THE WARM-UP LAP: Washington Husky Classic Distance Preview

THE WARM-UP LAP: Washington Husky Classic Distance Preview

NEW ORLEANS–Kyle has you covered with the weekend’s explosive action at Arkansas; below, I preview the distance events at Washington. As our purview is primarily collegiate, I list the prominent pros entered, but don’t analyze. (Save some punctuative reaction to a certain Michael Phelps-lookin’ mid-d runner) Each event is separated into favorites and dark horses; at this point in the season, things are so thinly sketched out that the distinction isn’t entirely data-based.

All events listed but the 5k are on Saturday.

Out of the 128 ostensible (people past No. 16 on the list make nationals as athletes skip events, but for consistency’s sake, we’re sticking with the top 16) national qualifiers in the 800, mile, 3k, and 5k–the top 16 men and women in each event–13 (10%) ran their times at Husky last year.

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Women’s Distance Preview

800 meters (6:50 pm ET/3:50 pm PT)

Favorites: Claudia Saunders, Stanford; Savannah Camacho, Oklahoma State
Dark horses: Lindsey Butterworth, Simon Fraser; Annie LeBlanc, Oregon; Raevyn Rogers, Oregon

For every other event, we’ll cover the favorites and dark horses separately, but the 800 (particularly indoors) is such a crapshoot that the two groups get lumped together here. The title of "Best Women’s 800 Runner in the NCAA Not Named Natoya Goule" is wide-open, and most of the claimants to the throne are in this race: Saunders is the top returner from the 2014 outdoor 800 final, and Camacho is the top returner from the indoor final.

It’s hard to imagine a collegian beating Saunders or Camacho–both have run 2:02, and no one other undergraduate in the field has broken 2:04 in college. Rogers ran 2:03 in high school, but only ran 2:12 at McCravy three weeks ago in her only 800 of her career so far.

But it’s the 800. The favorites don’t have to "falter" for someone else to win; even if the fitness there, they just have to get boxed in, or go out too fast, or make a move a hair too soon, or too late. Should any of those things happen to Rogers, Camacho, and Saunders, LeBlanc has run 2:04 outdoors and Butterworth has run 2:06 indoors.

(According to the rudimentary list we have on hand, the all-time Division II indoor record in the women’s 800 is 2:05.96 by Butterworth’s former Simon Fraser teammate Helen Crofts. If you know of faster times, drop us a line at

No one in the NCAA other than Goule has broken 2:05 yet this winter. Expect that to change this weekend.

Notable pros: Phoebe Wright, Christy Cazzola, Geena Lara, Megan Malasarte

Mile (6:00 pm ET/3:00 pm PT)

The favorite: Natalja Piliusina, Oklahoma State

This is a legacy designation. Piliusina won outdoor NCAAs in the 1500 in 2013, and hasn’t raced collegiately or otherwise since that summer, as far as we can tell. The 25-year-old Lithuanian has a chance to mark herself the favorite for nationals this weekend. At a bare minimum, her credentials (even with a year’s remove) are head and shoulders above the rest of the collegiate entries for Saturday.

Dark horses: Sarah Feeny, Utah (also entered in 3k); Carly Hamilton, Georgia; Sara Sutherland, unattached/Colorado

Sutherland does not have indoor eligibility, but the Texas transfer does have outdoor remaining. She ran 4:18 outdoors three years ago, which equates to roughly 4:38 in the mile; if Sutherland can replicate that, she’s worth keeping on your radar through the spring.

If it weren’t for the misfortune of being born the same year as Mary Cain, Alexa Efraimson, and Elise Cranny, Feeny would be remembered as one of the best high school milers in American history. (Of course, if they weren’t around, maybe she wouldn’t have figured out that running a 4:39 mile was possible) The Utah freshman has run a 2:50 1k and 4:48 mile in the first two track races of her collegiate career.

Hamilton was a surprising fifth at last year’s indoor NCAA mile. After that race, she backed it up with a 4:15 1500 at Mt. Sac and won the college section of the 1500 at Drake Relays a week later. She’s struggled a little bit in 2015, though: the Georgia senior opened up with a 9:42 3k and 4:49 mile. That’s 20 seconds slower in the 3k and five seconds slower in the mile than where she was at this time a year ago. Saturday afternoon’s race in Seattle will be a chance for her to get back on track.

