2015 NCAA Men’s Mile Preview: An Epic Battle Between An NCAA Superstar (Edward Cheserek) And A Guy Who Has Never Made NCAAs Before (Cristian Soratos)
March 10, 2015
The 2015 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships will be held on Friday and Saturday at the University of Arkansas’ Randal Tyson Track Center.
To get you ready for the action, this week we’re previewing the mid-d and distance events (800, mile, 3000, 5000 and distance medley relay) one-by-one. Below, you can find the previews of the men’s mile. Our women’s mile preview is here.
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Men’s Mile (prelims Friday 7:15 p.m. ET; final Saturday 7:10 p.m. ET)
Name Year School Seed =============================================================================== 1 330 Cristian Soratos SR Montana State 3:55.27 2 418 Edward Cheserek SO Oregon 3:56.43 3 435 Brannon Kidder JR Penn State 3:57.13 4 444 Julian Oakley JR Providence 3:57.22 5 601 Patrick Joseph FR Virginia Tech 3:57.44 6 575 Anthony Rotich SR UTEP 3:57.46 7 422 Johnny Gregorek SR Oregon 3:57.47 8 426 Daniel Winn SR Oregon 3:57.62 9 403 Chad Noelle JR Oklahoma State 3:57.78 10 618 Izaic Yorks SO Washington 3:57.81 11 351 Elmar Engholm SO New Mexico 3:57.95 12 264 Keffri Neal SR Kentucky 3:58.02 13 269 Sam Penzenstadler SR Loyola (Ill.) 3:58.05 14 108 Jake Hurysz SR Colorado 3:58.13 15 584 Robert Denault JR Villanova 3:58.25 16 181 Ahmed Bile SO Georgetown 3:58.54
This has the potential to be a great one. Not only is the mile loaded — 11 guys broke 3:58 and, for the first time ever, there are sub-3:59 guys sitting at home because they weren’t fast enough to make it to NCAAs — but there’s some fantastic top-end talent as well in Cristian Soratos and Edward Cheserek.
Soratos enters as the NCAA leader thanks to his 3:55.27 at the Husky Classic on February 14 and is undefeated on the year, most recently claiming titles in the 800 and mile at the Big Sky Championships on February 28. He was the second man out of making NCAAs at the West regional last spring, but nationally Soratos didn’t register until his season-opening 4:05.18 at the Montana State Open on January 16, which after applying NCAA conversions for the flat track and Bozeman’s 4,820 feet of altitude, was converted to a 3:56.87 for NCAA qualifying purposes.
A lot of people questioned the validity of that performance but any doubts about Soratos’ ability were silenced a month later in Seattle, when he blasted a 3:55.27, destroying a very good runner in Penn State’s Brannon Kidder over the final 100 meters in the process. If you haven’t watched the race, it’s well worth three minutes and fifty-five seconds of your time: Soratos made a bold move to the front around 1000 meters but looked as if he might have gone too early after Kidder passed him just after the bell. Instead, Soratos retook the lead on the final turn before using a Cheserekian burst of speed in the final straight to win by almost two seconds (56 last lap). Running 3:55 automatically makes you a contender for the NCAA mile title, but doing it with such a strong kick at the end is a very, very good sign for Soratos. Good runners can close well off a slow pace; great runners — NCAA champions — can do it off a fast pace, too.
Considering that Kidder ran the #3 time in the NCAA in that race and looked like he was running in quicksand compared to Soratos at Husky, we feel confident that Soratos will finish in at least the top two at NCAAs (yes, it’s his first NCAA championships, but when you can close a 3:55 in 56 seconds, experience becomes less important). The question on everyone’s mind is, can he beat Edward Cheserek?
Cheserek has lost precisely one NCAA final in his career — the monumental outdoor 5000 final last year, where it took every ounce of effort for 3:33/13:00 man Lawi Lalang to slay Cheserek on his home track. Aside from that, Cheserek hasn’t just won the other five NCAA finals he’s participated in (including two NCAA XC titles); he’s obliterated his competition, winning by comically large margins after launching his kick in the closing stages of a race. That’s probably not going to happen in this race. First of all, it’s a mile — it’s more difficult to destroy milers on the last lap than 3000/5000 guys. Second, of the mile, 3000 and 5000, the mile is Cheserek’s weakest distance (which makes sense as he’s the NCAA 10,000 champ) so he’s not head and shoulders above the competition as he would be in the longer races. Third, he’s got a rival in Soratos that has proved he is capable of closing just as fast (or faster) as Cheserek over the final meters of a mile (Cheserek closed his 3:56.43 at the Millrose Games in 57.70 seconds for the final 400).
Based on his championship credentials and devastating kick — remember when he closed the NCAA 10,000 in 24.8? — Cheserek probably deserves to enter as the favorite. But it’s not a slam dunk, especially when you consider that Cheserek will have anchored Oregon’s DMR the night before. If he has to work for it in that race, that gives an advantage to Soratos, who will have only had one race on Friday (the mile prelims), not two.
