat runners.
We'll try to analyze the top 5 seeds as to who might be good in the heat and who might not be.
Saina is from Iowa State. She has to be used to the weather and the Iowa fans will be cheering for her. Someone else who is used to heat and humidity is Wichita State's Tonya Nero. Guess where she's from ... Maracas, Trinidad and Tobago. Bottorff of Duke has to be used to the heat as well.
Those that might be question marks in the weather are Tara Erdmann and Katie Matthews. Erdmann is from Tucson, AZ, so she's likely used to the heat but not the humidity. Matthews is from Connecticut.
LRC Prediction: Looking for a storyline. Does Nero take advantage of the tropical-like weather or Saina thrives in front of the local crowd? We'll go with Saina.
1) Saina 2) Bottorff 3) Nero