NCAA Mile Finals: Henry Wynne Wins By Controlling It From The Front; Kaela Edwards’ Patience Pays Off

March 12, 2016

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Virginia’s Henry Wynne and Oklahoma State’s Kaela Edwards took opposite approaches to Saturday’s NCAA mile finals but each wound up with the same result: a much-coveted first NCAA title. Wynne led almost the entire way and had the strength to hold off favorite Blake Haney of Oregon over the final lap while Edwards waited until 150 to go before exploding to the front and cruising home for victory.

Men’s Race

Virginia’s Henry Wynne didn’t quite go wire-to-wire in Saturday’s NCAA mile final, but that won’t matter to him; he was in the lead for virtually all of it and most importantly at the finish to earn his first national title thanks to a 1:22.41 final 600 (54.48 final 400, 27.39 final 200). The eight-lap race really came down to the final three as the entire 10-man field was separated by just .62 of a second after 1,009 meters. And though he was challenged in the late stages by UTEP’s Jonah Koech and Oregon stud Blake Haney, it was Wynne who kicked best to earn victory.

Wynne went to the lead immediately but after covering the first 209 meters in 30.67, he slowed it down, running 33s and 34s for the next three laps. Another 32 took the extremely bunched field through 1,009 at 2:44.19, at which point Koech seized the lead in the first major move of the race. Wynne – and everyone else in the field – was ready for it, however, and only Providence’s Julian Oakley and Cornell’s James Gowans had gotten caught out by the move and dropped by 1,209.

Wynne wins Wynne wins

The race began to string out on the penultimate lap, as Wynne and Koech hit the bell shoulder-to-shoulder with Haney moving into third just behind them. On the backstretch, Koech began to tire and dropped back as Wynne and Haney began to separate. Wynne, however, remained in the lead and ran the shortest distance around the final turn as Haney sat on his shoulder. As they barrelled down the home stretch, Haney tried to summon a final gear but he had nothing left as Wynne held him off until the line, winning in 4:06.63. As Wynne threw his arms up in victory, Haney hung his head in defeat, as he wound up .09 short of an NCAA title. Penn’s Thomas Awad, whose 27.00 last lap was second-best in the field, was the best of the rest as he closed hard in lane 3 to take third. Not bad for a guy who didn’t even win his conference meet this year (Awad had to run the slow section of the 3k at Heps and wound up fourth overall).

Results, quick-take analysis and post-race interviews appear below.  *Lap-by-lap splits here.

Place Athlete Affiliation Time
1 Henry Wynne JR Virginia 4:06.63
2 Blake Haney SO Oregon 4:06.75
3 Thomas Awad SR Penn 4:06.97
4 Sam Prakel JR Oregon 4:07.06
5 David Elliott SR Boise State 4:07.16
6 Jonah Koech FR UTEP 4:07.52
7 Julian Oakley SR Providence 4:07.75
8 Adam Palamar JR Syracuse 4:07.89
9 James Gowans JR Cornell 4:08.14
10 Jacob Burcham JR Oklahoma 4:10.26

Quick Thought #1: Wynne did exactly what he wanted to do – control the race from the front.

Wynne was pretty much over the moon to have won the NCAA title in his first individual appearance at an NCAA indoor championship (he ran on the 6th place DMR team last year and was 22nd outdoors in the 1,500 last year). He said today’s victory was a dream come true and went pretty much exactly how he wanted it to go. He wanted to control things from the front, which he did, and said he expected someone to make a big move with about 600 to go (Koech). Wynne said he put in an extra effort to make Koech work for the lead hoping that would tire him out for the finish.

Talking to ESPN3, Wynne said, “I just wanted to get up there and not have to deal with the pack racing … I got to the front and tried to control it …” On what he thought when Koech took the lead: “I was kind of happy to give up the lead a little bit.”

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QT #2: Blake Haney was disappointed with his tactics as he felt he gave himself too much ground to make up in the final 400.

We caught up with the two Oregon scorers. Sam Prakel, who was lucky to get into the final on time, was thrilled with his 4th-place showing. Haney clearly wanted the win and was disappointed he was farther back than he wanted with 400 to go. Haney had the fastest final 400 in the race (54.17 to Wynne’s 54.48) but had too much ground to make up.

QT #3: Penn’s Thomas Awad wanted to win but was satisfied with third; third marks a huge improvement over his previous NCAA showings.

Awad came in as the #2 seed on time and left with third place finish, much better than his previous NCAA showings in track (18th place as a freshman outdoors and a DNF outdoors last year). As a result, he was fairly satisfied with the result. Awad wanted to get out well but once he didn’t find himself in a good position coming off the stagger, he decided to not make moves and save energy in the back on the rail and then make a bid for glory in the final 400. He’s looking forward to outdoors and the 5,000, which is his favorite event.

QT #4: NCAA, watch out for Jonah Koech in the future.

