March 2, 2016
Last night, the NCAA announced the list of qualifiers to the 2016 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships, to be held March 11-12 at the Birmingham CrossPlex in Birmingham, Ala. We already broke down what it took to make it in the distance events compared to years past, and today we’ll take a more detailed look at the entries and their implications for the team competition.
Scored track meets can be hard to follow, but we’ve done our best to give you a starting point by scoring the meet based on the entry lists. To create the chart below, we simply looked at the entries and assigned points to the top eight seeds according to the 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 scoring system used at NCAAs. In the event of a tie, we split the points as the NCAA would (eg. if two athletes tied for seventh, each would earn 1.5 points). We’ve listed the top seven women’s teams below.
Here are the events in which each school has an athlete(s) entered but not projected to score:
Florida: 400 (#10), 60 hurdles (t-#13)
Georgia: high jump (t-#13), long jump (t-#11), pentathlon (#10)
Oregon: 200 (#12), 800 (#9), 3000 (#14), 5000 (#13, #15), shot put (#10, #16)
Kansas State: none
Arkansas: 60 hurdles (#11, t-#13), DMR (#11), long jump (#14), pentathlon (#11, #13)
Texas: 200 (#15), pole vault (t-#12)
- Arkansas halted Oregon’s five-year winning streak by claiming its first NCAA women’s track title on its home turf last year. But the two biggest stars of that team, Dominique Scott (won 3000, anchored winning DMR) and Sandi Morris (won pole vault) are gone. Likewise, Oregon, who finished second last year, took a big hit when Jenna Prandini (who scored 23 points at NCAAs in ’15) turned pro, but both squads are still projected to finish in the top seven next weekend.
- Florida is the favorite to win its first women’s indoor title since 1992. The Gators only have athletes entered in the sprints and jumps, but with the top seed in the 60 (Shayla Sanders), #2 seed in the 200 (Kyra Jefferson) and two of the top three seeds in the triple jump (Darrielle McQueen and Yanis David), Florida projects to score 50.5 points. None of those four athletes won SEC titles last weekend, but that speaks more to the competitiveness of the fields than any failings on the Gators’ part.
- As a team, Florida itself didn’t come close to winning SECs. They were only tied for 4th at SECs, with 64 points as Arkansas won with 110. In basketball, you might see a team that finished fourth or fifth in its conference win an NCAA title, but only in track and field can a team that got spanked in their conference enter nationals as favorites.
- The most important athlete in the meet is Georgia junior Kendell Williams. Williams, the collegiate record holder and two-time defending champion in the pentathlon (she was also the World Junior champ in the 100 hurdles in 2014), is entered in the high jump, long jump and pentathlon this weekend. In her first two years at Georgia, Williams never competed in an individual event at NCAAs, choosing instead to focus on the multis even though Georgia could have contended for the team title with Williams pulling double or triple duty. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that approach — Georgia’s coaches did not want to overwork Williams and ask too much of her too soon. But now head coach Petros Kyprianou feels the time is right to give Williams a heavier workload. Next week, Williams will compete in the pentathlon (she’s the #2 seed) and long jump (t-#11 seed) on Friday and the high jump (t-#3 seed) on Saturday. Projections have her scoring 12.5 of Georgia’s 39.5 points, which ranks the Bulldogs second behind Florida. If Georgia is to win its first NCAA track title, it will come down to Williams: if she exceeds expectations (and it must be noted, it’s extremely hard to compete well in two individual events on top of a pentathlon), the Bulldogs could contend for the win; if she does not, the title will likely go to Florida or Oregon.
- Williams may be the most important athlete, but Kansas State’s Akela Jones has been the most impressive this season and could have a say in the title race herself. Jones is the NCAA leader in three events — the high jump (1.93m/6’4″), the long jump (6.75m/22’1.75″) and the pentathlon (4,664 points, #2 all-time NCAA) — and is ranked #4 in the 60 hurdles (8.00). At NCAA Indoors last year, Jones entered three events, the 60 hurdles (didn’t make final), the high jump (4th) and the long jump (6th). At NCAA Outdoors, Jones won the heptathlon and placed fourth in the high jump, and those are the same two events she’ll compete in this weekend (pentathlon, not heptathlon, but you get the point). It’s an interesting decision. With the way the schedule is, Jones could very well win both the pentathlon (Friday) and high jump (Saturday), but if she does so, the most points she can score is 20. Kansas State only has three other athletes entered in the meet (projected to score 10 points between them), which means those three women will have to pull off some huge performances in order for the Wildcats to contend for the team title. That’s a different situation than the one facing Georgia, who has five other athletes (two of whom are double-entered) who could score points. But as Jones learned last year, the hurdles-high jump-long jump triple is hard (the hurdles prelims and long jump are on Friday; the hurdles final and high jump are on Saturday) and there’s no guarantee that she’d score more points across three events than she would by concentrating on two of the events in which she’s ranked #1 (pentathlon and high jump).
- If you take nothing else away from the previous paragraph, please realize this: Akela Jones leads the NCAA in the high jump and long jump. That is not a double that athletes pull off at that level. Look at a world-class high jumper and a world-class long jumper. Their bodies do not look anything alike. Akela Jones is a freak.
- If there’s a team outside the top two that has a chance at the title, it’s Oregon. The Ducks are projected to finish third with 33.25 points, but unlike Kansas State and Michigan, the two teams directly behind them, Oregon could score significantly more than that projection as they have seven other athletes in the meet not currently projected to score. The Ducks also have squads entered in both relays, which could also help them collect some extra points (they’re seeded eighth in the DMR and 4×400).