2021 NCAA Outdoor Women’s 800/1500 Preview: No Athing Mu, But Plenty of Talent As Aaliyah Miller & Sage Hurta Look to Back Up Indoor Titles

By Jonathan Gault
June 7, 2021

The women’s mid-distance events at 2021 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon won’t be quite as bright without the supernova talent of Texas A&M’s Athing Mu, who opted out of the 800 in favor of the 400 and 4×400. But both events are still packed with talent, with Aaliyah Miller of Baylor and Sage Hurta of Colorado looking to add to their NCAA indoor titles against a host of contenders rising up to meet them. A look at the NCAA women’s 800 & 1500 below.

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Women’s 800: No Athing Mu, but still plenty of intrigue

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(prelims Thursday, 8:14 p.m. ET; final Saturday, 7:14 p.m. ET)

Athlete Year School PB SB Note
Michaela Meyer SR Virginia 2:00.40 2:00.40
Only 3rd at ACCs but broke through with fastest non-Mu time of the year at regionals
Aaliyah Miller JR Baylor 2:00.69i 2:00.69i NCAA indoor champ has lost only 1 race in ’21: to Athing Mu, who isn’t entered
Laurie Barton JR Clemson 2:00.70 2:00.70 ACC champ was NCAA runner-up indoors
Shafiqua Maloney SR Arkansas 2:01.22i 2:01.22i 3rd at SECs, 3rd at NCAA Indoors
McKenna Keegan SR Villanova 2:01.25 2:01.25 Big East champ was 7th at NCAA Indoors
Lindsey Butler SO Virginia Tech 2:01.32 2:01.32 ACC runner-up was 4th at NCAA Indoors
Aurora Rynda SO Michigan 2:01.35 2:01.35 Big 10 champ
Amber Tanner SR Georgia 2:01.36 2:01.36 SEC champ
Kayla Johnson JR Miami (FL) 2:01.37 2:01.37 4th at SECs. 14th indoors.
Sarah Hendrick SO Kennesaw St. 2:01.47 2:01.47 8th at NCAA Indoors
Katy-Ann McDonald SO LSU 2:01.67 2:01.67 SEC runner-up
Gabrielle Wilkinson SO Florida 2:02.04 2:02.04 SEC 1500 champ was 6th at NCAA Indoors
Claire Seymour SO BYU 2:02.25i 2:02.25i 5th at NCAA Indoors
Brooke Fazio JR Richmond 2:02.73 2:02.73 A10 champ was 11th at East Regional.
Gemma Finch SR Troy 2:02.81 2:02.81 Final time qualifier from East had 2:05 pb before regionals. Had 2:09 pb coming into the year.
Anna Camp SR BYU 2:02.83 2:02.83 It’s not often that the NCAA xc 11th placer runs the 800. Also in 1500.
Avi’ Tal Wilson-Perteete JR UNLV 2:01.14 2:04.12 3rd at NCAAs in ’19
Kaytlyn Larson SR Oklahoma St. 2:04.56 2:04.56 Ran 1500 (3rd) and 5000 (DNF) at Big 12s.
Astrid Rosvall SR UC Santa Barbara 2:04.87 2:04.87 1st NCAAs for Big West 800/1500 champ.
Samantha Huerta SR Cal State-Fullerton 2:03.96 2:04.94 3rd in Big West 800/1500.
Stephanie Moss FR Oklahoma St. 2:05.06 2:05.06 Big 12 runner-up.
Kristie Schoffield JR Boise State 2:02.65 2:05.06 3rd at Mountain West champs. 6th at NCAAs in 2019.
Wilma Nielsen FR Bradley 2:05.16 2:05.16 Last qualifier out of West.
Sivan Auerbach FR Oklahoma St. 2:05.49 2:05.49 Big 12 1500 runnreup. 3rd of 3 Ok State Cowboys to qualify.

The fastest 800 runner from the regular season (Texas A&M’s Athing Mu) is running the 400. The second-fastest 800 runner from the regular season (Colorado’s Sage Hurta) is running the 1500. And yet this remains one of the most competitive NCAA women’s 800m fields in recent memory. Three women — Virginia’s Michaela Meyer, Clemson’s Laurie Barton, and NCAA indoor champ Aaliyah Miller of Baylor — have broken 2:01 this year, which is three more than did it in all of 2018 or 2019. Even without collegiate record holder and world leader Mu, this should still be a quality race. 11 women in the field have broken 2:02 including 7 who did it at the East Regional.

