Lawi Lalang Looks For History And Unprecedented NCAA Triple – Can His Legendary Status Get Even Bigger?

March 12, 2014

The last two years the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships have been about one thing on the men’s side – the dominance of Lawi Lalang. In 2012, he fought off Chris Derrick in the 5,000 on Friday night and then again on Saturday in the 3,000 and won two titles. Last year, he had one of the greatest single days in NCAA history as he set meet records in both the mile (3:54) and 3,000 (7:45) on Saturday. In those races, Lalang had to beat some studs like NCAA XC champ Kennedy Kithuka, Ryan Hill (who would go on to make Worlds in the 5,000 later in the year) and Chris O’Hare (who would go on to make the final of the 1,500 at Worlds).

This year, Lalang is attempting to top what he’s done before at NCAAs.

How could he possibly do that? Lalang is going for THE TRIPLE, having entered the 5,000, mile and 3,000. No one has ever pulled that off.

If he achieves it, Lalang will be the first person ever to win three NCAA individual titles at a single NCAA indoor track and field championship. He also will tie UTEP’s Suleiman Nyambui (mile run 1979-80-81-82, two-mile run 1979-80-82) at seven for the most NCAA indoor titles ever.

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Not only that, but it’s possible that Arizona with Lalang and high jumper Nick Ross (ranked #1 in the high jump this year) in the meet, could win the NCAA team title with two competitors (Arizona has three others in the meet – none seeded higher than #7). Now that is studly – so studly that Oregon coach Robert Johnson (no relation to’s Robert Johnson) referred to Lalang at the pre-meet press conference a “that beast, that monster.”

Chris Derrick made Lalang work for it in 2012.

Lalang is a total stud with PRs of 1:48.88, 3:33.20, 3:52.88, 7:42.79, 13:00.95 and 28:14.63. What’s made him virtually unbeatable in recent years on the track is his combination of speed and endurance. The 3:52.88 indoor mile he ran this year at Millrose is the indoor collegiate record. His 3:33.20 1,500 outdoors from last summer is close to the fastest time ever run by a collegian as well (3:33.07 Kip Cheruiyot, Mt. St. Mary’s 1986). He’s incredibly good at 1,500/mile, but he’s also run faster than anyone in the history of the NCAA at 5,000 (13:00.95). That endurance even extends out to 10k as he was the 2011 NCAA XC champ.

But three individual titles at one meet? It’s going to be tough.

We break down the mid-d and distance events in the order the finals occur.

Men’s 5,000- Friday – 10:25 pm ET

Event 7  Men 5000 Meter Run
           Name                        Year School                 Seed           
  1    622 Reed Connor                   SR Wisconsin          13:37.42 
  2    602 Patrick Tiernan               FR Villanova          13:37.73 
  3    518 Edward Cheserek               FR Oregon             13:40.51 
  4    327 Lawi Lalang                   SR Arizona            13:41.58 
  5    358 Jared Ward                    SR BYU                13:42.17 
  6    478 Luke Caldwell                 SR New Mexico         13:42.50 
  7    558 Erik Olson                    JR Stanford           13:42.56 
  8    414 Maksim Korolev                SR Harvard            13:42.56 
  9    394 Mark Parrish                  JR Florida            13:43.15 
 10    528 Parker Stinson                JR Oregon             13:43.51 
 11    619 Mohammed Ahmed                SR Wisconsin          13:44.32 
 12    489 Brian Shrader                 JR Northern Ari       13:44.55 
 13    477 Adam Bitchell                 SR New Mexico         13:44.70 
 14    559 Joe Rosa                      JR Stanford           13:44.85 
 15    366 Morgan Pearson                JR Colorado           13:49.30 
 16    630 James Leakos                  SR Harvard            13:49.78

Oregon freshman Edward Cheserek stunned heavy favorite Kennedy Kithuka in cross-country. Can he do the same here with Lawi Lalang?

We highly doubt it. Lalang has run 13:00 for 5,000. If Cheserek was racing Galen Rupp, would you expect Cheserek to win? We didn’t think so. Well Lalang beat Rupp last summer in Monaco.

