From No-Name to National Champ: Samford’s Karisa Nelson Outkicks UNH’s Elinor Purrier to Win the 2017 NCAA Indoor Mile

March 11, 2017

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Samford’s Karisa Nelson, only the 12th seed coming into to NCAAs, won the NCAA indoor mile in a huge upset, kicking past New Hampshire’s Elinor Purrier down the final straight to win in 4:31.24 to Purrier’s 4:31.88 as they were clearly best today with freshman Danae Rivers of Penn State third in 4:33.89 and defending champ Kaela Edwards 4th.

Nelson’s win may have been a huge upset based on seed times, but Nelson showed her 3-second PR in the prelims on Friday was no fluke and backed it up in the biggest way possible, by winning the NCAA title.

The Race

Defending champ Kaela Edwards took this one out really fast as the first 209 meters was covered in 33.33 (4:16 mile pace).

Talk about shocked: Karisa Nelson couldn't believe it herself Talk about shocked: Karisa Nelson couldn’t believe it herself

Edwards would lead at 409 m (68.85) but the pace was slowing and Grace Barnett of Clemson took over by 600 and would lead at 809 (2:17.78). At the conclusion of five laps, Edwards went to the front as the contenders began to get antsy. Elinor Purrier took over the lead that lap and pushed the pace as she, Edwards and Nelson opened up a gap on the rest of the field by 1209 (3:26.75). Purrier kept leading but Nelson tried to get the lead from her at the bell but was unsuccessful as Purrier held her off. The burst of speed separated them a tad from Edwards and it was a two-woman race for the championship.

Purrier kept the lead onto the backstretch and then Nelson made one more attempt for the lead going into the final turn. She’d run on the outside of Purrier shoulder-to-shoulder on the final turn until they hit the home straight, when Nelson was able to separate and get the win.

She was ecstatic afterwards saying on the ESPN broadcast, “I can’t believe it. I came in [seeded] 12th and I just won.” John Anderson asked her how she did it and she responded with some simple advice, “I don’t know, I just stayed on her and I sprinted at the end. I just raced.”

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Then she had some words all LRCers can appreciate, “I’ve been imaging this moment for the last two weeks. It was my dream come true.”


1 9 Karisa NELSON JR Samford 4:31.24 33.60 [33.60] 1:09.09 [35.49] 1:43.14 [34.05] 2:17.91 [34.78] 2:52.80 [34.89] 3:27.13 [34.34] 4:00.40 [33.28] 4:31.24 [30.84]
2 5 Elinor PURRIER JR New Hampshire 4:31.88 33.49 [33.49] 1:08.97 [35.48] 1:43.16 [34.19] 2:17.76 [34.60] 2:52.97 [35.21] 3:26.75 [33.79] 4:00.34 [33.60] 4:31.88 [31.54]
3 6 Danae RIVERS FR Penn State 4:33.89 33.38 [33.38] 1:08.90 [35.53] 1:43.28 [34.38] 2:17.97 [34.69] 2:53.22 [35.25] 3:28.05 [34.84] 4:01.57 [33.52] 4:33.89 [32.32]
4 1 Kaela EDWARDS SR Oklahoma State 4:34.27 33.33 [33.33] 1:08.85 [35.52] 1:42.99 [34.15] 2:17.74 [34.75] 2:52.69 [34.96] 3:26.96 [34.28] 4:00.61 [33.65] 4:34.27 [33.67]
5 10 Therese HAISS SR Arkansas 4:34.54 33.81 [33.81] 1:09.72 [35.92] 1:44.28 [34.57] 2:18.60 [34.32] 2:53.54 [34.95] 3:28.07 [34.53] 4:02.35 [34.29] 4:34.54 [32.19]
6 4 Nikki HILTZ JR Arkansas 4:34.57 33.66 [33.66] 1:09.27 [35.62] 1:43.65 [34.38] 2:18.36 [34.72] 2:53.44 [35.09] 3:27.85 [34.42] 4:02.18 [34.33] 4:34.57 [32.40]
7 7 Millie PALADINO JR Providence 4:34.62 33.96 [33.96] 1:09.29 [35.34] 1:44.11 [34.82] 2:18.75 [34.65] 2:53.78 [35.04] 3:28.64 [34.86] 4:03.33 [34.70] 4:34.62 [31.29]
8 2 Siofra CLEIRIGH BUTTNER JR Villanova 4:34.78 34.04 [34.04] 1:09.45 [35.41] 1:44.35 [34.91] 2:18.88 [34.53] 2:53.68 [34.81] 3:28.40 [34.72] 4:02.50 [34.11] 4:34.78 [32.28]
9 8 Amy-Eloise NEALE JR Washington 4:35.12 33.73 [33.73] 1:09.57 [35.85] 1:44.82 [35.26] 2:19.92 [35.10] 2:55.07 [35.15] 3:29.59 [34.52] 4:02.87 [33.29] 4:35.12 [32.25]
10 3 Grace BARNETT JR Clemson 4:38.27 33.84 [33.84] 1:09.05 [35.22] 1:42.87 [33.82] 2:17.67 [34.81] 2:52.74 [35.08] 3:28.53 [35.79] 4:03.47 [34.94] 4:38.27 [34.81]

