WTW: A Look Back at the Insane NCAA Track & Field Regionals

The NCAA Regionals That Were, May 26 – 29, 2021

By LetsRun.com
June 1, 2021

The NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championship is always an incredible meet and this year the finals in Eugene (June 9-12) may be even more incredible than usual. The anticipation is large.  We haven’t had an NCAA outdoors in two years, it will be the first big-time track meet with fans at the new Hayward Field, and it’s an Olympic year.

Last weekend, the NCAA East and West Regionals were held to select the Eugene fields. In this week’s version of our weekly recap — the Week That Was — we take a look back at the regional action and make a few points.

Athing Mu Picks Up Another Collegiate Record

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Athing Mu, the NCAA record holder in the 800 and 2021 world leader at 1:57.73, didn’t run that event at regionals. Instead, she opted for the 400, where she promptly picked up the collegiate record at 49.68

Mu running the 400 was smart. If she runs the 800, there was no big goal like the CR out there to aim for and she could only fail. If she lost, it would be a disaster for her. 

The only negative with running the 400 is she doesn’t pick up more experience running rounds of the 800, which she hasn’t done a lot of at a high level. But we don’t think she needs it. She did quite well in three rounds of the 800 at USAs in 2019, where she ended up 5th as a 17-year-old after running a pb of 2:01.17. Based on her 1500 time from this season (4:16.06), she’s a lot stronger now so the rounds shouldn’t be a problem for her. Plus if she ran the 800 at NCAAs, then the 800 final at USA would be her seventh 800 in the span of a month.

The Quality in the NCAA Is Insane 

The quality of the performances at NCAA regionals was top-notch as usual, maybe better than normal thanks to super spikes in the distances. Some people ran super well but still didn’t make it to Eugene.

Our “We Feel For You” award goes out to Purdue freshman Marcellus Moore. He ran a wind-legal 10.12 100-meter dash and didn’t make it to NCAAs.

Below, we have compiled a chart listing the times run by the 13th finisher in each region. 13th is the place you don’t want to finish as it’s the first person out of NCAAs.

The Fastest NCAA Non-Qualifiers
West – Men East – Men West – Women East – Women
100 10.30 10.10w/10.12 11.44 11.28
200 20.66 20.56w 23.18 23.01
400 46.31 46.11 51.96 52.39
100/110h 13.79 13.69 13.30 13.06
400h 50.40 51.13 58.37 57.81
800 1:48.87 1:49.17 2:05.64 2:04.22
1500 3:40.84 3:40.43 4:14.84 4:17.70
Steeple 8:45.12 8:49.81 9:56.28 10:07.10
5k 13:57.70 13:49.32 16:05.57 16:09.63
10k 29:22.11 29:10.14 34:06.42 34:12.38

Nico Young and Katelyn Tuohy Won’t Be At NCAAs

Moore isn’t the only fine athlete who won’t be competing in Eugene. In the distance events, the #1 recruit in the country on both the men’s and women’s sides failed to make it to NCAAs. Katelyn Tuohy of NC State, who came into regionals seeded 12th nationally in the 1500 at 4:12.55, only managed a 4:23.47 in her quarterfinal and didn’t advance after finishing 9th (she also came back in the 5000 where she was 17th in her heat in 16:45).

The bigger surprise came on the men’s side where Nico Young of Northern Arizona failed to advance in the 5000. Young, who was 4th at NCAA XC and came in seeded 5th thanks to the US U20 record of 13:24.46 that he ran at Drake, could only manage a 14:03.91 showing at regionals that placed him 8th in his heat.

Young wasn’t the only 13:24 guy to fail to advance to Eugene.

The sixth seed nationally, Eduardo Herrera (13:24.46 pb) of Colorado, only ran 14:01.69 to finish 6th in his heat. It’s the second straight disastrous NCAAs for Herrerra in 2021 as after winning the Pac-12 title in XC, he was only 107th at NCAA XC in March.

A third sub-13:30 guy also failed to advance as the #9 seed, BYU’s Brandon Garnica (13:26.62), also had a second straight disastrous NCAAs. After being a DNF in XC, he only ran 14:23.32 at regionals and failed to move on.

Below, for each running event, you will see the people ranked in the top 10 nationally who didn’t advance to Eugene (if they ran a different event, we didn’t list them). We also added a few interesting comments for the events.

Men’s 100 – The #6 seed Dedrick Vanover of Florida, who ran a windy 10.03 to place 3rd at SECs, ran a windy 10.16 at regionals and didn’t advance after finishing 16th.

Men’s 200 – Cravont Charleston of NC State, the #7 seed, didn’t compete, which wasn’t a shock as he didn’t run the finals at ACCs.

Men’s 400 – The top 10 national seeds all advanced.

Men’s 110h – Florida State’s Trey Cunningham, who had run 13.28 this year, didn’t compete at regionals.

