2017 NCAA Indoor Women’s Mile Preview: Oklahoma State’s Kaela Edwards Aims to Become First Repeat Champion Since 1990
March 8, 2017
The 2017 indoor track and field season culminates this weekend at the 2017 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships in College Station, Texas. We’ll be on-site in the Lone Star State starting Thursday, but before we get down there we’ve previewed the mid-d/distance events so that you can know what to watch for at the meet. Below you’ll find our look at the women’s mile, where Oklahoma State’s Kaela Edwards is seeking to become the first repeat winner in 27 years.
TV/Streaming: The meet will be streamed live on Watch ESPN.
Women’s mile (prelims Friday 6:30 p.m. ET, final Saturday 5:00 p.m. ET)
|Kaela Edwards||SR||Oklahoma St.||4:28.75||4:28.75||Defending champ; her time at Millrose was #8 ever among collegians|
|Elinor Purrier||JR||New Hampshire||4:29.44||4:29.44||3rd last year; her time at Millrose was #9 ever among collegians|
|Danae Rivers||FR||Penn State||4:32.55||4:32.55||A revelation as a frosh, Rivers won Big 10s + has run 2:04 for 800|
|Siofra Cleirigh Buttner||JR||Villanova||4:33.16||4:33.16||Big East 800 champ|
|Grace Barnett||JR||Clemson||4:33.40||4:33.40||10th last year; 2nd in ACC mile|
|Nicole Hutchinson||SO||Villanova||4:36.16||4:36.16||Big East 3k champ|
|Jessica Harris||JR||Notre Dame||4:33.80||4:33.80||Move up from 800 has been big success as she won ACC mile|
|Amy-Eloise Neale||JR||Washington||4:34.15||4:34.15||3rd MPSF; 8th at NCAA XC|
|Millie Paladino||JR||Providence||4:34.49||4:34.49||Big East champ|
|Frances Schmiede||SR||Yale||4:34.54||4:34.54||Runner-up in 800 at Heps|
|Nikki Hiltz||JR||Arkansas||4:35.10||4:35.10||8th in ’15; 4th at SECs this year|
|Karisa Nelson||JR||Samford||4:38.27||4:38.27||SoCon champ; went out in prelims in NCAA 1500|
|Megan Moye||SR||NC State||4:36.76||4:36.76||Ran 4:11 for 1500 last year|
|Sophie Connor||SR||New Mexico||4:36.89||4:36.89||11th in NCAA 1500 last year|
|Therese Haiss||SR||Arkansas||4:37.27||4:37.27||5th at SECs|
|Kennedy Weisner||JR||Georgetown||4:37.92||4:37.92||4th at Big Easts|
No woman has won consecutive NCAA mile titles since Wisconsin’s Suzy Favor in 1989 and 1990 (yes, she was a pretty good runner before becoming famous for other things). Oklahoma State’s Kaela Edwards has a chance to end that drought on Saturday afternoon, and there’s a lot to like about her chances. For starters, Edwards has ripped some historically fast times in 2017. She broke the NCAA 1000 record in her season opener on January 13, running 2:40.79, and followed that up with a 4:28.75 mile at Millrose (#8 all-time among collegians). A converted 800 runner, Edwards has always possessed formidable speed, something no one who watched NCAAs last year will forget: she closed her final 200 in 29.86 seconds; no one else was under 31. She also has a stellar track record at NCAA Indoors, taking third and second in the 800 as a freshman and sophomore before winning the mile as a junior.
While Edwards is undoubtedly fitter than she was at this time last year, she comes to NCAAs at a different point in her training than in 2016. In years past, Edwards has struggled with injuries during the outdoor season — in four years at Oklahoma State (counting her redshirt season), she’s run at the outdoor Big 12 meet just once. As a result, she and Smith have tinkered her training with an eye on staying healthy all the way through June. She’s running more miles, but with less intensity.
“Every year, we’ve kind of gone to faster paced running in workouts in about mid-February and extended that into April,” Smith said. “And usually it’s about April when she gets hurt. We kind of feel it starts to go a little bit south when we start introducing that higher intensity stuff. We’ve just been really careful to avoid that [this year]. She hasn’t done anything faster than mile race pace, really, in a workout.”
That doesn’t mean that she won’t be able to kick at NCAAs. At Big 12s, she won the 800 in 2:04.77, and Smith timed her final 200 in 28.9.
“Some athletes, I don’t know how much they have to run at that pace or those intensities in workouts to be ready to do that in a race,” Smith said, pointing to her 2:03.60 800 season opener last year after doing very little work at race pace over winter break.
The #2 seed is New Hampshire’s Elinor Purrier, who was third last year and, like Edwards, she has only gotten better in 2017. She was only .69 behind Edwards at Millrose, running 4:29.44, a time that is three seconds better than anyone else in the field, save Edwards. She’s also improved her 800 speed, clocking a PR of 2:04.02 to win the 800 at the America East Champs.
The problem is, Edwards is a better 800 runner (she’s run 2:01 outdoors) and has enough strength (9:06 3k pb) that it’s going to take a huge effort from Purrier to drop her. Last year, Purrier went to the front early but didn’t run nearly fast enough to drop Edwards. But even if Purrier can run a 4:29 from the front (a big ask when 4:29 is your PR), Edwards has already shown that she’s capable of 4:28. It’s a tough situation for Purrier — and for the rest of the field.
That’s why we don’t think that Purrier has the best chance of springing the upset. Instead, consider Penn State true freshman Danae Rivers. Rivers, who attended the same high school as former Nittany Lions star Cas Loxsom (Wilbur Cross in New Haven, Conn.), has a lot of talent and great range. She ran 2:05 in the 800 as a high school junior and has made an immediate impact this winter, breaking Penn State school records in the 600 (1:29.06), 800 (2:04.04) and mile (4:34.87, since lowered to 4:32.55) in her first three races. She also crushed the field in the Big 10 800 final, winning by over two seconds. Rivers, who just turned 19 last month, is four years younger than the 23-year-old Edwards, and that experience gap may be too much for her to overcome. It would be a big upset if Rivers won, but not unprecedented. In 2010, true freshman Robby Andrews took down Olympian Andrew Wheating to win the 800 at this same meet.
Villanova’s Siofra Cleirigh Buttner also has serious 800 speed (her 2:01.98 PR is just .01 behind Edwards’) and anchored Villanova’s 4×1500 squad to victory at last year’s Penn Relays. She could be a factor if the race goes slow. However, Buttner, like Rivers, may have to run the DMR on Friday, something Edwards and Purrier won’t have to deal with.
LRC prediction: This is Edwards’ race to lose and she always shows up big at NCAA Indoors. She gets her second NCAA title.
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