2023 NCAA Indoor Day 1 Women’s Recap: NCAA Records Galore & Stanford’s Freshman Phenoms Win the DMR

By LetsRun.com
March 10, 2023

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Day 1 of the 2023 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships are in the books. And even by the standards of the the NCAA indoor meet, the quality of competition was high. Katelyn Tuohy looked terrific in winning the 5,000 meters (recap here), the Stanford women won the DMR with the help of freshman phenoms Roisin Willis and Juliette Whittaker, and there were collegiate records by Texas’ Julien Alfred in the 60 (6.96), Arkansas’ Ackera Nugent in the 60 hurdles (7.72), and Florida’s Jasmine Moore in the long jump (7.03). Plus there were prelims in the 800 and mile.

Below, a full recap of the first day of women’s action at the 2023 NCAA Indoor champs, featuring interviews and analysis from Albuquerque. *Results with splits

Women’s DMR: Stanfod Holds On For The Win

There’s more than one way to win a national title in the distance medley relay, and that’s why it is often one of the most exciting races of any NCAA indoor championship. In the women’s DMR in Albuquerque on Friday, Stanford tried to front-run their way to a title, opening up a nearly three-second lead through the first three legs that would grow to five seconds midway through Juliette Whittaker’s anchor leg. Arkansas, meanwhile, had to come from behind, relying on the brilliance of Lauren Gregory, who received the baton for the 1600 leg in fifth place, more than seven seconds behind Whittaker. 

An exhausted Whittaker held off Gregory for the win

Whittaker had gone out quickly, running her first 800m – at altitude, after a prelim of the 800m an hour earlier – in 2:16. But over the second half of her leg, Whittaker began to fade, while Gregory – also doubling back from a mile prelim a little more than 90 minutes earlier – was pouring the pressure on. Whittaker hit the bell with a lead of just under a second on UCLA anchor Mia Barnett and two seconds on the hard-closing Gregory. It set the stage for a thrilling final lap: Gregory, the sixth-year senior competing in her 10th NCAA championship, trying to run down Whittaker, the true freshman running in her first.

Gregory passed Barnett on the back straight and cut the deficit to Whittaker to just two meters coming off the final turn. Gregory was moving faster. Arkansas was going to win.

But Whittaker, sensing Gregory was gaining on her as the home straight crowd began to roar, took a quick glance to her inside as she hit the home straight, saw how close Gregory was, and summoned one last burst of energy. It was enough, barely, to defeat Gregory and Arkansas, 10:56.34 to 10:56.61, and deliver Stanford’s first NCAA title in the women’s DMR in 23 years.

Stanford’s Melissa Tanaka, a former Ivy League star for Penn, broke the race open at the end of the opening 1200m leg, handing off just ahead of Oklahoma State’s Billah Jepkirui (3:23.02 to 3:23.49). But Jepkirui and 400 leg Tamara Woodley could not complete their exchange cleanly, the baton hitting the track, and the Cardinal would never trail from then on.

Notre Dame finished 3rd as UCLA, making its first NCAA appearance in this event since 2004 in its first year under coach Sean Brosnan, wound up 4th. Washington, meanwhile, which set the collegiate record in February, was never competitive, finishing dead last in 11:36.40.

Results *Splits
1 STANFORD Stanford 10:56.34 FR
2 ARKANSAS Arkansas 10:56.61
3 NOTRE DAME Notre Dame 10:59.46
4 UCLA UCLA 10:59.87
5 GEORGETOWN Georgetown 11:02.41
6 OKLAHOMA STATE Oklahoma State 11:02.57
7 BYU BYU 11:03.55
8 NC STATE NC State 11:07.72
9 KENTUCKY Kentucky 11:08.98
10 DUKE Duke 11:21.20
11 OREGON Oregon 11:26.40
12 WASHINGTON Washington 11:36.40

Quick Take: Whittaker ran a brave anchor leg, but Stanford’s first three legs are what won this race

Tonight’s win by Stanford was a total team effort as the Cardinal’s first three legs were all brilliant. Tanaka (3:23.02) had the fastest 1200 leg, Roisin Willis (2:02.75) had the fastest 800 leg, and Maya Valmon (51.91), the daughter of Andrew Valmon, a 1988 and 1992 Olympic gold medalist in the 4×400, and Meredith Rainey, a two-time Olympian in the 800 and three-time U.S. outdoor champion, had the second-fastest 400 leg. That added up to a 2.92-second advantage at the final exchange. 