Notable pros: Alexi Pappas (also in 3k), Shannon Leinert, Amanda Mergaert (also in 3k)

3000 meters (7:25 pm ET/4:25 pm PT)

Favorites: Dominique Scott, Arkansas; Katrina Coogan, Georgetown; Elise Cranny, Stanford; Bethan Knights, Cal

Coogan and Scott are the only two in the field who have broken 9:05; Knights’s outdoor 9:53.54 two mile PR converts to roughly 9:09 or 9:10 for 3000 meters. Cranny never ran faster than 10:17 in high school, but also never, as far as we can tell, raced this distance at sea level. She’s more of an unknown quantity than an underdog here.

Depending on just how well Kate Avery runs at Millrose earlier on Saturday night, the winner of this race–likely Coogan or Scott, but Knights and Cranny could open with a bang–can think of herself as a legitimate contender for the NCAA title. Scott and Coogan are the top two returners from last year’s indoor 3k, and have repeatedly demonstrated a quality kick.

Dark horses: Elvin Kibet, Arizona (also in 5k); Sarah Feeny, Utah (also in mile); Maddie Meyers, Washington

Kibet was fourth at outdoor nationals in the 10k, but only ran 9:24 at the Armory two weeks ago. Meyers ran a 9:16 PB on her home track a month ago.

Notable pros: Alexi Pappas (also in mile), Angela Bizzari, Amanda Mergaert, Bridget Franek

5000 meters (Friday, 8:30 pm ET/5:30 pm PT)

The favorite: Jess Tonn, Stanford

On paper, Tonn is an enormous favorite. She ran 15:32 last outdoor season, and no other collegian in the field has broken 15:50 in any conditions. Her first two indoor races of 2015 were enormous personal bests: a 4:38 mile on the same Dempsey track a month ago slashed 15 seconds from her old PB, and a 9:04 3k cut eight seconds away. Her current indoor career best in the 5k is 15:54.

Dark horses: Samantha Nadel, Georgetown; Elvin Kibet, Arizona (also in 3k); Annie LeHardy, North Carolina; Lauren Martin, Adams State; Kelsey Santiseban, Cal; Lauren Sara, UConn, Alice Wright, New Mexico; Chelsea Blaase, Tennessee

This is the first race for Santiseban since the 2014 NCAA outdoor meet. The Cal junior took tenth a year and a half ago at cross country nationals, showing that she can be a major, major player on the national scene when healthy. Kibet is covered above; the others have never broken 16:00, but all were either cross-country All-Americans or regional champions. (Martin is the DII outdoor 10k champion)

16:00 was the cutoff to qualify for indoor nationals last year. Most of the women listed here would set a PR and be happy to punch their ticket to Fayetteville if they ran that on Friday night.


Men’s Distance Preview

800 meters (7:10 pm ET/4:10 pm PT)

Favorites: Niki Franzmair, Oregon; Luke Lefebure, Stanford
Dark horses: Nick Hartle, UCLA; Za’Von Watkins, Penn State; Charles Grethen, Georgia

As far as we can tell, these five are the only ones who have broken 1:48 at any point in their careers. By nature of his 1:46 chops, Franzmair is the nominal favorite, but none of these five coming away with the collegiate win would surprise.

These five (along with Iowa State’s Edward Kemboi and BYU’s Shaq Walker, both of whom aren’t entered here) might be competing for the somewhat limp title of "Best Collegiate 800 Runner Not From the SEC."

Notable pros: Andrew Wheating, Cas Loxsom

Wheating alert!

Mile (6:15 pm ET/3:15 pm PT)

Favorites: Brannon Kidder, Penn State; Izaic Yorks, Washington; Sam Prakel, Oregon; Jake Hurysz, Colorado

Kidder is the only one in the field who has dipped under 3:40, and the other three are the only other ones have have broken 4:00 or its metric equivalent. As previously outlined in this space, the men’s mile (should Ed Cheserek skip it) is one of the most wide open events at nationals.

