2019 NCAA DMR Preview: Why Every Men’s Team Won’t Win the DMR (& Why the Oregon Women Will)

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By Robert Johnson
March 5, 2019

Confession: I’ve always hated the distance medley relay. A relay is supposed to be about who has the best four runners. Often, nothing happens on the first three legs of the DMR and then there is a tactical 1600. Which means the race usually comes down to one question: “Who has the best miler?”

I’d much prefer the NCAA go back to the 4 x 800.

Anyway, now that I have that out there, naturally LetsRun decided that I should be the one that writes the DMR preview for 2019 NCAA Indoors.

I think I might as well continue with the hate. As I glanced down the list of entrants for the men’s DMR to prepare to write this preview, the only thoughts that passed through my head were negative ones. So below I’ll go through the leading contenders and start by telling you why I don’t think they’ll win. Of course, one team has to win so I did go back and add in why each team has a shot. In the end, I make a prediction.

Then I’ll take a look at the women’s race.

*Full men’s and women’s entries

Breakdown of Men’s DMR

#1 seed Notre Dame – How did they make the meet?

Why they won’t win: So the Irish are seeded number one and they ran the second-fastest time in NCAA history and I’m supposed to be impressed by that? Sorry, when I look up their roster, I’m almost surprised they even made the meet.

Take a look at the recent results of three of the four team members — three guys who didn’t even make the finals of the ACC meet in their specialty. And yet this team has a legitimate shot at winning the DMR? That’s exactly why I hate the DMR.

Dylan Jacobs, freshman (1200 leg) – Didn’t make the mile final at ACCs after running 4:17 in the prelims, but I heard that he fell in that race. If that’s true, he gets a pass on that result.
Edward Cheatham, senior (400 leg) – Ran 48.93 and failed to make the 400 final at ACCs. He has a college pb of 48.58. Are you joking? When my alma mater Princeton won the DMR a few years ago, the Ivy League school had the fastest 400 split of the night — 46.35. That’s an Ivy League school. How in the world does the best 400 runner at a school with a football team like Notre Dame’s only run 48? Go out to football practice and borrow a guy. I promise there have to be several that can split 46.
Samuel Voelz, sophomore (800 leg) – Didn’t make the 800 final at ACCs after running 1:51.87 in the prelims. Lifetime pb of 1:50.80. Guy ran a D3 Depauw last year as a freshman.

Ok, to be fair, I should be impressed by the credentials of Dylan Jacobs. My brain reminds me that he was the Foot Locker champion in high school, and I always love the Foot Locker champ. But my memory is getting worse and worse, so I decided to confirm that fact by checking out the Notre Dame website and now I’m not so sure. Seriously, take a look at the embarrassment that is the Notre Dame track and field website. A school with the resources of Notre Dame can’t even type up a bio for Dylan Jacobs on its website? Sorry. If the school’s PR department doesn’t give shit about track and field, why should I?

(BTW, Jacobs did win Foot Locker in 2017 — you can learn more about it here).

And what is the Foot Locker champ – that means he’s got great endurance – doing running the 1200 leg? Clearly having won Foot Locker, the moment won’t probably be too big for him, but if he doesn’t keep them in it on the opening leg, the race will be lost. What happens if the opening leg goes out in 1:52-3? Does he have enough speed to handle that?

Why they might win: Their anchor Yared Nuguse is a STUD. My God, are his results this year impressive. He already outkicked NCAA 1500 champ Oliver Hoare when ND ran their 9:26, splitting 3:54. Then he ran a 3:57 mile at ACCs in a race when second place was 4:03. That’s incredible. And he’s going to be fresh as he’s just doing the DMR whereas a lot of the other anchors are coming back after the mile prelims. If he gets the stick near the leaders, I think ND will win, but they could easily be out of it by the time it gets to the anchor.

Remember, last year as a true freshman, Nuguse split 3:56 and walked down Grant Fisher to take Notre Dame to a second-place finish.