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Of course, it’s a good thing to have a lead entering the anchor leg, but Whittaker’s task was not easy. With a lead of that size, you want to make it count – which means your only choice is to try to run a fast pace, solo, with no one to chase. Measuring your effort in that situation is difficult, and Whittaker almost got it all wrong. Her 4:38.67 split was only the seventh-fastest anchor leg, and 2:16/2:22 is certainly not the easiest way to run that time. But the important thing is Whittaker got the job done and ensured her teammates’ terrific efforts were rewarded. Impressive stuff all around from the Cardinal.

Quick Take: It didn’t take long for star freshmen Whittaker and Willis to have an impact in the NCAA

Whittaker and Willis entered the NCAA with all sorts of hype after incredible seasons last year as high school seniors. They wound up as the two fastest US high schoolers in history in the 800, with a gold (Willis) and bronze (Whittaker) at the World U20 championships. This year, they’ve run the #2 and #4 indoor times in NCAA history, and on the first day of their first NCAA championship, each won their heat of the 800 and both played key roles on the title-winning DMR. Not bad for a couple of rookies.

Quick Take: Lauren Gregory ran a HEROIC anchor leg but an NCAA title eluded her once again

Lauren Gregory is in her sixth year at the University of Arkansas and has come close to winning an NCAA track title on multiple occasions. She was 2nd in the 3k (by just .20 of a second) and was part of the 2nd-place DMR in 2021, and last year finished 3rd in the 3k and 4th in the 5k. Tonight, Gregory was very close, but had to settle for 2nd once again. (She was part of NCAA team championships for Arkansas indoors in 2019 and 2021 and in XC in 2019)

But there’s not much more Gregory could have done tonight as she was absolutely sensational on the anchor leg. Running 90 minutes after winning her mile prelim, Gregory had the fastest anchor split in the field (4:31.36, at 4,959 feet) to take Arkansas from 6th to 2nd. It was a performance worthy of a national title, but Stanford’s team performance was too much to overcome.

Gregory will get one more shot in the mile tomorrow, and if she runs like she did tonight, she’ll have a great shot at the win – though she’ll have the disadvantage of an extra race in her legs compared to most of her rivals.

Quick Take: What happened to Washington?

Washington ran three of the four women (albeit in a different order) from the squad that set the NCAA record of 10:46.62 back on February 3 at Boston University. Yet tonight’s race could not have gone more differently. The race started poorly as UW handed off in last at the first exchange, more than four seconds behind, and would only fall farther behind on the subsequent legs. A night to forget, particularly when you add in the fact that they also had the third seed in the women’s mile, Anna Gibson, failed to advance.

Distance Prelims

Women’s 800m: Final With Three U20 800m Phenoms is Set

The 800 final everyone wanted is set as World U20 champion Roisin Willis and her Stanford teammate, the US high school record holder Juliette Whittaker, and World U20 bronze medallist in the 400m hurdles and 2023 NCAA #2 at 800m, Michaela Rose of LSU all made the final.

Rose and Willis were in heat #1, and with the top 3 in each heat and next 2 times making the final, Rose decided to take no chances and pushed the pace. She went out in a quick 58.62 and led at 600m (1:29.84). She’d fade on the final lap to third, but still get an auto spot as Whittaker took the heat in 2:01.82 and Valery Tobias got 2nd, .14 ahead of Rose in 3rd in 2:02.21.

In heat 2, Willis was super impressive. She had the lead at 400m (60.7) and would go wire-to-wire to get the win in 2:04.36 as the time qualifiers came from heat #1 thanks to Rose pushing the pace.

