March 8, 2019
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Notre Dame sophomore Yared Nuguse got the baton at the start of the anchor leg of the men’s distance medley relay tonight at the 2019 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in sixth place, some 7.21 seconds behind the leader, Dan Curts of Iowa State.
3:56.03 later, Nuguse and the Irish were your national champions in 9:31.55 as Nuguse was able to pass Stanford’s Grant Fisher in the closing meters to get the win, denying Fisher legendary status, as Fisher had come from even farther down (10th, 9.15 seconds back) to give Stanford a chance at victory. In the end, after Fisher’s 3:54.24 split, the Cardinal ended up second in 9:31.70 as Iowa State faded to just 5th after Curts, a 4:00 miler, split only 4:05.54.
In the women’s race, Oregon won its second straight and second-ever women’s DMR crown as reigning NCAA 1500 champ Jessica Hull split 4:30.86 to give the Ducks the win in 10:53.43 over BYU (10:54.14) in a race where the top 5 anchors all ran under 4:32.
One of the reasons why the DMR isn’t our favorite race is because it almost always comes down to who has the best anchor. Tonight in the men’s race, that theory was put to the test as each of Iowa State’s first three runners put up the fastest or second-fastest split of the night for their leg.
Leadoff runner Festus Lagat, the Big 12 runner-up at 800 earlier this year, ran 2:53.46 — more than two seconds faster than everyone else in the field. 400 man Eric Fogltanz extended Iowa State’s lead to nearly three seconds as he came up with the second-best 400 split of the night (46.92) before 800 man Roshon Roomes, the Big 12 600-yard champ, produced the best 800 split of the night (1:47.95) on a night when only one other runner broke 1:50 to give the Cyclones a massive 6.46-second lead heading into the anchor.
However, halfway into the anchor leg, Iowa State’s huge lead was gone. Curts, who ran 4:00.56 on February 2 this year but was only 6th in the Big 12 mile, went out in 2:03 flat but his lead had vanished as Nuguse went out in 1:55.7 to catch him (Fisher, even farther behind, went out even faster as he was just behind Nuguse). The pace slowed over the next 400 (62.15) before Nuguse took the lead before the start of the final 400. Heading into the final lap, it was Fisher who grabbed the lead. He’d hold it until the roughly 15 meters remained when Nuguse surged by for the win thanks to an unofficial final 200 of 27.2.
For the second straight year, Nuguse had outdueled Fisher. Last year, Nuguse got the stick behind Fisher but walked him down to finish second. Tonight, he got the baton ahead of Fisher but gave up the lead before getting it back to win.
Watch the final 400 here:
The DMR never disappoints! pic.twitter.com/qs8LfXbyjX
— NCAA Track & Field (@NCAATrackField) March 9, 2019
The women’s race was less dramatic. We said in our preview that if Oregon kept it close on the opening leg, they would win as having the reigning NCAA 1500 champ fresh on the anchor is a huge advantage. Oregon led off with junior transfer Amanda Gehrich, a 4:41 miler, and she kept Oregon in it as she handed off to 400 ace Makenzie Dunmore in 7th after 3:26.18 split. Dunmore produced the fastest 400 of the night, 52.89, to move Oregon to third and then Susan Ejore, who had earlier in the day failed to make the mile final after a fall, also came up big with the fastest 800 split of the night, 2:03.52, to give Hull the baton in the perfect spot — right on the shoulder of leader Erica Birk of BYU.
Birk, the 7th placer at NCAA XC in the fall who has a 4:34.59 mile pb but opted only for the DMR this year, ran well (4:31.75) as BYU ended up second in 10:54.14 but there was no denying Hull, who also was fresh as she’s running the 3000 on Saturday.
Watch the end of the women’s DMR here:
🔙2️⃣🔙 goes the Ducks in the Women's DMR. pic.twitter.com/61k5FeRrDI
— NCAA Track & Field (@NCAATrackField) March 9, 2019
Quick Take: Notre Dame sent its traveling army of fans back to South Bend happy
Last year, no team was happier after the DMR than Notre Dame, despite the fact that the Fighting Irish only finished second in the race. Once again, the Irish were the happiest foursome in Birmingham tonight, but this time they really had reason to celebrate thanks to an epic anchor leg from Nuguse.
It marked the latest and greatest accomplishment in a program on the rise under 31-year-old distance coach Sean Carlson; following last year’s runner-up finish, Notre Dame ended Syracuse’s five-year reign atop the ACC in cross country last fall and now have a national title on the track. Carlson was doing all he could to contain his nerves during the race, pacing aggressively back and forth, but he said that he still believed in his team, even after Nuguse lost the lead.
