March 10, 2016
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — We’re on the ground in Birmingham as the 2016 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships will take place here tomorrow and Saturday at the $46 million Birmingham CrossPlex indoor track and aquatic facility. We attended the pre-meet press conference and have a few observations.
1. The facility is spectacular.
As we approached the facility in our car, we thought to ourselves, “That place looks nice.” When we got inside of the facility, we thought to ourselves, “This place is really nice.”
The track is a hydraulic banked track so when track isn’t going on people can play volleyball and what not. But there are a ton of stands and even a VIP/box area for bigwigs. The coaches at the press conference were unanimous in their praise for the facility.
Both Oregon coach Robert Johnson and Texas A&M coach Pat Henry had never been here before but both were full of praise for the setup. Johnson said the “facility looks fantastic.” Henry said, “The facility looks great. We’re happy to be here. It’s a great looking venue.”
First-year Georgia head coach Petros Kyprianou called it “an amazing facility.”
Take a look at a few photos of the venue (click for larger image).
2. Oregon coach Robert Johnson said the Ducks never considered tripling Edward Cheserek in this meet, and added that whether or not he anchors the DMR will be a game-time decision but admitted it’s a “long shot.”
Johnson said it wasn’t that hard to come up with an event plan for Edward Cheserek (5000 Friday / 3000 Saturday). “For us, it was simple. [We wanted to put] Edward Cheserek in the best position to score the most points without wearing him out,” sad Johnson.
Considering that Johnson said that, it should come as no surprise that Johnson said it would be a “long shot” for Cheserek to anchor the DMR, which starts less than a half hour after the end of the men’s 5000.
“It will be a game-time decision [but] the schedule makes that very, very difficult to do,” said Johnson of the 5000/DMR/3000 triple which has only been pulled off successfully once in NCAA history – by Galen Rupp in 2009 – when it was easier to do as there was more than an hour between the end of the 5000 and the DMR.
3) Might we see meet collegiate records in the men’s 800 and the men’s and women’s shot put?
We got a chance to talk to Texas A&M’s Donovan Brazier, who ran 1:45.93 in his first collegiate 800 — just .05 off the American collegiate record — about the possibility of him taking down the collegiate record in the men’s 800. After Brazier’s 1:45.93 in January, Texas A&M head coach Pat Henry said he didn’t even think Brazier was in “great shape” yet just “pretty good shape” as he’d mainly been doing fartlek workouts on grass.
So we asked Brazier if he was in better shape now than at the end of January.
“I definitely think I’m in better shape. When I ran that 1:45 I was doing just a bunch of grass training,” said Brazier, who said he’s now doing “repeat 200s and 150s.” When asked specifically if the collegiate record could go down, Brazier responded, “Anything is possible whether it’s me or my teammate (Hector Hernandez, the #5 seed at 1:46.32). I think it will be [a fast race], so yeah I think it’s possible.”
As for how the race will play out, Brazier is very confident it will play out just like the SEC final as Hector Hernandez loves to take it out hard. “I think SECs was good a rehearsal for NCAAs as we had Hector it and (Andres) Arroyo (of Florida) in it,” said Brazier who expects to have the lead at 600 and hopes to be able to hold off everyone in the final 200.
Ole Miss shot put star Raven Saunders won both indoor and outdoor shot put titles in 2015 as a freshman for Southern Illinois but now is in the SEC as she followed her coaches Connie Price-Smith and John Smith to Ole Miss. Considering Saunders has thrown more than two feet farther indoors this year than last, that her season best of 63’1.25″ (19.23m) is the farthest throw in NCAA history (indoors or out), and that she’s ranked #2 in the world, it’s safe to say that she’s a heavy favorite to win NCAA title #3.
Saunders said she never hesitated to not transfer with her coaches to Ole Miss. “For me, I go with the saying, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.'”
As for why she’s so much better in 2016 than 2015, Saunders said it was easy to explain. She said she’s much more mature and focused this year than last as her “mentality changed a lot.” Last year was about being a college freshman and learning how to be a “regular student” — now she’s focused on being a dominant student-athlete. The fact that it’s an Olympic year probably makes it a little easier for Saunders to stay focused as Rio is one of her biggest motivators (her indoor mark would have been the #6 mark in the world in 2015).
Saunders said this is the first season where she’s done it all. She admitted that last year she didn’t take her “base training” as seriously as she should have but was able to pull “it together at the end.” In high school, Saunders did the opposite – she worked very hard during her base phase but said she “BS’d it at the end.”
When asked if she’d ever considered doing U.S. Indoors instead of NCAAs, Saunders said she’d have plenty of time to go to World meets in the future as she’s a thrower and they have long career lifespans. She said it’s not as if she’s a sprinter who could be hurt tomorrow.
On the men’s side of things, Texas’s Ryan Crouser, who tied Ryan Whiting for the NCAA indoor record at 71’3.5″ (21.73m) at Big 12s, said he definitely wants to break Whiting’s record and he’s also looking at the all-time NCAA mark of 72’2.25″ (22.00m) set by John Godina outdoors.
Crouser said Big 12s was the first week he backed off in training and he hopes to start with better throws early on in Birmingham as he always improves as the competition goes along. Since he’s the world leader for 2016, Crouser was asked if he ever considered going to World Indoors instead of NCAAs. He said he never crossed his mind to forgo his final NCAA meet (he doesn’t have NCAA outdoor eligibility) as he said, “I’d rather set it here and be with my team.”
NCAA XC champ Molly Seidel, who came within 7.42 seconds of the fastest 5000 ever run by a collegian on a 200-meter track (15:19.64 versus 15:12.22) at ACCs, said she was surprised by how fast she ran at ACCs (15:19/9:02) and that the collegiate record wasn’t a goal of hers in that race.
4) Don’t be surprised if the Florida women win the NCAA title even though they were just 4th at SECs
Florida coach Mike Holloway wasn’t concerned by the fact that his team was only 4th at SECs. He pointed out that when the Gator men won their two NCAA outdoor titles (2012 and 2013), they didn’t win the SEC title either of those years (they were 4th in 2012 and 2nd in 2013).
“We’re a better national team than we are a conference team,” said Holloway.
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