Men’s 400h – The #8 seed Tre’Bien Gilbert of Arkansas, who was 5th at SECs, false started in the quarters and didn’t qualify for Eugene.

Men’s 800 – Texas Tech’s Takieddine Hedeilli, who was 3rd indoors and seeded #9 outdoors, didn’t compete, which wasn’t a surprise as he was only 16th in the 800 at conference after DNFing the 1500. 

Men’s 1500 – All of the top 10 seeds advanced to Eugene. The most interesting development here was that Sam Tanner of Washington — the NCAA record holder in the 1500 indoors — barely made it. Tanner, who didn’t make the NCAA final in the mile indoors, snagged the final time qualifier in the West with a seventh in his heat in 3:39.70.

Men’s Steeple – ACC runner-up Alex Miley of Duke– who was the 2nd fastest of the entrants at 8:32.72 as Wesley Kiptoo opted for just the 10k/5k — ran just 9:09.03 and didn’t advance after finishing 28th.

Men’s 5000 – See above. Three of the top nine seeds didn’t advance in this one, led by Nico Young.

MB: Nico Young IS NOT a 5k Runner (Does not make NCAAs in 5k)

Men’s 10,000 – NAU’s Blaise Ferro, who was 6th at NCAA XC and had run 27:56.30 this year, didn’t compete at regionals due to injury after also missing his conference meet. Coupled with Young’s DNQ, it means that the top two runners for Mike Smith’s NCAA championship XC squad won’t be in Eugene. It’s also worth noting that between Young, Ferro, and Notre Dame’s Danny Kilrea (10th at NCAA XC, 29th in the East Regional 10k), three of the top 10 from NCAA XC in March won’t be at NCAA outdoors.

MB: Where was Blaise Ferro (DNS)? And Danny Kilrea (30:00)

Women’s 100 – All of the top 10 seeds advanced to Eugene, including two women who broke 11.00 in USC’s Twanisha Terry (10.89) and Oregon’s Kemba Nelson (10.98).

Women’s 200 – Florida State junior Jayla Kirkland (22.78 sb), the ACC runner-up, didn’t make it as she was 13th in 23.02, nor did the 10th seed, Kentucky sophomore Abby Steiner (22.38 sb), who ran 23.59. Steiner didn’t race at SECs.

Women’s 400 – All ot the top 10 seeds advanced to Eugene except #4 seed Shae Anderson of UCLA, who opted for the 400 hurdles where she didn’t advance. A shoutout is definitely in order for USC’s 400 squad coached by Caryl Smith Gilbert. They had five individuals make it in the 400. We can’t wait for the 4×400 in Eugene, where Athing Mu of Texas A&M will be trying to deny the USC women the 4×400 title like she did indoors.

Women’s 100h – 2019 NCAA runner-up Chanel Brissett of Texas, the #7 seed this year at 12.79 (12.52 pb), false-started in the first round and didn’t make it. #8 seed Naomi Taylor of Houston didn’t make it as she only ran 13.47 in the first round and was 33rd.

The bigger news was that LSU senior Tonea Mitchell ran the world’s #2 time of 12.44. Also Texas star Tara Davis — the #2 seed at 12.61 — opted for just the long jump. 

Women’s 400h – UCLA’s Shae Anderson, the #2 seed at 55.21, clipped her trail leg coming off the final turn on Saturday and went down and ended up last in 62.21.

The #9 and #10 seeds in Faith Roberson of UTSA (56.89 this year) and Jae’Nisa Heckstall of South Florida (56.94) both failed to break 60 in the 2nd round and didn’t make it to Eugene.

Women’s 800 – All of the top 10 seeds that ran the event made it to Eugene, but it’s worth noting that the two fastest women during the regular season opted for other events.

As mentioned above, collegiate record holder and 2021 world leader Athing Mu (1:57.73) opted for the 400, where she picked up the collegiate record (49.68) in that event. Colorado’s Sage Hurta, the #2 800 woman at 2:00.62, opted for the 1500 where she is the #1 seed at 4:08.38.

The East Regional ended up being super fast. UVA senior Michaela Meyer, the ACC third placer, led the way with a 2:00.40 — the 2nd fastest NCAA mark this year — as the last time qualifier ran 2:02.81.

Women’s 1500 – BYU’s Olivia Hoj, the #9 seed who ran 4:10.90 at the The Track Meet two weeks ago, didn’t qualify. After she fell out of the top six in the final 100, she fell to the track and ended up last in 4:30.

Women’s Steeple – Not much drama here as the top 10 seeds all advanced. #3 seed Krissy Gear of Arkansas opted for the 1500 instead and made it to Eugene in that event.

Women’s 5000 – Hannah Steeleman of NC State — the #7 seed at 15:30.87 — didn’t make it in the 5000 (was 28th in 16:32.75) but she was doubling back from the steeple, where she easily advanced with a 9:57.18.