Cheserek is very good but so far he’s a 4:02 miler – Lalang has run 3:52. Given Lalang’s 13:00 PR, we don’t see how anyone runs away from him early here and at the end Lalang’s kick should be lethal.

That being said Cheserek is undefeated for his life in collegiate track.

The NCAA leader is American Reed Connor of Wisconsin, but Connor wasn’t the Big 10 champ. His teammate, 27:34 man and Olympian Mohammed Ahmed of Canada, won Big 10s. The #2 guy in the NCAA is Villanova freshman Patrick Tiernan. The 19-year-old Aussie, who was 9th in cross last fall, is a guy to pay attention to down the road as he should be mixing it up for NCAA titles once Lalang is gone.

The top American at NCAA cross-country, Maksim Korolev of Harvard, also is in the field.

LRC Prediction: Lalang for the win. If the other competitors are smart, they’ll set a fast pace to try to tire Lalang out for the 3,000 the next day.

Men’s DMR – Friday – 11:15 pm ET

Event 10  Men Distance Medley
     School                                                  Seed           
  1  Penn State                                           9:26.59 
     1) 536 Brannon Kidder SO           2) 531 Brandon Bennett-Green SR   
     3) 538 Za'Von Watkins SO           4) 533 Robby Creese JR            
     5) 534 Wade Endress SO             6) 532 Ryan Brennan JR            
  2  Indiana                                              9:27.72 
     1) 421 Jordan Gornall SO           2) 424 Derrick Morgan JR          
     3) 423 Tretez Kinnaird FR          4) 422 Rorey Hunter JR            
     5) 425 Robby Nierman SR            6)                                
  3  Villanova                                            9:28.06 
     1) 601 Dusty Solis JR              2) 598 Samuel Ellison SR          
     3) 599 Christopher Fitzsimons JR   4) 603 Jordan Williamsz SO        
     5) 600 Sam McEntee SR              6) 597 Robert Denault SO          
  4  Stanford                                             9:28.95 
     1) 555 Marco Bertolotti SR         2) 561 Steven Solomon FR          
     3) 557 Luke Lefebure JR            4) 554 Michael Atchoo SR          
     5) 560 Jackson Shumway SO          6) 556 Scott Buttinger FR         
  5  Georgetown                                           9:29.11 
     1) 407 Amos Bartelsmeyer FR        2) 406 Mike Andre SO              
     3) 409 Billy Ledder JR             4) 408 Ahmed Bile SO              
     5) 410 Ryan Manahan FR             6) 411 Devante Washington SO      
  6  Arkansas                                             9:29.37 
     1) 349 Cale Wallace SO             2) 333 Neil Braddy SR             
     3) 348 Tomas Squella SO            4) 346 Patrick Rono JR            
     5) 344 Andrew Pisechko SO          6) 336 Gabe Gonzales SO           
  7  Notre Dame                                           9:29.43 
     1) 497 Jeremy Rae SR               2) 493 Patrick Feeney SR          
     3) 492 Jacob Dumford FR            4) 495 Nick Happe SR              
     5) 496 J.P. Malette SR             6) 498 Harvey Smith FR            
  8  Oklahoma St.                                         9:29.91 
     1) 510 Shane Moskowitz SR          2) 512 Tyler Payton SR            
     3) 511 Chad Noelle SO              4) 507 Kirubel Erassa SR          
     5) 513 Justin Vilhauer JR          6) 514 Ryan Wheatley FR           
  9  Virginia Tech                                        9:30.26 
     1) 606 Leoule Degfae SR            2) 605 Martin Dally JR            
     3) 607 Tihut Degfae SR             4) 609 Grant Pollock JR           
     5) 604 Juan Campos SO              6)                                
 10  Columbia                                             9:30.72 
     1) 372 John Gregorek SR            2) 374 Harry McFann SR            
     3) 371 Brendon Fish JR             4) 370 Daniel Everett JR          
     5) 373 Noah Lartigue FR            6) 369 Kevin Boyd JR              
 11  Oregon                                               9:31.64 
     1) 525 Brett Johnson SR            2) 519 Arthur Delaney JR          
     3) 524 Russell Hornsby SO          4) 520 Trevor Dunbar SR           
     5) 523 Boru Guyota SR              6) 527 Sam Prakel FR              
 12  Washington                                           9:31.82 
     1) 614 Meron Simon SO              2) 613 Quadelle Satterwhite SO    
     3) 610 Derrick Daigre SO           4) 616 Izaic Yorks FR             
     5) 611 Nick Harris SO              6) 612 Blake Nelson FR

