2016 NCAA Outdoor Men’s 5K/10K Preview: After Losing Twice In The Regular Season, Is Edward Cheserek Finally Vulnerable At NCAAs?

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By LetsRun.com
June 6, 2016

The 2016 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships start on Wednesday in Eugene, Oregon, with the men’s competition taking place on Wednesday and Friday and the women’s on Thursday and Saturday. We’ll be previewing all the mid-d/distance events before the meet. Below you’ll find our previews of the men’s 5,000 and 10,000, where Oregon’s Edward Cheserek will aim to defend his titles. Normally Cheserek would be a slam dunk in any race he enters but he’s already lost twice this spring and could be vulnerable. Sean McGortyThomas CurtinJustyn Knight and Patrick Tiernan are the top challengers to the throne.

Schedule * TV/streaming information

Men’s 10,000 (final Wednesday, 10:08 p.m. ET)

Entries (2015 finish in parentheses)

Name Year School PB SB Comment
Edward Cheserek (1) JR Oregon 28:30.18 28:58.57 Has had some hiccups but still is favored for 3rd straight title
Futsum Zienasellassie (12) SR N. Arizona 27:52.70 27:52.70 NCAA leader this year by 44 seconds; 4th in NCAA 5k indoors
Pierce Murphy (5) SR Colorado 28:48.79 28:48.79 5th last year; 3rd at NCAA XC and in NCAA indoor 5k
Gabe Gonzalez SR Arkansas 29:01.62 29:01.62  3rd at SECs
Luke Traynor JR Tulsa 29:10.19 29:10.19 AAC champ
Reed Fischer SO Drake 29:09.86 29:09.86  Only 5th at MVC Champs in 5k.
Reid Buchanan SR Portland 29:18.74 29:18.74  Has good speed for 10k guy (3:44 pb).
Connor McMillan SO BYU 29:13.87 29:15.02  84th at NCAA xc
Tyler King SR Washington 28:59.37 29:09.15 3rd at Pac-12s
Ryan Rutherford SR Ill. St. 28:41.23 29:15.86  Ran 13:49 and 28:41 last year.
Lane Werley SR UCLA 29:07.23 29:07.23 2nd at Pac-12s
Charles Mathenge SR SFA 29:23.59 29:23.59  Ok State transfer was 189th at NCAA xc.
Amon Terer SR Campbell 28:54.42 28:54.42 Won East prelim
Antibahs Kosgei JR Alabama 29:19.63 29:19.63  Did 10k (2nd), 5k (5th), steeple (10th) triple at SECs
Jacob Thomson SO Kentucky 29:01.34 29:01.34 Won SEC 10k (after race was restarted after 3 laps due to darkness)
Luis Vargas SR NC St. 29:16.20 29:16.20 2nd at ACCs, ahead of Justyn Knight; 5th at NCAA indoor 5k
Erik Peterson JR Butler 28:26.08 28:44.18  Runner-up in Big East 5k, was 12th at NCAA XC
Ben Flanagan SO Michigan 29:13.72 29:13.72 Canadian won Big 10 champs
Lawrence Kipkoech (10) SO Campbell 29:11.00 29:11.00 10th last year
Shaun Thompson SR Duke 28:47.48 28:47.48  95th in xc, 4th at ACCs in steeple and 5k
Jonathan Green SO Georgetown 28:56.45 29:33.57 5th at NCAA XC
Colin Bennie SO Syracuse 28:52.72 28:52.72 8th at NCAA XC
George Parsons JR NC St. 29:11.87 29:11.87  63rd at NCAA XC, 6th in ACC 5k
Philo Germano SO Syracuse 29:04.60 29:04.60 AA in xc as he was Syracuse’s #4 (39th)
Which Cheserek will show up at NCAAs?

Which Cheserek will show up at NCAAs?