“I have no doubt in Yared or Notre Dame,” Carlson said after the race. “Ever.”
His athletes shared that sentiment. When we asked Nuguse’s relay teammates if they were worried once Stanford took the lead, they agreed: absolutely not.
“He does amazing things, but it’s no surprise to us,” said 800 leg Samuel Voelz. “We see it every day. And it’s still amazing, but it’s Yared. It’s what Yared does.”
Nuguse ran fast enough to qualify in the mile, where he would have been among the favorites, but chose to scratch to focus on the relay. He said it was an easy choice, and it also gave Notre Dame a big advantage as they were able to put one of the best milers in the country on the anchor leg — fresh.
“This DMR matters more to me than any individual race, especially after doing so well last year,” Nuguse said. “I feel like I can do my best when I’m on a team like this…That last 100 meters, I was thinking like, remember why I’m doing this. And that’s just for these guys right here.”
Indeed, the ND men were wearing shirts after the race with TEAM printed in big capital letters over a much smaller “ME,” embodying the ND track ethos — team over me.
Nuguse wasn’t the only one showing Notre Dame pride today. Around 30 members of the men’s and women’s team made the 10-hour drive down I-65 from South Bend specifically to see this race — Notre Dame doesn’t have any other entries in the meet, which means they’re all driving back tomorrow. At least they have something to talk about now.
Quick Take: We don’t understand what the Wisconsin men were thinking
We were stunned when we saw reigning NCAA 1500 champ Oliver Hoare lead off for Wisconsin. That makes no sense to us. If Wisconsin wanted to try to win the NCAA team title thanks to some miraculous performance by its two distance stars — Hoare and Morgan McDonald — then Hoare needed to anchor. Either run him on the anchor leg or not at all. The DMR almost always comes down to who has the best anchor, so you are basically just wasting an NCAA champ on the 1200 leg and tiring him out for tomorrow’s mile final.
Instead, Olin Hacker anchored for Wisconsin and the ended up 7th after he started the anchor leg in second. It’s not like Hacker ran horribly — he split 3:59.96, about as good as you could possibly expect for a 4:01.82 miler — but the other anchors were just better.
The only way we would have run Hoare on the opening leg was if Wisconsin decided to anchor Morgan McDonald. If that seems like a ludicrous plan as McDonald had just run and won the 5000, but remember that Galen Rupp did the 5000 and DMR anchor back in 2009 (as did Edward Cheserek in 2016).
After only scoring 2 points in the DMR, we think Wisconsin’s outside shot at a team title is now over.
Quick Take: The women’s DMR was pretty simple: the best anchor leg won
When four teams receive the baton fairly close together at the final exchange and one of those schools has the NCAA 1500 champion on the anchor leg, you’d expect that school to win the race, and that’s exactly what happened with Oregon and Jessica Hull.
Hull admitted that she wasn’t expecting to receive the baton near the front — Oregon was just .18 behind BYU at the final exchange and Hull essentially ceded the lead to BYU anchor Erica Birk rather than take it on herself. But after a couple of laps, Oregon coach Helen Lehman-Winters instructed Hull to go to the front, and she did, controlling the race the rest of the way home.
“I was like, well, she trusts me to do it, so I’ll just do it and execute exactly how she says,” Hull said.
Now the 3k final awaits, where Hull and Wisconsin’s Alicia Monson will both be trying to pull off distance doubles.
Quick Take: Grant Fisher couldn’t have done much more tonight
Fisher was brilliant tonight and it’s hard to be critical of his performance for Stanford, even if it came in a losing effort. He worked his way from 10th into the lead at the bell and kicked well, just not quite well enough over the final 100 meters.
Fisher didn’t want to say that he was perfect tonight — “there’s always something to improve,” he said after the race. But even though Fisher felt he “could have been a little more aware over that last 150,” he still knew Nuguse was on his shoulder on the final lap. Fisher ran to his ability, it just wasn’t enough in the end.
“I was just kind of gassed,” Fisher said.
Incredibly, Fisher is not the only man to split 3:54.24 on this track and lose; Washington’s Izaic Yorks had the exact same split back in 2016, only to lose to Oregon and Edward Cheserek’s 3:52.84. And neither man has the fastest split in a losing effort as Indiana’s Andy Bayer split 3:53.29 back in 2011 when the Hoosiers took second to BYU.
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