Handicapping the men’s DMR is a bit absurd without knowing who is actually going to run it. As we saw last year with a totally fresh Michigan women’s team winning the women’s title and a fresh Peter Callahan getting the job done for Princeton, it’s way easier to take down the DMR if you aren’t doubling back from the mile or 800 prelims.

A fresh Peter Callahan kicked home for victory last year. *2013 NCAA Track and Field Photos

Penn State has the #1 seed time at 9:26.59 but two potential key members of that team – Brannon Kidder and Za’Von Watkins – are in the 800. Villanova is another super-talented team with two potential legs in other events as well – Jordan Williamsz (mile), Samuel Ellisson (800)

One team with no one in any individual events is Indiana, which comes in seeded #2 at 9:27.72. The DMR is the only thing the entire Indiana men’s track team has at NCAAs. How they ran 9:27.72 is pretty amazing as the fastest times they have put up individually this year at 800 and mile are just 1:49.49 and 4:03.35. When they ran 9:27.72, they got a 3:57.7 anchor leg from Rorey Hunter, who is just a 3:46 guy.

Stanford is another totally fresh team. Unlike Indiana, though, it’s made up of proven studs. Michael Atchoo split 3:57.5 at Penn State and has run 3:57.14 in the open mile last year (as well as 3:39). Add in Luke Lefebure, who has run 1:48.80 this year, and Scott Buttinger (1:49.38 this year) or Marco Bertolotti (2:22.17 for 1k, 4:01 mile this year) and they become the favorites. One more thing. Their 400 guy isn’t too shabby either. Steven Solomon of Australia was an Olympic finalist before he even set foot at Stanford. He’s opted out of the open 400 and thus is fresh for this.

Oregon is pretty studly as well as they’ll have 800 ace Boru Guyota, who just missed out on individual 800 qualification at 1:48.91. Russell Hornsby has also broken 1:50 this year, Brett Johnson has broken 4:00 in the mile this year and Trevor Dunbar has broken 4:00 in the past.

LRC Prediction: Stanford or Oregon FTW. You need a strong anchor to win, so on that theory, we will go with Stanford. Update: When we wrote this initially, we didn’t think NCAA Outdoor 1500 champ Mac Fleet was running the DMR as he wasn’t listed as one of the 6 names above. Then we were reminded at the press conference that anyone at the meet can hop in the DMR. If he runs it, we expect them to win.

Men’s Mile – Saturday 8:00 pm ET

Event 5  Men 1 Mile Run Prelims
           Name                        Year School                 Seed           
  1    327 Lawi Lalang                   SR Arizona             3:52.88 
  2    596 Anthony Rotich                JR UTEP                3:55.86 
  3    603 Jordan Williamsz              SO Villanova           3:56.84 
  4    438 Matt Hillenbrand              SR Kentucky            3:57.00 
  5    497 Jeremy Rae                    SR Notre Dame          3:57.25 
  6    353 Rich Peters                   JR Boston U.           3:57.27 
  7    379 Will Geoghegan                JR Dartmouth           3:58.04 
  8    445 Sam Penzenstadler             JR Loyola (Ill.        3:58.21 
  9    521 Mac Fleet                     SR Oregon              3:58.25 
 10    427 Matthew Gillespie             SR Iona                3:58.48 
 11    380 Steve Mangan                  FR Dartmouth           3:58.65 
 12    479 Elmar Engholm                 FR New Mexico          3:58.90 
 13    372 John Gregorek                 SR Columbia            3:58.95 
 14    616 Izaic Yorks                   FR Washington          3:59.04 
 15    545 Michael Williams              SR Princeton           3:59.21 
 16    484 Isaac Presson                 SR North Caroli        3:59.23
Lalang broke open the mile final early last year. *2013 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Photos

Lalang is the class of this loaded field. Anthony Rotich‘s time is misleading as the 3:55.86 time shown for the 8:21 steepler (2013 NCAA champ) is converted from a 4:01 he ran at altitude. Thus in terms of real times, Lalang has nearly four seconds on Villanova’s Jordan Williamsz.