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In assessing the field, we have to start with Miller, who ran 2:00.69 — tied for #2 in collegiate history — to win the NCAA indoor title in March. Six of the last 10 NCAA indoor champs have gone on to win the NCAA outdoor title as well, and Miller has done little to lose her favored status during the outdoor season. She ran an impressive 2:00.87 at the Michael Johnson Invitational in April 17 (though it was overshadowed by Mu’s remarkable 1:57.73 collegiate record) and won the Big 12 title handily.

If someone is to derail Miller, it will likely be a runner from the ACC. The ACC champ, Laurie Barton of Clemson, was the NCAA runner-up indoors, and owns the #3 sb in the field at 2:00.70. The ACC runner-up, Lindsey Butler of Virginia Tech, was 4th at NCAA indoors (and beat Barton to win the ACC indoor title). And neither of those women is the fastest ACC runner on the year.

That would be Virginia’s Michaela Meyer, a grad transfer from Delaware who has surprisingly emerged as one of the top runners of the country this year. Through three years at Delaware, Meyer’s best time was 2:07.02. In her senior year of 2020, she made a huge breakthrough, running a four-second pb of 2:03.40 at the end of the indoor season…then COVID hit and she didn’t race again for almost a year. Now in Charlottesville, she has flourished, PRing five times this outdoor season (including a monster 2:00.40 at regionals). As if that wasn’t enough, she ran 4:09.78 — the #5 time in the country this year — to win the ACC 1500 title. No one in the field is running better than Meyer at the moment, and it would be quite a story if a fifth-year senior running at her first NCAA championships was able to run home with the title.

JG prediction: With 11 women in the field under 2:02 this year, it will be brutal just to make the final (those in heat 3 face the toughest task: Miller and Meyer are both in that one, and there are only two auto spots). I’ll take Miller — she was dominant indoors and has continued to run well since — but there’s plenty of talent here, which should make for a compelling race.

Women’s 1500: Hurta goes for the indoor/outdoor sweep

(prelims Thursday, 6:46 p.m. ET, final Saturday, 6:11 p.m. ET)

Athlete Year School PB SB Note
Sage Hurta SR Colorado 4:08.38 4:08.38 NCAA mile champ has not lost to a collegian all year
Krissy Gear JR Arkansas 4:09.00 4:09.00 NCAA mile runner-up
Whittni Orton SR BYU 4:09.31 4:09.31 8th at ’19 NCAAs
Amaris Tyynismaa FR Alabama 4:09.48 4:09.48 3rd in NCAA xc. Only 3rd at SECs, but ran a 2-sec pb (NCAA #4) at regionals
Julia Heymach JR Stanford 4:09.89 4:09.89 Great range: 2nd in Pac-12 800, then doubled back to win 5k
Maudie Skyring JR Florida St. 4:09.99 4:09.99 ACC runnerup was 23rd at NCAA xc.
Lauren Berman SR Virginia Tech 4:10.82 4:10.82 5th at ACCs
Anna Camp SR BYU 4:11.63 4:11.63 11th at NCAA xc. Doing 800/1500 double.
Kelsey Harris SR Indiana 4:11.75 4:11.75 Big 10 runnerup was 7th indoors at NCAAs in 800 in 2019.
Micaela Degenero SR Colorado 4:12.36 4:12.36 Never ran faster than 4:20 at Michigan. Has run 4:12 as grad student at Colorado.
Christina Aragon JR Stanford 4:08.71 4:12.44 4th at ’18 NCAAs but just 3rd at Pac-12s this year
Olivia Howell FR Illinois 4:12.45 4:12.45 Big 10 champ
Presley Weems JR Auburn 4:12.52 4:12.52 SEC runnerup
Danae Rivers SR Penn State 4:10.82 4:12.81 ’19 NCAA indoor 800 champ but just 5th in Big 10 1500
Rachel McArthur JR Colorado 4:13.25 4:13.25 4th Big 12s.
Ella Donaghu JR Stanford 4:11.70 4:13.54 Pac-12 champ
Petronela Simiuc SR Toledo 4:13.62 4:13.62 MAC 800/1500 champ
Kaley Richards SR UMass Lowell 4:14.00 4:14.00 4th in NCAA mile indoors
Tori Herman FR Kentucky 4:14.12 4:14.12 8th at SECs
Kate Hunter JR BYU 4:14.41 4:14.41 6th indoors in mile.
Madison Heisterman JR Washington 4:14.62 4:14.62 8th at Pac 12s in 800 and 1500.
Sarah Anderson SR Michigan St. 4:14.90 4:14.90 6th at Big 10 outdoors in 1500 and indoors in 800.
Lotte Black SR Rhode Island 4:13.02 4:14.95 4th at ’19 NCAAs
Sami Corman SO Georgetown 4:16.40 4:16.40 Big East indoor mile champ was runnerup outdoors in 800.

