Katelyn Tuohy & the Pursuit of History – 2023 NCAA W1500/5K Preview

In all likelihood, this weekend will be the final NCAA Track & Field Championships for North Carolina State star Katelyn Tuohy. After winning four NCAA titles in the last year, the 21-year-old has shown she is ready for a new level of competition. The only question is whether Tuohy, who already has an NIL deal with adidas, turns fully professional this summer or returns for one final cross country season this fall as her Wolfpack teammates chase a third straight national title.

No one would have blamed Tuohy if she signed up for one event at NCAAs, won it, and focused all her energies on making the World Championship team at next month’s US championships. Instead, as many of the greats do, Tuohy is pushing her limits and will attempt an audacious 1500/5000 double in Austin.

In the 41-year history of the NCAA women’s championships, only one woman has won the 1500 and 5000 at the same meet: Villanova’s Sheila Reid back in 2011 (two others, Wisconsin’s Clare Eichner and Cathy Branta, won the 1500 and 3000 before the 3000 was scrapped in 2001). That’s a hard enough feat on its own, but Tuohy is facing an added degree of difficulty. When Reid won her title, the 1500 and 5000 finals were on consecutive days. Now they’re on the same day, less than two hours apart: the 1500 goes off at 9:12 p.m. ET on Saturday, with the 5000 following at 10:55 p.m. ET. Given the short gap between events, should Tuohy win both, it would rank as the most impressive women’s distance double ever at the NCAA outdoor championships.

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That’s not the only history Tuohy is chasing. With a victory in cross country and a 3000/5000 double at the indoor championships in Albuquerque, Tuohy has won three NCAA championships during the 2022-23 academic year. Three distance women have won four titles in the same academic year: Eichner (indoor mile/3k, outdoor 1500/3k in 1992-93), Arizona’s Amy Skieresz (cross country, indoor 5k, outdoor 5k/10k in 1996-97), and Texas Tech’s Sally Kipyego (cross country, indoor 3k/5k, outdoor 10k in 2006-07). No woman has won five — which would be Tuohy’s total should she complete the double in Austin.

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Add in Tuohy’s collegiate records in the mile (4:24.26), 3000 (8:35.20), and outdoor 5000 (15:03.12) and a double victory would place Tuohy’s 2022-23 campaign among the greatest we’ve ever seen from a collegiate distance runner, though it probably won’t surpass what Jenny Simpson did at Colorado in 2008-09. That year, Simpson (then going by Jenny Barringer) set collegiate records in the 1500 (3:59.90), mile (4:25.91), 3000 (8:42.03), 5000 (15:01.70), and steeple (9:25.54). Though she only won two NCAA titles (indoor 3000, outdoor steeple; she didn’t race XC as she was recovering from the Olympics), Simpson’s 5000 record still stands and her 1500 record remains totally untouchable — no NCAA woman has come within six seconds in the 14 years since it was set. That we’re even pondering whether Tuohy might have surpassed Simpson shows how good she has been this year.

Of course, all of this discussion of where Tuohy ranks historically is somewhat contingent on her, you know, actually winning both races. And as fantastic as Tuohy has been this season, that will be a very tough task. Among the challenges Tuohy will face this week: a suddenly deep 1500 field (five women ran 4:08 at the West regional), a resurgent (and fresh) Parker Valby in the 5000, oppressive conditions in Austin (temperatures in the 80s, humidity in the 60s and 70s on Saturday night), and precious little recovery time between events.

Plus the entire field will be gunning for Tuohy in both races, and while she has handled the pressure spectacularly so far this year, there is a long list of previously-invincible athletes getting humbled at the end of their careers. Edward Cheserek won three straight NCAA XC titles but lost as a senior in 2016. Josh Kerr was unstoppable in the 1500/mile until Ollie Hoare stopped him in 2018. And Jenny Simpson, after her historic 2009 track campaign, came to NCAA XC as a heavy favorite that fall and finished 163rd. At NCAAs, there is always someone new ready to step up at the first sign of weakness.