On paper, Soratos and Cheserek appear to be a cut above the rest of the field, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t even mention the defending champion, Anthony Rotich of UTEP. Last year, Rotich exploded over the final 50 meters of the race to take down the two heavy favorites entering the race – NCAA champions, Lawi Lalang and Mac Fleet. Entering the race, Lalang was viewed as the favorite with the steeple specialist Rotich essentially relegated to an afterthought despite a converted 3:55.86 qualifying time.
It may have taken us 800 words to mention him in this preview, but we haven’t forgotten about the UTEP senior. It’s easy to discount Rotich as he didn’t even win the mile at his conference meet (he was second), but that’s because he took on a grueling set of responsibilities to help the Miners in the team race. At the Conference USA Championships on February 26, he won the 5000 (which started at 12:00 p.m.), came back less than an hour later to take second in the mile (start time: 12:50 p.m.) and finished up with another second in the 3000 (5:35 p.m.). It’s also worth noting that he took second behind a teammate in the mile, so if Rotich was running solely for team points, it wouldn’t have made a difference whether he was second or first.
Rotich hasn’t faced any top-level competition in the mile this year (he was second to Colorado’s Pierce Murphy in a deep 5000 at the Husky Classic, running 13:40) so it’s hard to say exactly where he stacks up. But that’s the fun of NCAAs — it’s our chance to finally see everyone together in the same race.
This year’s mile is so compelling that we need some more room to get all our thoughts out:
Quick Thought #1: Kudos to Oregon and Edward Cheserek for running the mile
In terms of maximizing team points, tripling Cheserek in the mile, 3000 and DMR is probably the right move. As a fan, it’s 100% the best option.
Guys like Cheserek have to be challenged. If he did the 3k/5k double like last year, those races become a snoozefest. As good as Eric Jenkins and the rest of the top guys are, it’s hard to imagine anyone stopping Cheserek over the last 200.
No, to keep the sport interesting, a singular talent like Cheserek needs to be challenged. That’s why it was brave of Lawi Lalang to even try the mile/3k/5k triple last year (even though he scratched from the 3k when it wasn’t working out). Cheserek shouldn’t have much of a problem on the anchor of the DMR as long as he gets the baton in good position, but in Soratos and Jenkins (who will not have raced the mile final two hours earlier), he has some guys who could theoretically challenge him in the mile/3k. That doesn’t necessarily mean Cheserek will lose, but it’s a lot more interesting to have a setup like this where there’s a chance he might lose, as opposed to the straight 3k/5k double where no one would bet against him.
Bonus fact: If Cheserek wins the mile, he’ll become only the fourth man in NCAA history to win NCAA titles at four different distances (mile, 3k, 5k, 10k). He’ll join Lalang (mile, 3k, 5k, 10k), Arkansas’ Joe Falcon (1500, mile, 3k, 10k) and UTEP’s Suleiman Nyambui (mile, 2-mile, 5k, 10k). All four men have also won cross country titles as well, in case you were wondering.
Quick Thought #2: Guys pulling DMR duty
One of the toughest things about indoor NCAAs is that it’s only a two-day meet, which gives doubling athletes precious little time to recover from their races. Keep an eye on the following guys, who are all entered on their team’s DMR squads on Friday night (leg in parentheses):
Edward Cheserek, Oregon (1600)
Brannon Kidder, Penn State (1200)
Patrick Joseph, Virginia Tech (800)
Chad Noelle, Oklahoma State (1600)
Johnny Gregorek, Oregon (1200)
Of course, it’s not a given all of these guys make the mile final, but they will be a little more tired than everyone else if they do.
Quick Thought #3: Other guys to watch
While we think one of Soratos, Cheserek or Rotich will win, there are plenty of other good guys in the race. Two in particular to watch out for are Loyola’s Sam Penzenstadler, who was third at outdoor NCAAs in the 1500 last year and Kentucky’s Keffri Neal, who was third in the outdoor 800 last year.
One guy who isn’t in the field is Villanova junior Jordan Williamsz. Williamsz, who ran 3:36 for 1500 before even starting at Villanova only ran one open race all of indoors – he won the 3000 at Big East. Other than that, he’s run in three DMRs. He could be battling with Cheserek on the DMR anchor on Friday night.
LRC prediction: Picking this one makes us very nervous. We raved about Cheserek and Soratos above. But an NCAA 10,000 champ winning the mile? How often does that happen? If this was a rabbitted mile, then a Cheserek win would be much more likely to happen. If it’s tactical, it can run more like an 800.
So then we should pick Soratos, right? How often does a guy who has never even made NCAAs during his first three years of college win an NCAA title as a senior? Yes, Soratos only joined the NCAA ranks as a junior but still.
So our pick is TBD. We’re having an internal disagreement about our pick on this one. We’ll make it in a few days – or maybe the staff will make their own picks if we can’t reach a consensus.
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