If anyone beats Lalang, we are firmly convinced it will be one of two people – Villanova’s Williamsz or Oregon’s Mac Fleet.

Williamsz is a 21-year-old sophomore from Australia who had run 3:36.74 (at the Swarthmore meet) prior to even enrolling at Villanova. His first season in Philly last year was a struggle as he didn’t run faster than 3:44.43 and didn’t make it to NCAAs in Eugene. He did run 3:39 in July, however, and now is back to his pre-Villanova form. But a 3:56.84 in a time trial on an oversized track is a far cry from a 3:52 at the Millrose mile.

Oregon’s Mac Fleet is the reigning the 2013 NCAA outdoor 1,500 champion. He’s got a massive kick and comes in lightly raced (one mile, one 800). If he can stay close to Lalang, he’s got a chance.

Actually, we’ll add in a third potential upset winner. BU’s Rich Peters is quite good. The Brit just set the collegiate record of 2:18.55 in the 1k and is in great form.

Kentucky senior Matt Hillenbrand won the SEC by a dominant 2.34 seconds and should be in the mix for top American honors.

LRC Prediction: Lalang for the win. Yes, he’ll be tired from the 5,000 the night before, but many of the leading milers will also be tired from the DMR as well.

LRC Fact: Three of the Ivy League guys in the list above (Mangan, Williams, Gregorek) come with times converted from Dartmouth’s flat 200m track.  The Dartmouth track has very short straightaways. It’s almost like running in a circle the whole time. That may not sound like a good thing but it is since compared to a normal flat track with tight turns, it’s equivalent to running in one of the outside lanes – but you get the normal flat track conversion, which is a big boost*. One NCAA coach told us the track’s wide curves are outside the NCAA recommendations: “It is recommended that the inside radius of the curves on a 200-meter track should be not less than 18 meters and not more than 21 meters.”

*In case you didn’t know, the NCAA last year started converting times from flat 200m tracks to banked/oversized tracks because banked or oversized tracks are faster than flat 200m tracks. Steve Mangan of Dartmouth, who ran 4:01.69 at Dartmouth to win the Heps, shows up with a 3 :58.65 on the NCAA list above because of the conversion. The conversion is not track specific and is from a generic flat 200m track to a generic oversized/banked track. There is no reason for guys to complain about it as many of the other times come from oversized tracks that would be outlawed if they weren’t grandfathered in by the NCAA. The NCAA doesn’t let indoor tracks be built any more that are over 300 meters long yet they allow marks from Washington (307 meters) and Notre Dame (322 meters).

Men’s 800 – Saturday 9:20 pm ET

Event 4  Men 800 Meter Run Prelims
           Name                        Year School                 Seed           
  1    429 Edward Kemboi                 JR Iowa State          1:45.98 
  2    458 Eliud Rutto                   SO Mid. Tenn. S        1:47.45 
  3    536 Brannon Kidder                SO Penn State          1:47.45 
  4    465 Brandon McBride               SO Miss State          1:47.51 
  5    393 Sean Obinwa                   SR Florida             1:47.76 
  6    409 Billy Ledder                  JR Georgetown          1:47.89 
  7    375 Alvaro Chavez                 SO Connecticut         1:47.96 
  8    346 Patrick Rono                  JR Arkansas            1:47.96 
  9    386 Andres Arroyo                 FR Florida             1:47.97 
 10    395 Ryan Schnulle                 SO Florida             1:48.05 
 11    538 Za'Von Watkins                SO Penn State          1:48.11 
 12    598 Samuel Ellison                SR Villanova           1:48.40 
 13    348 Tomas Squella                 SO Arkansas            1:48.70 
 14    323 Jacopo Lahbi                  FR Alabama             1:48.77 
 15    591 Andrew Smith                  SR UMBC                1:48.82 
 16    617 Jesse Jorgensen               JR Wash. St            1:48.84

The top three from last year’s NCAA championships have all graduated, meaning Florida’s Sean Obinwa, who was fourth, is the top returner. The field also includes two other finalists from last year in Arkansas’ Patrick Rono and Tomas Squella. All three of those guys run in the SEC, as does Florida’s Ryan Schnulle, but the winner of the SEC was Kentucky’s Keffri Neal. Despite being the SEC champ, his 1:48.94 time from SECs just missed qualifying. Mississippi State is also in the SEC but they don’t compete officially in indoor track, so their star Brandon McBride, who ran 1:46.07 in HS, wasn’t in that race. He did beat Rono and Squella convincingly at Tyson, however.