Can Tuohy do it? Let’s take a closer look at each race.

*Schedule *Start lists

Women’s 1500

(Prelims Thursday 8:46 p.m. ET, final Saturday 9:12 p.m. ET. Times below are from regionals, regular season times here)

  1  Sophie O'Sullivan             SO Washington          4:08.06 
  2  Mia Barnett                   SO UCLA                4:08.44 
  3  Klaudia Kazimierska           FR Oregon              4:08.53 
  4  Simone Plourde                JR Utah                4:08.70 
  5  Maddy Elmore                  FR Oregon              4:08.87 
  6  Abbe Goldstein                SR New Mexico          4:10.32 
  7  Tiana LoStracco               JR Bradley             4:10.69 
  8  Shannon Flockhart             SO Providence          4:11.51 
  9  Silan Ayyildiz                SO South Carolina      4:12.11 
 10  Rylee Penn                    JR Cincinnati          4:12.17 
 11  Olivia Howell                 JR Illinois            4:12.28 
 12  Izzy Thornton-Bott            JR Oregon              4:12.38 
 13  Billah Jepkirui               FR OK State            4:12.39 
 14  Melissa Riggins               SO Georgetown          4:12.52 
 15  Anna Gibson                   SR Washington          4:12.71 
 16  Flomena Asekol                JR Alabama             4:12.72 
 17  Laura Pellicoro               JR Portland            4:12.94 
 18  Amina Maatoug                 SO Duke                4:13.16 
 19  Katelyn Tuohy                 SO NC State            4:14.09 
 20  Lauren Freeland               JR Mich State          4:14.28 
 21  Maia Ramsden                  SO Harvard             4:14.52 
 22  Margot Appleton               SO Virginia            4:14.54 
 23  Gabrielle Wilkinson           SR Florida             4:14.80 
 24  Kimberley May                 SO Providence          4:14.83

The 1500 comes first in Austin, with the prelims on Thursday night and the final at 9:12 p.m. ET on Saturday. And after the regional meets, this is suddenly looking like a much more competitive event than it was one month ago. That’s because the second heat of the West regional went crazy: the top five women — all of them from the Pac-12 conference — broke 4:09. For context, only three women broke 4:09 during the entire regular season.

Top five from West regional, heat 2

Runner School Regional time Previous pb
Sophie O’Sullivan Washington 4:08.06 4:12.19
Mia Barnett UCLA 4:08.44 4:09.30
Klaudia Kazimierska Oregon 4:08.53 4:07.47
Simone Plourde Utah 4:08.70 4:09.48
Maddy Elmore Oregon 4:08.87 4:13.21

Add in Oregon’s Izzy Thornton-Bott (4:08.33), Virginia’s Margot Appleton (4:08.96), and Tuohy (4:08.29) and there will be eight women in the field who have broken 4:09 this year — far more than any other year in history. Amazingly, seven of those eight — all but Thornton-Bott — will be in the first semifinal at NCAAs. On paper, that seems unbalanced, but it’s mainly a product of five women all running very fast in the same heat at regionals. Maybe there truly is way more talent in the first semi, but the more likely explanation is that, with the aid of supershoes, 4:08 in 2023 is the equivalent to 4:10 or 4:11 in 2018 and that there are a number of other women who could have run that fast had they been placed in the same race at regionals. (Consider: at Pac-12s, the women above finished 4th, 6th, 9th, 1st, and 8th, respectively).

All of that is to say that while Tuohy has the fastest personal bests in the field — 4:06.49, an NCAA record of 4:24.26 in the mile — she may not be so far ahead that she can easily run away from everyone. Think about it: if five women can run 4:08 at regionals, where the only goal is to qualify, chances are good at least one of them can shave off another second or two if pushed in an NCAA final. It’s certainly possible Tuohy is a cut above everyone else — World Athletics converts her 4:24.26 indoor mile to a 4:04.63 1500. But she also ran “only” 4:08.29 in the only 1500 she raced for time this spring, nearly two seconds slower than her sb last year. If she’s a 4:04 woman right now, she’s basically untouchable. If she’s a 4:06 woman, she could go down if one of her opponents has a big race at NCAAs.