UTEP’s Koech joined the NCAA ranks as a much-hyped recruit and today you could see why. While he faded a lot in the final 50 meters, he was a major factor for most of the race. Around 1k, he made a big move up on the outside of the field. Then he got swallowed up and was able to make another move to the lead on the inside. Those two moves likely took up a lot of energy for Koech, who as an 800 star until this year isn’t probably as strong as he’d like to be.

Koech was happy with the effort he gave and 6th-place showing. We noticed that his coach Paul Ereng – the 1988 Olympic champ for 800 after his freshman year at UVA – came up to him and whispered something in his ear after the race. We asked Koech what he said and he said that Ereng told him he’d never had a freshman do so well in his first NCAAs.

Outdoors, Koech said he’ll return to his favored 800 and hopes the mile strength will pay off.

Women’s Race

The women’s mile went largely as expected as UNH’s Elinor Purrier went straight to the lead like she did in the prelims and set the pace with the rest of the field filed in behind her. For the first 1,200+ meters it was Purrier leading stalked closely by Georgetown’s Andrea Keklak and Villanova’s Angel Piccirillo. Oklahoma State’s Kaela Edwards was content to sit about in the middle of the pack.

Edwards was overjoyed to win her first NCAA title Edwards was overjoyed to win her first NCAA title.

With less than 400m to go, it was Piccirillo who made the first move, going around Purrier and starting her drive for home with a 32.21 penultimate lap. She was followed by Edwards while Purrier tried to go with them, but started to fall back. With 200m to go, Piccirillo had half a second on Edwards, who had a small margin on Purrier and the rest of the pack.

Edwards, super-patient, didn’t move until 150 to go but she had plenty left in the tank as she blazed a 29.86 final 200m, never broke form and looked great crossing the line in first with a 4:35.62 winning time. A distraught Piccirillo finished .64 of a second back in second place (4:36.26), well clear of Purrier, who held on to finish third in 4:38.42, just .02 of a seconds ahead of Keklak.

Results, quick-take analysis and post-race interviews appear below. *Lap-by-lap splits here.

Place Athlete Affiliation Time
1 Kaela Edwards JR Oklahoma State 4:35.62
2 Angel Piccirillo SR Villanova 4:36.26
3 Elinor Purrier SO New Hampshire 4:38.42
4 Andrea Keklak SR Georgetown 4:38.44
5 Sophie Connor SR New Mexico 4:38.83
6 Erin Teschuk SR ND State 4:38.94
7 Megan Moye JR NC State 4:38.99
8 Eleanor Fulton SR Washington 4:40.15
9 Heather MacLean JR UMass Amherst 4:43.29
10 Grace Barnett SO Clemson 4:48.55

Quick Thought #1: If Purrier wanted to win this, she needed to set a faster pace and take the kicks out of Edwards and Piccirillo.

Purrier entered NCAAs with the fastest time by over 2 seconds, but that didn’t necessarily mean too much in a slower tactical race. Purrier went to the front and was doing the leading while the rest of the field drafted off her, but she was doing it running 4:43 pace through 800m. That’s not the kind of pace that’s going to drop anyone at this level or hurt runners with super speed like Edwards and Piccirillo. Now, if Purrier had set a 4:30-type pace, maybe she could have gapped the field if no one went with her or at least tired out the kickers so she would have had a shot at the end.

That said, it’s hard to run your PR from the front (Purrier’s 4:29.71 came from BU Valentine, where she raced a bunch of pros and finished 4th) and Purrier didn’t look extremely fresh today as she didn’t close super-fast even off the slower pace. Maybe if she had led out at 4:30 pace it would have been a disaster. Here she at least finished 3rd in the NCAA.

Post-race, Purrier said her plan coming in was to set the pace and slowly ratchet it down as the race progressed, but it was “easier said than done.” She said she “gave it her all” so wouldn’t change anything with her tactics. She’ll focus on the steeple outdoors.

QT #2: Edwards keeps on getting better.

Edwards was third in this meet as a frosh (in the 800), second as a sophomore (in the 800) and now is first as a junior. She said the switch to the mile was a mutual decision made between her and the OSU coaching staff.

Her 800 speed gave her the title as she was the only one under 31.00 on the last lap and she was way under 31 – she actually broke 30 (29.86). She admitted it was hard catching Villanova’s Piccirillo on the final lap.

As a former 800 runner, she doesn’t run very much mileage – about 40 mpw – but she often supplements that with about 150 minutes of cross training a week.

QT #3: Piccirillo put up a brave fight and really went for it and should be proud of her effort

We had to wait a while to interview Piccirillo, the collegiate record holder at 1k who came into this race undefeated on the year, as after this one as she was in tears in the mixed zone. But she eventually composed herself and agreed to speak to us even though she was set to run the 3,000 later.

Piccirillo wanted victory very much. She followed her pre-race plan perfectly as she wanted to make a big move if the pace was slow with 400 to go.

More: All LRC NCAA Coverage Here
*All Post-Race Video Inteviews On Home Page

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