#2 seed Wisconsin – Their anchor is a stud but he won’t be fresh

Why they won’t win: Running totally fresh, they lost to Notre Dame in qualifying for the meet. Notre Dame’s Yared Nuguse outkicked NCAA 1500 champ Oliver Hoare. At NCAAs, I’m supposed to believe that Hoare will beat Nuguse, even though Nuguse will be fresh (he’s just doing the DMR) and Hoare will be tired after having run the mile prelims? That seems like a stretch.

Another thing I hate about Wisconsin is it is embarrassing that they are another Power 5 school that has no one good in the 400. The best anyone on their roster has run this year is 49.48. Again, go out to football practice and borrow a guy. But it’s stats like that that just piss me off as it reminds me that football coaches rarely let their studs run track anymore. And yet they complain they have no speed on the football team unless they are an SEC school.

Also it’s possible that NCAA XC champ Morgan McDonald runs the 1200 leg here after running the 5000 final before. That’s a lot to ask of him since he’d only have about 20 minutes between races. The 5000 final starts at 8:27 p.m. — which means McDonald will be finished running around 8:41 — and the DMR starts at 9:02.

Why they might win: Hoare is the NCAA 1500 champ. He’s a 3:54 miler.

#3 seed Ole Miss – More tired bodies 

Why they won’t win: The DMR normally comes down to who has the very best miler, not the very best team, and Ole Miss has a bunch of studs running individual events. To be honest, it’s hard to hate on Ole Miss in the middle distances because coach Ryan Vanhoy has multiple sub-4 guys each and every year — this year they have 3:56 miler Waleed Suliman and 3:58 miler Derek Gutierrez. And they actually have a 47-second 400 man in James Burnett.

But it’s possible the Ole Miss studs don’t even run the relay. They may just focus on the mile. And if they do, they will be tired, so I’m certainly not picking them to win.

Why they might win: Two sub-4 guys is pretty good. No obvious huge weak spot.

#4 seed Indiana – Their anchor is going to be tired

Why they won’t win: Their anchor Kyle Mau is a 3:57.61 miler. That’s the good news. The bad news is he’s coming back from the mile prelims (Notre Dame has a 3:57 miler that is fresh) and Mau isn’t nearly as good as Wisconsin’s anchor Oliver Hoare, who destroyed Mau by .80 to win the Big 10 mile title. Plus they are yet another Power 5 school that doesn’t have a single guy on the team who has broken 48 in the quarter this year. That’s embarrassing.

Why they might win: They have a real weapon at 800 in Cooper Williams, who has run 1:47.24 this year.

***

Ok, I’m not going to do this for every team in the men’s field. I’m just going to take a look at teams that might win it. #5 seed Texas has Sam Worley, and he is a stud, but he’s also in the mile and their best 800 time on the year for the team is just 1:53 so I’m discounting them. I’m trying to find teams with no holes or a fresh anchor.

#8 Seed Oregon: Six sub-4 guys isn’t as good as one Edward Cheserek

Why they won’t win: There is a misconception that Oregon wins all of the distance races at NCAAs. In reality, Edward Cheserek won (almost) all of the distance races at Oregon for many years.

Also, the Ducks don’t have a great 800 guy this year as no one has run faster than 1:49.60.

Why they might win: First-year coach Ben Thomas is a really good middle distance coach. Last year, he had the NCAA runner-up in the mile/1500 (Vincent Ciattei) and won the DMR at NCAAs. When he left Virginia Tech to take the Oregon job, I was talking to a prominent US mid-d coach and asked them if they might be interested in taking Thomas’ old job at Virginia Tech. Their reply to me was along the lines of: “No way. Are you crazy? He’s the best mid-d coach in the country. You don’t want to follow him up as you are unlikely to look good in comparison.”

Thomas has the Ducks operating at a high level this year, but without a total stud like Cheserek to gobble up points at NCAAs, no one may notice. Guess how many Ducks went sub-4 in the mile this year?

Six.

Yes, six (and they also had six go sub-8 in the 3000). Three of them are entered in the mile at NCAAs and two of them are in the 3000.