Either way, it’s going to be fascinating to see how Tuohy takes this race. In her previous NCAA victories in the 3k and 5k, Tuohy has gone to the lead between 600 and 1000 to go and gradually ratcheted up the pace rather than making one huge move. Tuohy’s record in close races is not as strong — she was outkicked on the last lap at NCAA indoors in the 5k and 3k in 2022. Though in the latter race, she had the fastest last lap in the field (31.18) and she’s definitely a better runner in June 2023 than she was in March 2022.

Who has the best chance to topple Tuohy? It may be Utah’s Simone Plourde. The Canadian Plourde, a BYU transfer, won the loaded Pac-12 meet and at the Drake Relays in April, she beat Helen Schlachtenhaufen (who just ran 4:05 on Sunday) and Addy Wiley (who just ran 4:03 on Saturday). She’s also strong — she has run 15:21 this season for 5000. In fact, she’s trying the 1500/5000 double at NCAAs, just like Tuohy.

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If you value good genes, Washington’s Sophie O’Sullivan, who won that super fast heat at the West regional in a big pb of 4:08.06, is the daughter of former 5000 world champ Sonia O’Sullivan and Aussie superagent Nic Bideau — though she was only 4th at Pac-12s and struggled mightily in the DMR indoors in her first NCAA track champs.

It also seems crazy that we’ve gone this far without mentioning the NCAA mile champ, Olivia Howell of Illinois. This field figures to be tougher than the one she took down in Albuquerque, but she hasn’t done much wrong this spring, winning the Big 10 title and lowering her 800 pb to 2:02.50. She should be a factor again in Austin.

Who wins the w 1500?

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JG prediction: This will be a real test for Tuohy, both physically and from a strategic standpoint. Her best path to victory is probably a Jakob Ingebrigtsen-style race — get into position near the front early and gradually squeeze down the pace until she is the last one standing. But as we saw with Ingebrigtsen at World Indoors and World Outdoors last year, that sort of plan is not without risk, and if there’s anyone close to Tuohy’s fitness level in the field, she could wind up setting the pace for someone else’s upset.

I wouldn’t be shocked if Tuohy loses, but I still like her chances better than anyone else’s. Tuohy FTW.

Women’s 5000

(Final Saturday 10:55 p.m. ET. Times below are from regionals, regular season times here)

  1  Sydney Thorvaldson            SO Arkansas           15:45.13 
  2  Parker Valby                  SO Florida            15:33.43 
  3  Amelia Mazza-Downie           JR New Mexico         15:36.02 
  4  Faith DeMars                  SO Penn State         16:04.06 
  5  Katelyn Tuohy                 SO NC State           15:31.00 
  6  Lydia Miller                  JR Lipscomb           16:01.01 
  7  Siona Chisholm                FR Notre Dame         15:37.81 
  8  Simone Plourde                JR Utah               15:34.64 
  9  Amina Maatoug                 SO Duke               15:58.23 
 10  Amaris Tyynismaa              JR NC State           15:51.41 
 11  Cailie Logue                  SR IA State           15:41.23 
 12  Yasna Petrova                 SO CBU                15:45.14 
 13  Gracelyn Larkin               JR New Mexico         15:41.35 
 14  Lucy Jenks                    JR Stanford           15:38.35 
 15  Emily Venters                 SR Utah               15:34.60 
 16  Ella Baran                    JR Colorado           15:38.22 
 17  Kelsey Chmiel                 JR NC State           15:38.39 
 18  Maia Ramsden                  SO Harvard            15:40.05 
 19  Brianna Weidler               SO UC Davis           15:49.75 
 20  Chloe Scrimgeour              SO Georgetown         15:55.87 
 21  Alyson Churchill              JR FL State           15:33.83 
 22  Everlyn Kemboi                JR UT Valley          15:30.25 
 23  Sarah Carter                  SR CO State           15:44.20 
 24  Jane Buckley                  FR Providence         15:41.68

There’s little doubt that, were Tuohy to run this race fresh, she would be the heavy favorite to win. Her season’s best of 15:03 is 17 seconds better than anyone else has run this year, and she stomped everyone to win the NCAA title indoors. But is she still better than everyone on a hot, humid night in Austin with a 1500 in her legs?