Heat 1

  1. Juliette WHITTAKER Stanford [FR] 2:01.82 Q
  2. Valery TOBIAS Texas [SR] 2:02.07 Q
  3. Michaela ROSE LSU [SO] 2:02.21 Q
  4. Claire SEYMOUR BYU [SR] 2:02.92 q
  5. Wilma NIELSEN Bradley [FR] 2:03.16 q
  6. Carley THOMAS Washington [JR] 2:03.37
  7. Bronwyn PATTERSON Penn [SO] 2:04.63
  8. MaLeigha MENEGATTI Boise State [SR] 2:09.94Heat 2
  1. Roisin WILLIS (Stanford [FR]) – 2:04.36 Q
  2. Aurora RYNDA (Michigan [SR]) – 2:04.54 Q
  3. Sarah HENDRICK (Kennesaw State [SR]) – 2:04.81 Q
  4. Katherine MITCHELL (Boston College [SR]) – 2:05.23
  5. Isabella GIESING (UMass Lowell [SR]) – 2:06.72
  6. Imogen BARRETT (Florida [SR]) – 2:08.25
  7. Marlena PREIGH (Washington [JR]) – 2:08.25
  8. Kelly-Ann BECKFORD (Houston [SR]) – 2:10.25

QT: Should be a great final

Rose didn’t look great today and didn’t want to talk to the media afterwards, but Whittaker and Willis both were a part of Stanford’s NCAA winning DMR less than an hour after the 800 prelims. After today, we’re leaning toward Willis FTW in the 800 final as she looked the most at ease in her prelim and only had to run 800m in the DMR (as opposed to a grueling 1600m for Whittaker).

Women’s Mile: Lauren Gregory leads qualifiers

Based on seed time, there was no overwhelming favorite in the women’s mile coming into the meet but Arkansas’ Lauren Gregory received 44% of the votes in LetsRun’s pre-meet poll (the most of any athlete), and she certainly is our favorite after today’s action. She front-ran heat 2 and led the qualifiers with the fastest time of the day in the prelims (4:39.46) and then had the fastest 1600m slit (4:31.36) in the DMR. The only negative is she won’t be as fresh as some of her contenders.

There are a number of women who might be capable of challenging for the win in Saturday’s final, however. Big 10 champ Olivia Howell of Illinois was right behind Gregory in heat 2 and looked comfortable, as did the top trio in heat 1 – top seed Amina Maatoug of Duke, Oregon’s Izzy Thornton-Batt, and reigning NCAA indoor 800m champion Lindsey Butler of Duke. All five of those women could be in the mix, on Saturday, setting up an intriguing final.

In terms of seed times, the biggest casualty was third seed Anna Gibson of Washington, who came in with a seed time of 4:31.00, (though that was converted from a:4:37.03 she ran here at altitude in January). Gibson was eliminated after finishing 7th in heat 2 in 4:41.78.

How about some love for the last 3 women in the field? All three of them made the final.

 14    341 Annika Reiss                  JR No. Arizona         4:33.66 q – 6th in heat 2
 15    209 Olivia Howell                 JR Illinois            4:33.77 Q – 2nd in heat 2
 16    619 Margot Appleton               SO Virginia            4:33.82 Q – fourth in heat 1

Gregory was so impressive, we talked to her twice today (once after the mile prelims, then again after the DMR). She thought 2021-22 would be her final collegiate season but didn’t enjoy it as she felt she putting herself under a tremendous amount of pressure. So she decided to come back for a sixth year and moved down to the mile. So far, so good.

“I owe it to myself to give it another go,” Gregory said of her decision to come back in 2022-23.

Heat 1

  1. Amina MAATOUG Duke [SO] 4:41.25 Q
  2. Izzy THORNTON-BOTT Oregon [JR] 4:41.41 Q
  3. Lindsey BUTLER Virginia Tech [JR] 4:41.80 Q
  4. Margot APPLETON Virginia [SO] 4:42.10 Q
  5. Kaylee MITCHELL Oregon State [JR] 4:42.36
  6. Silan AYYILDIZ South Carolina [SO] 4:43.65
  7. Riley CHAMBERLAIN BYU [FR] 4:43.82
  8. Alexandra CARLSON Rutgers [SO] 4:53.18