Unlike most of the other schools in contention for the win, they have a guy on the team who broke 47 in the 400 this year — Orwin Emilien has run 46.75.

Plus it’s quite possible they’ll run their 3000 guys (Cooper Teare and James West) fresh on the DMR, which is a big advantage versus having to come back from the mile prelims.

#12 seed Stanford: With a fresh Grant Fisher, they have a shot

Why they won’t win: They only qualified as the last team into NCAAs. Their fastest 800 guy has only run 1:51.20 this year.

Why they might win: Fresh bodies. Presumed anchor Grant Fisher will be fresh (he’s in the 3000 on Saturday), whereas most of the other anchors will be coming back from the mile prelims. Stud + Fresh might equal victory. Plus presumed 1200 leg Alex Ostberg is also fresh. He ran 3:59 in the mile but didn’t declare for that.

***

Conclusion

This is a hard one to predict as most of the stud anchors will be tired. I want to pick someone who is fresh as watching Josh Kerr struggle last year has me scared. Nuguse is the best fresh guy in the field but I’m not fully confident Notre Dame will stay in it on the first three legs. I also probably should have also mentioned #11 seed Arkansas. Anchor Cameron Griffith also will be fresh as well.

LRC Pick: This NCAAs might end up being known as the Grant Fisher NCAAs. Stanford FTW. But gosh I don’t feel good predicting that.

Women’s DMR: Watch Out for Oregon

The women’s DMR is easier for me to break down as there are some fresh anchors in this one.

While many of the top men’s milers seem to be signing up for double duty, it’s the opposite on the women’s side. Of the three fastest milers in the NCAA this year, none of them are doing the open mile.

1 Rivers, Danae JR-3 Penn State 4:29.47 – running 800
2 Hull, Jessica SR-4 Oregon 4:31.03 – Running DMR/3000
3 Kelati, Weini SO-2 New Mexico 4:[email protected] Running 5000/3000
4 Meier, Hannah SR-4 Michigan 4:32.46 – Running mile/DMR
5 Rizk, Julia SR-4 Ohio State 4:32.79 – Running mile

@=altitude-converted time

Hull won NCAAs in the 1500 in June

So looking at that list, I bet you know who I’m picking to win the women’s DMR — Oregon. Amazingly, they had never won the women’s DMR at NCAAs until last year, but I think they’ll make it two in a row. Their anchor is Jessica Hull, who in addition to being the second-fastest miler in the NCAA this year is also the NCAA 1500 champ.

If they lined everyone up in the NCAA for a mile fresh, she’d be my pick. In the DMR, she gets to race a bunch of people who aren’t as good as her and many of them will be tired. That’s not fair. Plus Oregon has a 2:05.71 800 runner in Susan Ejore (though she’ll be doubling back from the mile prelims) and their 400 runner Makenzie Dunmore has a 50.63 pb.

The only way Oregon loses if they blow it on the first leg. It looks like they’ll be running true frosh Taylor Chiotti, who ran a 2:08 pb this year. If she just runs in the back for 800 meters and kicks to mid-pack, Oregon is going to win the women’s DMR.

If Oregon screws up, then Arkansas, Michigan, or Virginia Tech should win. Michigan will be anchored by Hannah Meier, who ended up as the #1 seed in the mile (you can learn more about Meier, a 24-year-old sixth-year senior who has a great comeback story, in our women’s mile preview). Arkansas is loaded from top to bottom as they have a lot of studs to choose from, including two of top six entrants in the mile in freshman Lauren Gregory (#3, 4:32.92) and junior Carina Viljoen (#6, 4:33.88), plus 2:06 800 runner Alexandra Byrnes. They could also throw out a fresh anchor in Taylor Werner, the SEC 3000 champ who has a 4:39 mile pb. Virginia Tech has the #4 seed in both the 800 (Rachel Pocratsky, 2:03.43) and mile (Sarah Edwards, 4:33.78) and a solid 800 leg in Shannon Quinn (2:06.58).

LRC Pick: Oregon FTW.


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