There were promising signs at the NCAA regional in Jacksonville. Tuohy won her 1500 prelim, then returned to win her 5000 heat decisively, closing in 67 seconds flat — two seconds faster than runner-up Parker Valby of Florida, the woman many regard as Tuohy’s chief challenger. Of course, Tuohy had a three-hour gap between events at the regional  and the gap is less than two at NCAAs.

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Since Tuohy began dominating the NCAA last spring, she hasn’t lost a race of substance to collegians (she has lost a couple where she finished behind teammates or was just trying to knock out a standard). Valby has come the closest of anyone to beating her, opening up an 11-second lead at NCAA XC in November before Tuohy ran her down late. Since then, Valby has raced sparingly due to a mysterious leg injury. She was fit enought to win the SEC 5000, however, and she has shown in the past she doesn’t need much training to produce big-time results.

If Valby is going to beat Tuohy in Austin, she’s going to have to do it from the front — she doesn’t have the speed to outkick her. The question is whether Valby will try to force a fast pace in potentially oppressive conditions in Austin. If Valby can run something in the 15:10s (her pb is 15:20), she just might be strong enough to drop Tuohy. But that is a significant challenge.

The biggest thing Valby has going for her is that she will be fresh for this race. There are a couple other women in this field who could theoretically challenge a tired Tuohy, but those women will be doubling back themselves. The first is Utah’s Simone Plourde, who, like Tuohy, will be coming back from the 1500. Plourde is a threat for all the reasons listed in the 1500 section, but since Tuohy is a better 5000 runner and both will be doubling back from the 1500 (unless one of them somehow fails to make the final), it’s hard to see why Plourde would beat her in this event if they’re equally tired.

The other intriguing entrant is Utah Valley’s Everlyn Kemboi. Only 12th at NCAAs in the 10,000 last year and 19th in cross country last fall (she didn’t qualify indoors), Kemboi has become one of the top runners in the country this spring. Her 15:20 sb is #2 behind Tuohy, and she has flashed a potent kick — she ran her last lap in 65 seconds in that race and also dropped 65s at the end of the 10k and 5k at regionals, winning both races. If she can close in 65 at NCAAs, that could be enough to win the 5k, but Kemboi will be doubling back from the 10k on Thursday night. She’ll have had close to 48 hours between races, but 25 laps in the Texas heat can take its toll, so who knows how recovered she’ll be on Saturday.

Who wins the w 5000?

Your vote has been counted. Thank you!

JG prediction: This is all so difficult to predict. The 1500/5000 is such a tough double that I expect someone to rise up and beat Tuohy in at least one of the races. And yet I feel more confident in Tuohy than anyone else in the 1500, and I feel more confident than Tuohy than anyone else in the 5000.

Tuohy is already an NCAA legend, and winning both events would be one of the greatest accomplishments ever by a collegiate distance woman. But my mind flashes back to Cole Hocker in 2021. At NCAA indoors, he won the mile and doubled back to win the 3k later that day. Outdoors, he won the 1500 but the 5k final went super fast, and while Hocker ran a 5k pb of 13:18, that was only good for 4th place. Tuohy is more of a 5000 runner than Hocker was, but if Valby can run a similar race to last year’s NCAA final in Eugene, where she was 2nd in 15:20, that just might be enough to drop Tuohy. In a race where most of the top contenders will be running on tired legs, I’ll take the fresh Parker Valby for the win.

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