Women’s 10,000 – #7 seed Nicole Fegans of Georgia Tech (32:45.30) didn’t make it after running 34:37.87 for 21st, but did qualify in the 5000. #8 seed junior Purity Sanga of Louisville (32:49.08) was a DNF.

Another Sub-13:30 US Teen Won’t Be At NCAAs Even Though He Ran Incredibly Well Last Week

While Nico Young was struggling last week, there was another member of the US HS class of 2020 that was running really well in the 5000. Graham Blanks, a 19-year-old from Georgia (the state, not the country) who is taking a gap year before he enrolls* at Harvard next year, ran 13:27 in Massachusetts. Blanks has had an incredible spring.

As a high school senior, he won the NXN South regional before finishing 28th at NXN. Then he ran 9:04 indoors before COVID struck. So he was a good but not great high schooler. For him to run 13:47.72 in April was a surprise. For him to run more than 20 seconds faster less than two months later is a stunner (in between, he ran 13:35). He now sits #3 on the US all-time U20 list, ahead of some legendary names.

US U20 5000 List Per TFN
13:24.26 Nico Young (Northern Arizona) 4/23/21
13:25.46 German Fernandez (Oklahoma State) 6/26/09
13:27.39 Graham Blanks (unattached) 5/30/21
13:29.98 Chris Derrick (Stanford) 5/02/09
13:30.13 Grant Fisher (Stanford) 6/10/16
13:32.2+ Gerry Lindgren (Washington State) 7/10/65
13:32.95 Cole Hocker (Oregon) 12/04/20
13:37.64 Sean McGorty (unattached) 5/04/14
13:37.91 Galen Rupp (Oregon HS) 7/31/04

*We put an asterisk next to “enrolls at Harvard next year” as some on the messageboard are wondering if he’ll stay committed to Harvard. Based on instagram, Harvard has little to worry about but that brings up a concept we want to talk about.

We’ve been wondering, with the relaxed transfer rules, whether the less prestigious NCAA schools will become feeders for “better” schools. Nowadays, everyone can become eligible instantly after their first transfer and it’s easy to see what coaches will offer you as all you have to do is enter “the portal” and they can contact you. Will it be commonplace, if a freshman rocks it their first year at an obscure university, for them to try to parlay that into a move to a “better” school?

MB: Harvard Freshman run 13:27 

They Know One Way To Race: Fast

All season long, we’ve noticed that Kenyans Wesley Kiptoo of Iowa State and Eliud Kipsang of Alabama love to run fast. That trend continued at NCAA regionals.

Kitpoo took out the men’s 10,000 — where he only needed to finish top 12 to advance — in 60.80 and ran the whole thing solo. After four laps (4:19.73), he had put 22 seconds on the rest of the field. His lead would grow as large as 39.92 at 13 laps before he settled for a 20.25-second victory in 28:50.11 in a race where the last qualifier ran 29:15.38.

In the 5000, he blitzed the first 1600 in 4:15 and gapped the field by more than 15 seconds before cruising to a near 10-second win in 13:42.70. 

MB: Will Kiptoo’s Tactics Work in the 10k at NCAAs?

Kipsang also likes to run fast and doesn’t need rabbits to do so. At the regionals, he ran 3:37 in the first round of the 1500 and 3:35 in the second round (#6 in collegiate history). Counting prelims, he’s run the 1500 six times outdoors and hasn’t lost and has always run fast.

Eliud Kipsang’s 1500s in 2021
Florida Relays – 3:40.35 – won by 3.47 seconds
Crimson Tide Invitational – 3:36.00 – won by 10.84 seconds
SEC Prelims – 3:36.60 – won by 6.76 seconds
SEC Final – 3:37.99 – won by 0.87 seconds
NCAA Regionals Round 1 – 3:37.17 – won by 6.35 seconds
NCAA Regional Round 2 – 3:35.49 – won by 1.26 seconds

Cole Hocker’s World Ranking Will Be Good Enough To Get Him In

One thing that had made some a little nervous as we approach NCAAs and the Olympic Trials is the fact that American Cole Hocker doesn’t have the Olympic standard of 3:35.00. Yes, it’s absolutely stupid that his 3:50 indoor mile — which equates to a 3:33 1500 — doesn’t count. And normally we wouldn’t be concerned about it as someone as good as Hocker would usually have a world ranking high enough to get him into the Games.

The problem was Hocker doesn’t even have a World Athletics ranking in the 1500 as he hadn’t competed in enough events for a ranking. That changed this weekend at regionals, and his ranking should be coming out soon. Based on what he’s run so far, we think he’s going to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 1185 world ranking points, which would put him at 30th in the world if you cap it at 3 per country.

So what does this mean? It means if Hocker is top 3 in the Trials in the 1500 or 5000 (where his world ranking is already high enough), he’ll make the team.