A quick thought on that: Oregon coach Robert Johnson has said that if the NCAA meet comes down to it, Ches will run the 5k. But the 3k is actually the last distance event on the meet schedule. Here’s the list of salient races for the King a month from now. Friday: Mile semi 6:15, 5k 8:45, DMR 9:20. Saturday: Mile final 6:10, 3k 8:15.

No triples in that schedule contain a serious conflict with the mile. He could do the mile, 3k, and pick one of the the 5k or DMR and still be heavily favored in all three. (Of course, ask Lawi Lalang how that worked out) This is all a long-winded way of prognosticating that the schedule seems pretty favorable for Ches to run the mile at indoor nationals–bad news for all of these guys.

Prakel and Kidder were the only two in this field who made the 1500 final at outdoor NCAAs a year ago, and Yorks is the only one who even qualified for indoor nationals in the mile. The No. 16 time in the nation (sixteen guys make nats) the last five years has been 3:59.12, 3:58.66, 3:58.76, 3:58.82, and 3:59.17. This is a field of guys trying to punch their tickets to nationals.

Dark Horses: Colby Alexander, Oregon; Wade Endress, Penn State; Dan Herrera, UCLA; Craig Engels and Dan Bulmer, Mississippi; Blake Theroux, unattached/Colorado

The Mississippi men sent a message to the rest of the country by crushing the field with then-nation-leading times at Vanderbilt; now they look to join Sean Tobin in the one-man Ole Miss sub-4:00 club.

Notable pros: Matt Hillenbrand, Tommy Schmitz, Michael Atchoo, Dylan Ferris

3000 meters (7:50 pm ET/4:50 pm PT)

Favorites: Sean McGorty and Erik Olson (also in 5k), Stanford; Kevin Batt, Adams State; Kemoy Campbell and Stanley Kebenei, Arkansas

This is the men’s race of the meet. Olson is the only one who made indoor nationals last year, but Campbell was the national runner-up in 2013, and Batt’s 7:52 win at this meet a year ago would have qualified for Division I nationals. Kebenei has the slowest 3k PB in this crew at 7:58, but his 8:24 steeple is more in like with a 7:50 or so. Campbell is the only one who’s broken 7:50.

Olson has the second best credentials in the field with his 7:50 PB; this is the 3k debut for McGorty, who’s currently ranked seventh in the nation in the mile.

Can Batt pull off the Division II upset two years in a row?

Dark horses: Matt Fischer (also in 5k) and Robby Creese, Penn State; Cosmas Boit, UTEP

This appears to be Creese’s college debut at 3000 meters. Based on how good he looked last week, a time well under eight minutes would not be surprising.

Notable pros: AJ Acosta, Garrett Heath, Nick Symmonds

Postscript: The brothers Pepiot are racing against each other.

5000 meters (Friday, 8:50pm ET/5:50pm PT)

Favorites: Ammar Moussa, Ben Saarel, Pierce Murphy, and Morgan Pearson, Colorado; Craig Lutz, Texas; Ty McCormack, Auburn; Erik Olson, Stanford (also in 3k); Anthony Rotich, UTEP

This is the All-Potential race of the weekend. Its startlist is backed with guys who’ve performed tremendously in other events or cross country, but haven’t thrown down a fast 5000 yet. Rotich, Pearson, and Olson are the only three in the field who have dipped into the 13:30s in their collegiate careers. In particular, McCormack, Moussa, Saarel, and Lutz are ready to run much, much faster than their PBs that linger around 13:50.

This is the sea-level season opener for Colorado. How fast can they go? At this meet last year, Saarel ran faster than the American junior record in the 3k, though it didn’t count because of the oversized track.

13:44, 13:45, 13:48, 13:49 and 13:53 have been the No. 16 times on the descending order list the last five years. With only two weeks to conference championships, this weekend is the time to run a fast 5k. Only fourteen men have cracked the top 16 at sea level after this weekend in the last five years.

Dark horses: Matt Fischer, Penn State; Erik Peterson, Butler; Gabe Gonzales, Arkansas (also in 3k)

Gonzales has run 13:59; the other two have never broken 14:00.