The big favorite is Iowa State’s Edward Kemboi. As a frosh two years ago, he ran 1:46.20 outdoors and was fifth at NCAAs. Last year was a struggle for him, but he is better than ever this year and has run 1:45.98 this year which is nearly a second-and-a-half faster than everyone else. He’s the man to beat. If he does lose, we think Penn State sophomore Brannon Kidder is the champ. He’s run 3:58 in the mile as well this year, so the two rounds likely won’t tire him out. If he runs the DMR on Friday and has three races in two days, no way he wins this. If he sticks to just the 800, he’s got a shot. If he had skipped the 800 and run the DMR fresh, we’d have picked Penn State FTW in that event. That’s how good he is.

Kidder and Kemboi already have raced once this year at Penn State in the middle of January. Kemboi won by .20.

LRC Prediction: Kemboi gets the job done, but if you are a fan of Americans, this is by far the best event to hope for an American victory.

Men’s 3,000 – Saturday 9:40 pm ET

Event 6  Men 3000 Meter Run
           Name                        Year School                 Seed           
  1    327 Lawi Lalang                   SR Arizona             7:44.20 
  2    518 Edward Cheserek               FR Oregon              7:47.20 
  3    365 Jake Hurysz                   SR Colorado            7:50.50 
  4    558 Erik Olson                    JR Stanford            7:50.81 
  5    528 Parker Stinson                JR Oregon              7:51.06 
  6    489 Brian Shrader                 JR Northern Ari        7:51.48 
  7    414 Maksim Korolev                SR Harvard             7:51.52 
  8    622 Reed Connor                   SR Wisconsin           7:51.78 
  9    427 Matthew Gillespie             SR Iona                7:52.24 
 10    358 Jared Ward                    SR BYU                 7:52.51 
 11    353 Rich Peters                   JR Boston U.           7:52.61 
 12    367 Ben Saarel                    FR Colorado            7:52.61 
 13    462 John Simons                   SR Minnesota           7:52.62 
 14    520 Trevor Dunbar                 SR Oregon              7:53.13 
 15    455 Caleb Rhynard                 SO Michigan Sta        7:53.34 
 16    507 Kirubel Erassa                SR Oklahoma St.        7:53.53

By the time this event rolls around, we believe Lawi Lalang will have won the 5,000 on Friday night (we’d be totally shocked if he didn’t win this one) and the mile on Saturday night (we’d be less shocked if he didn’t win). The question then becomes will he actually run the 3,000m and go for the historic triple?

We say yes.

If Lalang wins the first two events, the good news for him is that in the 3,000, he’ll also be facing a lot of other tired runners.

Of the top 12 seeds in the list above, only two of them aren’t doubling back from another event – #3 seed Jake Hurysz of Colorado and #12 Ben Saarel of Colorado.

Most of them, however, are doubling back from the 5,000m on Friday night, not the mile an hour-and-a-half before this event.

Who could beat a tired Lalang? Cheserek is certainly an option. If the 5,000 is really tight between Lalang and Cheserek, then a fresher Cheserek should have the edge here.

Other potential spoilers include the two fresh Colorado runners. Super freshman Saarel is only the #12 seed but he’s a special talent and would be our pick if you’re looking for a Budweiser long shot. That being said, he was only fifth at the MPSF mile a few weeks ago. Oregon’s Trevor Dunbar was second in that event. If Dunbar skips the DMR on Friday night and is fresh here, maybe he could make some noise.

LRC Prediction: Lalang makes history if he starts this race. If he doesn’t start it, we think Cheserek is the champ.

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