Above I noted that six of the last 10 NCAA indoor 800 champions have gone on to claim the outdoor title. The numbers are a little different in the 1500. You have to go back 11 years, to Florida’s Charlotte Browning, to find an NCAA mile champion who went on to win the NCAA 1500 that year.

Hurta was terrific at NCAA Indoors (Photo by Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Despite that history, any reasonable individual would install the 2021 NCAA mile champion, Colorado’s Sage Hurta, as the favorite. That doesn’t mean she’ll win; like the men’s 1500, the women’s 1500 is extraordinarily deep this year, with six women breaking 4:10, compared to just two in 2019. But Hurta has been the most impressive of the bunch. Not only does she lead the country with her 4:08.38 (run against the pros at the USATF Grand Prix in April), but she has also rocked it at 800, running the #3 800 time in the NCAA this year back on April 3 and winning Pac-12s easily by over a second. No collegian has beaten Hurta this year — and that counts her 54.84 400 at Colorado’s home meet on April 10. In fact, no collegian has even come close to beating Hurta in 2021.

Yet, as in the 800, there are a bunch of women who could emerge to threaten the NCAA indoor champ. NCAA mile runner-up Krissy Gear of Arkansas is still around and running well (at 4:09.00, she has the #2 sb in the field). But considering how easily Hurta handled Gear indoors (granted Hurta, unlike Gear, didn’t have the DMR in her legs from the night before), it may be wise to look for challengers elsewhere. Three stand out, all of whom ran NCAA XC instead of NCAA indoors in the winter and are rounding into form at the right time.

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The first is BYU’s Whittni Orton. Back in the winter of 2020, Orton was the top runner in the NCAA (she ran 4:29 for the mile and 8:49 for 3k that season), then Covid hit. After the Covid hiatus, she wasn’t quite herself at NCAA XC in March — after battling injuries all season, she bravely went out with the leaders but faded to 17th over the final mile. Orton is firing on all cylinders now, however, running 4:10 or faster three times this year as well as an NCAA-leading 15:12.91 in the 5k (she’s also entered in that event and will double back after the 1500).

The second is Stanford’s Julia Heymach. Heymach may not have the pure speed of Hurta, who beat her, 2:01.53 to 2:02.91, in the Pac-12 800 final. But Heymach, like Orton, has terrific strength, as she doubled back after that 800 defeat at Pac-12s to win the 5k later that day (she’s also doing the 1500/5k double at NCAAs). With a 4:09.89 pb at regionals, Heymach looks to be timing her peak nicely.

The most intriguing of the three is Amaris Tyynismaa. Just a sophomore, the 20-year-old Tyynismaa was on nobody’s radar entering 2021. Though she won 26 state titles as a high schooler in Alabama, her pbs of 4:56 and 10:32 did not scream “future star” (though it should be noted that 10:32 came as an eighth grader). She was only 26th at the SEC XC meet last fall, but ever since the calendar turned to 2021, Tyynismaa has been one of the best runners in the country, taking a surprising 3rd at NCAA XC and running a pb of 4:09.48 to lead all qualifiers at regionals. The only reason not to be excited about Tyynismaa: she was just 3rd at SECs. It’s hard to see her going from 3rd in her conference meet to national champ in the span of a month. But then again, who would have predicted she’d go from 26th at SEC xc to 3rd at NCAA xc?

Pac-12 champ Ella Donaghu of Stanford has also been running well, but was beaten handily in the 800 at Pac-12s by both Hurta and Heymach. Penn State’s Danae Rivers (2019 NCAA indoor 800 champ) and Stanford’s Christina Aragon (4:08 pb, 4th at ’18 NCAAs) have both had success at NCAAs in the past but have not been in the same form in 2021.

JG prediction: It’s a little boring to just pick the indoor champs to win again outdoors in both the 800 and 1500. But Hurta has been so good this year that I can’t find a reason to pick against her. Between her and Aaliyah Miller in the 800, I’d be more surprised if Hurta lost at NCAAs. If I had to go for an (minor) upset, Orton would be my pick.

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MB: It’s 2021 NCAA T&F Week. Official 800 and 1500 Discussion Thread. Who you got – Nuguse or Hocker?

Men’s Preview: 2021 NCAA Outdoor Men’s 800/1500 Preview: Two LOADED Races Headlined by Nuguse v Hocker The men’s 800 is wide-open, with 24-year-old USC senior Isaiah Jewett and 19-year-old Texas A&M freshman Brandon Miller among the top contenders. Aside from Hocker & Nuguse, the men’s 1500 also features Alabama sensation Eliud Kipsang and a total of 12 sub-3:38 guys.