Let’s face facts. It took a while for Edward Cheserek to start looking like Edward Cheserek this outdoor season. After shouldering a superhuman burden at NCAA indoors in winning the 3,000 and 5,000 and anchoring Oregon to victory in the DMR, Cheserek looked gassed in the 5,000 at the Pepsi Invitational on April 9. When Washington’s Colby Gilbert kicked with 200 to go, Cheserek did not (and likely could not) go with him, and Gilbert won easily in the end, 13:44.96 to Cheserek’s 13:50.82. A month later, it happened again, as Sam Atkin of NAIA Lewis-Clark State blew by him at the end of the 3k, 7:56.70 to 7:57.26. In his first two years at Oregon, Cheserek lost just once at Hayward Field, to Lawi Lalang in the epic 2014 NCAA 5k final. This spring, it happened twice in four weeks.

Since then, Cheserek has won all three of his races, but two of those came at the West prelim where winning is secondary to qualifying. The other was at Pac-12s, where Cheserek earned a convincing nine-second victory in the 10,000 — a good run, even though his main NCAA competition were absent. Typically it’s hard to tell much about Cheserek from his regular season performance as he tends to show just enough to run his qualifying times, win his conference meet and make it to NCAAs. This time, it’s even harder to figure out what kind of shape Cheserek is in and how recovered he is from the calf and hamstring problems that plagued him earlier this season. That makes for some unpredictability in events normally rendered snoozefests because of Cheserek’s brilliance.

In looking at this 10,000, though, we don’t expect Cheserek to lose for two reasons.

  1. The quality up front in this 10,000 isn’t all that great.
  2. Cheserek may be starting to return to form.

In terms of the quality fo the field, Cheserek ran 28:58.57 at Pac-12s even though he wasn’t pushed; only Northern Arizona’s Futsum Zienasellassie has run significantly faster than that in 2016 (27:52 at Payton Jordan). Colorado’s Pierce Murphy is really good as he was 3rd at NCAA XC and3rd in the indoor 5k, but he was nowhere close to Cheserek in either of those races and his PR (28:48) is almost a minute slower than Zienasellassie’s. Butler’s Erik Peterson has the #2 PR (28:26) and #2 time in the country this year (28:44) but he lost to Murphy in the 5k at Mt. SAC.

Many of the people in this field aren’t even conference champs. Only 12 people in the NCAA have broken 29:00 this year. Yes, we know many people may not be going all out in 10,000s any more in the middle of the season as you only need to hit the regional time but that was also true in 2015 when 22 guys broke 29:00 and in 2014 when 21 guys broke 29. The facts are if you are going to beat an in-form Cheserek, you need to be in 27-minute shape and there is zero indication that anyone in the field is in that type of shape except for Zienasellassie. In 2014, when Cheserek won his first NCAA 10,000 title had had to beat 27-minute performers Shadrack Kipchirchir (27:36) and Kennedy Kithuka (27:41). Last year, he had to beat Jason Witt (27:54) and Eric Jenkins (who just last week ran under 28). This year there is only one potential challenger.

If anyone’s going to beat Cheserek, it’s Futsum Zienasellassie. We just don’t think he will. Everything from the West prelims has to be taken with a grain of salt as getting top 12 is all that matters, but the signs from Cheserek were very encouraging. He won the 10k by five seconds, closing in 2:02.28 (64.09/58.19) for his last 800; the next day, he won his section of the 5k by almost two seconds, closing in 1:55.17 for his last 800 (59.01/56.16). The winning times were unremarkable (29:45 and 14:10), which certainly made it easier for Cheserek to close hard. But Cheserek sent a message to the rest of the NCAA (and himself): yeah, I’ve still got some speed in these legs.

Zienasellassie’s best (perhaps only) chance of winning is to drive that kick out of Cheserek’s legs. In the past, this approach has failed unless the opponent was a true stud (such as Lalang in the 5,000 in ’14) but given that Cheserek may have been limited in training this spring, it might take less effort than normal to slow him down at the end of a race.

LRC Prediction: Zienasellassie is a fine runner, and after redshirting last fall, he’s made a big leap forward on the track in 2016, taking 4th at NCAA indoors and running PRs of 13:37 and 27:52 this spring. But Cheserek showed enough at Pac-12s and regionals for us to think he’s close to his old form. With an extra two weeks to prepare since regionals, he should be even better at NCAAs. He’s our pick for the win.