Heat 2

  1. Lauren GREGORY Arkansas [SR] 4:39.46 Q
  2. Olivia HOWELL Illinois [JR] 4:39.49 Q
  3. Flomena ASEKOL Alabama [JR] 4:39.63 Q
  4. Maia RAMSDEN Harvard [SO] 4:40.16 Q
  5. Klaudia KAZIMIERSKA Oregon [FR] 4:40.36 q
  6. Annika REISS Northern Arizona [JR] 4:41.24 q
  7. Anna GIBSON Washington [SR] 4:41.78
  8. Laura PELLICORO Portland [SO] 4:43.59

Quick Take: Lindsey Butler feeling back to her old self

Last year, Virginia Tech’s Lindsey Butler won the 800. But Butler was only 4th at ACCs in the 800 this year (she was sick) and decided she would focus on the mile instead at NCAAs.

“I did all I wanted to do in the 800 and it was time to move up and find a new challenge,” Butler said. “There was a lot of pressure — if I did the 800 and didn’t win, I’d feel like I was down from last year, and I shouldn’t feel like that. So I said, let me try the mile.”

Butler advanced automatically from the first heat and looked pretty good, but the mile field is deep this year and Saturday’s final will be tough.

Harvard’s Maia Ramsden made the final and picked up the NCAA’s Elite-90 award

Ramsden, a history and literature concentrator, won the award for the highest cumulative GPA for women at the meet with her stellar 3.94 GPA. She’s got an interesting backstory as she was born in American, but discovered by Harvard in New Zealand even though she went to high school in Ethiopia.

Rest of meet: Collegiate records galore, with a great Saturday on tap

Day 2 of NCAA Indoors is supposed to be the big day as that is when most of the track finals are held. But it’s hard to pack much more excitement into day 1 than what we saw today: the women’s sprint and field events saw three collegiate records, three world leaders, and a meet record Here are the highlights:

  • Texas’ Julien Alfred broken the collegiate 60m record for the fourth time in 2023. Alfred broke the record for the first time in the NCAA prelims last year (7.04) but only finished 5th in the final. This year, she’s gone 7.02, 7.00, 6.97 at Big 12s, and now 6.96 at NCAAs. Alfred is now tied with Merlene Ottey (among others) for #5 on the all-time list and is just .04 behind the world record of 6.92, which has stood since 1993.
  • Speaking of world records, the women’s 60m hurdle record of 7.68 held by Sweden’s Susanna Kallur is most definitely in danger on Saturday. Kentucky’s Masai Russell entered NCAAs as the collegiate record holder at 7.77, and she just missed that today by running 7.78. But Russell wasn’t the fastest qualifier to Saturday’s final; that was Arkansas’ Ackera Nugent, who won the 2021 NCAA title for Baylor and broke Russell’s collegiate record by clocking 7.72, tying Lolo Jones for 5th on the all-time list. Saturday’s final should be terrific.
  • Florida’s Jasmine Moore swept the horizontal jumps at NCAAs in 2022, winning the triple and long jump indoors and out. Moore already owned the collegiate indoor record in the triple jump, and now she has the indoor record as she went 7.03m on her first jump tonight to become the first collegian ever to leap seven meters indoors. Just like Nugent’s time, Moore’s jump was a 2023 world leader.
  • Last year, Kentucky’s Abby Steiner set a meet record of 22.16 in the 200m at NCAAs. That record only lasted a year as LSU’s Favour Ofili went 22.11 to lead all qualifiers in the 200. She’ll run the final against Alfred tomorrow.
  • Speaking of finals, the women’s 400 tomorrow should be incredible. Two weeks ago, Texas’ Rhasidat Adeleke ran a collegiate record of 50.33 in the 400, only for Florida’s Talitha Diggs to lower it to 50.15 at SECs. Yet neither of them were the fastest qualifier in today’s 400m prelim. That would be NCAA 400 hurdles champ Britton Wilson, who ran an indoor pb of 50.69 to Diggs’ 50.79 and Adeleke’s 51.12.
    Adeleke may have lucked out, however. Saturday’s final will be run in two sections, and while Diggs and Wilson will have to battle each other for the lead in section 2, Adeleke won’t have the same level of competition in section 1.

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