QT #1: You’ve Got to Dream It and Then Believe It

The final turn The final turn

Karisa’s biggest concern prior to two weeks ago was whether she would get into the meet. She ended up getting in as the 12th seed. Once she was in the meet, she and her coach, Pat McGregor, both had the belief she could win.

When asked if she thought she could win she said, “I really did. I felt like I had a chance. Maybe a 25% chance.” She noted that last year she lowered her mile PR by 13 seconds and that gave her confidence for a big improvement this year. She had some nerves because last year at NCAA outdoors she was only 9th in her heat.

Karisa has had three different distance coaches in three years at Samford (Lori Strand, whose husband was former US marathon hopeful Scott Strand, Kevin Ondrasek, now at Oklahoma, and now Pat McGregor, only 26 years old, sub-4-minute miler, former Big 12 1000m champ) but said each one was helpful to her. “Each coach I’ve had has helped me tremendously.”  

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Karisa believing she could win NCAAs this year may sound crazy to some, but how about the belief last year when she was a 4:28 1500m runner until April 1 (she ran 4:15.12 on May 28th) that she could run professionally? She said, “Last year I decided I wanted to run professionally. I walked up to my coach (Ondrasek) and [said] ‘I want to run professional.’ He said ‘Karisa, your PR in the 1500 is 4:28.’ [I said] ‘Yeah I’m going to work on it.’ He said yeah I believe in you. I’m going to help you.”

The rest is now history even if there is a part of it that is hard for Karisa herself to believe. “I can’t believe I was worried about making it into nationals and I just won.”

QT #2: Pat McGregor just coached a national champion at age 26

McGregor, a Texas alum, is in his first year of coaching. A former runner of the NJ*NY Track Club under the legendary Frank Gagliano, McGregor couldn’t have a better start to his coaching career. Plus he’s a Birmingham native (Samford is in Birmingham).

McGregor praised Nelson’s previous coaches for their work in developing her. Ondrasek would tell him about the workouts he was running, and once McGregor took over in the fall, he knew right away that Nelson was special.

“As soon as I saw her do strides on the first day of practice, I was like, ‘I got one,’” McGregor said.

McGregor knows that the external expectations for an athlete change once their names are preceded by the words “national champion” but he plans to do his best to keep his star pupil humble.

“I’m no better a coach than I was two hours ago, and I don’t think she’s any better of an athlete obviously,” McGregor said. “But now everyone’s perception of her is going to change. And that’s maybe unfair to her. I just think we just keep it simple and she’s got to learn that she’s got to earn it every single time she steps on that track. Just because she won a national championship today, two weeks later nobody’s going to care.”


QT #3: Elinor Purrier was proud of how she ran today

Purrier was second today, moving up from third last year, and was happy with her effort, even if she would have liked to have move a little earlier than she did. Purrier knew that Nelson was right on her at the end of the race but she just didn’t have quite enough to hold her off

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