Men’s 5,000 (final Friday, 10:25 p.m. ET)

Name Year School PB SB Comment
Thomas Curtin (7) SR Va. Tech 13:33.88 13:33.88 ACC 5k/10k champ was 2nd at NCAA indoors
Justyn Knight (6) SO Syracuse 13:27.23 13:27.23 Only 3rd in ACC 10k; 3rd in NCAA indoor 3k
Woody Kincaid (5) SR Portland 13:44.34 13:51.35 Hurt indoors but 5th last year (#2 returner)
Chartt Miller SO Iona 14:01.14 14:01.14  43rd in NCAA XC
Arse’ne Guillorel SO Samford 13:54.22 13:54.22  164th at NCAA xc
Patrick Tiernan (10) SR Villanova 13:25.78 13:25.78 NCAA XC runner-up was 4th at Aussie champs in March
Ryan Walling SR Ole Miss 13:49.44 13:49.44  Has thrived since transferring from UNC. 7th indoors.
Thomas Awad SR Penn 13:33.29 13:41.77 3rd in NCAA mile indoors
Edward Cheserek (1) JR Oregon 13:18.71 13:50.82 Defending champ has lost 2x this spring but looking like old self recently
Amon Terer SR Campbell 13:58.32 13:58.32  1st NCAA appearance but made it in both 10k and 5k (won 10k at regional)
Lawrence Kipkoech SO Campbell 13:53.97 13:57.77 Big South champ was 10th in 10k at NCAAs in ’15
Morgan McDonald FR Wisconsin 13:34.78 13:34.78  13:34 is very fast for someone who just turend 20 in April. Australian.
Colby Gilbert SO Washington 13:35.20 13:35.20 Pac-12 champ beat Cheserek in a 5k on April 9
Steven Flynn JR George Mason 13:55.26 13:55.26  A10 5k champ ran 14:16 last year.
Sean McGorty (8) SO Stanford 13:24.25 13:24.25 NCAA leader was 2nd in NCAA indoor 3k; 5th at Pac-12s in 1500
Tony Smoragiewicz JR Michigan 14:02.70 14:02.70  72nd at NCAA xc, 5th in Big 10 5k.
James Dwyer SR Clemson 13:54.57 13:54.57  Bounced back and made NCAAs after failing to score at ACCs.
Patrick Corona SR Air Force 13:37.24 13:37.24  115th in xc, 9th in NCAA indoor 3k.
Cerake Geberkidane FR Okla. St. 13:51.79 13:51.79 Big 12 5k/10k champ
Morgan Pearson (17) SR Colorado 13:36.22 13:36.79 Pac-12 runner-up was 6th at NCAA indoors
Vegard Oelstad SR Okla. St. 14:02.13 14:02.13  252nd in XC, 4th at Big 12s in 5k.
Grant Fisher FR Stanford 13:39.42 13:39.42 Ran 13:39 in his 5k debut last month but didn’t make Pac-12 final in 1500
Jake Leingang (12) SO Oregon 13:43.04 13:43.04  9th indoors, 5th at Pac 12s outdoors.
Rory Linkletter FR BYU 13:59.60 13:59.60  19-year old Canadian.

Entries (2015 finish in parentheses)

Returners from NCAA indoor final:
1. Edward Cheserek, Oregon 13:47.89
2. Thomas Curtin, Virginia Tech 13:50.70
6. Morgan Pearson, Colorado 13:53.22
7. Ryan Walling, Ole Miss 13:53.52
9. Jake Leingang, Oregon 14:00.27

Obviously, it’s much easier to make 5k predictions after the 10k is run on Wednesday night. If Cheserek wins that easily, he’s our pick for the 5k as well. If he loses, we don’t think he wins the 5k either. But since we can’t see into the future, we’ll do our best to analyze the 5k beforehand.

Cheserek’s chances of losing the 5k are much greater than in the 10k. A small part of that is that Cheserek, unlike the other 5k contenders, will have Wednesday’s 10k in his legs. And of course, the same questions surrounding Cheserek’s health that we discussed in the 10k section linger here. But the biggest issue by far is that the competition in the 5k is far, far better than in the 10k. There are multiple heavily-credentialed guys all lining up to take a swipe at Cheserek.

