Leah O’Connor of Michigan State Sets NCAA Meet Record in Women’s Mile, Takes Down Shelby Houlihan
March 14, 2015
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Michigan State senior Leah O’Connor knew coming in that she didn’t have the best short speed in the women’s mile final tonight (she has a 2:07.08 800 pb) at the 2015 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships. She made sure she didn’t need it as she pushed the pace from the gun and got the win by running the second fastest time in collegiate history. Connor’s winning time of 4:27.18 was a meet record (old record 4:29.72 for Sarah Bowman from 2009) and equaled Christin Wurth-Thomas’ facility record as well. Only Jenny Barringer (now Simpson) has run faster collegiately – 4:25.91 at the 2009 Big 12 meet.
2014 NCAA 1500 champion Shelby Houlihan was second in 4:28.71, a time that would have been a meet record before today, with Colleen Quigley of Florida State third (4:31.24) and Iona’s Rosie Clarke fourth (4:31.75).
“I didn’t want to come through the half any slower than 2:14,” said O’Connor after the race in an interview with ESPN.
Connor stuck to her plan as she hit 409 in 1:06.26 and 809 in 2:15.45 meaning she hit the half-way point in 2:14.7, a pace that only seven women dared to go with.
Connor was faster over the second half as she hit 1209 in 3:22.33. At that point, only the eventual top three were in contention, before closing in 64.85 for her final 400. With 400 to go, Quigley fell out of contention. Houlihan gamely tried to stay with O’Connor throughout, but at the bell, Houlihan was .97 down and O’Connor soon pulled away for the victory.
Results and quick takes appear below.
Lap by Lap Splits here.
Quick Take #1: Leah O’Connor is a stud
Was this the most impressive women’s mile performance in NCAA history? Not quite. Jenny Simpson’s 4:25.91 tops it – Simpson did it at Big 12s rather than NCAAs, but did it completely solo in an unrabbitted race, taking down NCAA legend Sally Kipyego in the process.
O’Connor’s race has to be #2, though. Only Simpson has run faster as a collegian than O’Connor (whose 4:27.18 is .01 ahead of what Kipyego ran at Big 12s behind Simpson in 2009), and the women O’Connor beat today — outdoor 1500 champion Shelby Houlihan and 4:29.67 miler Colleen Quigley (#6 all-time) — were really, really good. No one was touching O’Connor on this day, however, as she seized control of the race with a 66.26 first 409 before stretching out the field and ultimately dropping Houlihan with 400 to go.
Quick Take #2: O’Connor will stick with the steeple outdoors
A couple of obvious comparisons for O’Connor, given her mile speed and steeple background, are former Colorado greats Simpson and Emma Coburn, the two fastest steeplers in American history. Winning the mile indoors gives O’Connor a lot of options for the outdoor season, but the defending NCAA steeple champion said that her focus will be on the steeplechase and that she will take aim at breaking 9:30. O’Connor’s pb is 9:36; the only two women to have run faster than her in college are, you guessed it, Simpson (9:25) and Coburn (9:28).
O’Connor’s future is very bright. One thing you need to succeed on the track at the professional level is speed and O’Connor showed tonight she has that in spades – no matter what her 800 pb is.
Quick Take #3: Are Rosie Clarke and Eric Teschuk The Early Favorites for 2016? It Depends.
The top three women in the race were all seniors which means that Iona’s Rosie Clarke and North Dakota State’s Erin Teschuk – both juniors – are the only returners next year that were under 4:35 in this race.
They certainly may contend for a title in 2016, but it can’t be forgotten that Stanford’s super frosh Elise Cranny has plenty of eligibility left. Cranny ran 4:10.95 for 1500 in HS and split 4:31 for 1600 yesterday in the DMR before getting second in the 3000 tonight.
Barring a super import coming into the NCAA ranks from overseas, Cranny is likely to be the favorite in 2016 in whatever event she decides to run – mile or 3000.
More: Discuss the NCAA day 2 action on our world famous messageboard: MB: Official 2015 NCAA Indoor Day 2 Discussion Thread.
Screenshots from the ESPN3 broadcast appear below.