There’s no one guy who’s clearly the best bet to challenge Cheserek. Virginia Tech’s Thomas Curtin was a clear second at NCAA indoors and swept the ACC titles at 5k and 10k over some very strong competition (NC State’s Luis Vargas in both events; Syracuse’s Justyn Knight in the 10k). He’s not afraid to attack races from the front, a strategy that enabled him to hand Cheserek his only defeat of the 2015 cross country season. But at Payton Jordan, Curtin finished a distant fourth among collegians, losing to Sean McGortyPatrick Tiernan and Knight by 6+ seconds each. Since all four of those guys have a shot at the NCAA title (assuming Ches is less than 100%), let’s just list the results from the Payton Jordan 5k along with the contenders’ credentials:

7. Sean McGorty, Stanford 13:24.25 (2nd in NCAA indoors 3k; 3:53 mile pb; 5th in Pac-12 1500)
9. Patrick Tiernan, Villanova 13:25.78 (2nd at NCAA XC, 26 seconds ahead of anyone not named Cheserek; 4th at Aussie Champs in 5k on 3/31)
10. Justyn Knight, Syracuse 13:27.23 (4th at NCAA XC; 3rd in NCAA indoor 3k; .30 behind McGorty; only 3rd in ACC 10k)
12. Thomas Curtin, Virginia Tech 13:33.88 (discussed above)

Knight and McGorty battled in Birmingham in March

Knight and McGorty battled in Birmingham in March

Knight’s certainly a top-3 contender and may win several NCAA titles before he’s done (he’s a true sophomore), but he lost to two guys at both Payton Jordan and ACCs. Tiernan and Curtin have a better case, but the guy with the best chance to beat Cheserek is probably McGorty. His 5th in the Pac-12 1500 doesn’t sound that impressive, but the Pac-12 is by far the best 1500 conference in the country. He lost to four of the nine fastest 1500 guys in the country in that race, including the leader Izaic Yorks (one of the NCAA 1500 favorites) and Sam Prakel, who was 4th in the mile at NCAA indoors. Plus he was second indoors in the 3k and beat Tiernan, Knight and Curtin to run the NCAA leader at Payton Jordan. But as we said earlier, all of these guys have a chance to vie for the win should Cheserek falter.

There’s also Washington’s Gilbert, who already beat Cheserek once over 5k this spring and won Pac-12s in a very quick 13:35. Portland’s Woody Kincaid was kicking with the leaders on the final turn last year and is the top returner behind Cheserek (5th). Just as a year ago, Kincaid had the quickest time at the West prelims, but he’s been banged up in 2016 and only ran 13:51 at Payton Jordan, finishing 4th in section 3. Penn’s Thomas Awad has a 13:33 PR and was 3rd in the mile indoors, but he’s struggled at NCAA outdoors: he was 18th as a freshman in 2013, didn’t qualify in 2014 and was a DNF last year.

All this discussion is nice in theory, but it fails to mention one thing…

Cheserek is WAY better than everyone else when healthy.

Betting against Cheserek (at the collegiate level) is like betting against Usain Bolt or Mo Farah: you don’t want to do it unless you have an extremely good reason. And despite Cheserek’s early-season losses, he showed enough at regionals to make him the man to beat in Eugene. Cheserek has come through too many times before — and Ducks distance coach Andy Powell is too good at peaking his athletes — for us to go against Cheserek in this one (assuming his injuries have gotten better and not worse since regionals). There’s also no Justin Gatlin or Geoffrey Kamworor to challenge him, someone clearly superior to the rest of the contenders. Cheserek has 11 NCAA titles, 13 if you include relays. The rest of the field? Zero.

LRC Prediction: His injuries this spring will narrow the canyon-sized gap between Cheserek and the NCAA in this race, but not enough to prevent a second straight NCAA title.

Talk about the meet in our world famous fan forum / messageboard: Official 2016 NCAA Men’s Outdoor Track and Field Discussion Thread.


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