Texas A&M Women Projected as Narrow Preseason Favorites to Defend DI Outdoor Crown
NEW ORLEANS – The Countdown to Tracktown is officially on: only 11 weeks remain until college track & field’s top teams and athletes duke it out at the 2015 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships on June 10-13 in Eugene, Oregon. That’s still a long wait, but it’s shaping up to be very much worth it.
If the preseason National Team Computer Rankings released Tuesday by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) hold relatively to form, we might be in for one of the best women’s team races in meet history.
Defending national champion Texas A&M is projected by the USTFCCCA computers as the preseason favorite with 311.82 rankings points based on the strength of their returning athletes from a year ago (see rankings explanation here), but the Aggies are far from the only horse in the race.
(Texas A&M is also the top-ranked men’s team. More on that here.)
No. 2 Florida (293.78 points), No. 3 Texas (287.62), No. 4 Oregon (272.55), and No. 5 Kentucky (260.25) are all very much in striking distance, based on preseason projections. In fact, never before in the eight-year history of the rankings have the top five teams been so tightly bunched.
The list of probable contenders keeps going. Historically, checking in with 200 points or more throughout the season has been correlated with finishing on or near the podium as one of the top four teams at the Championships.
No. 6 Georgia (229.62), recently crowned indoor champion No. 7 Arkansas (207.42), and No. 8 Southern California (200.91) also came in with more than 200 points.
Florida State (156.96) and Baylor (147.22) rounded out the top 10.
Projected to finish much higher than their 2014 finishes are No. 13 Texas Tech (51st in 2014), No. 15 Missouri (30th), No. 17 Michigan (37th), No. 19 Miami (Fla.) (54th), No. 23 UCLA (37th), and No. 25 Kansas (42nd).
The USTFCCCA National Team Computer Rankings are designed to project how teams might finish at the NCAA Championships. The rankings will not accurately predict the finishes of smaller meets like invitationals and conference championships.
Ranking points do not equate to the team scoring system used at the NCAA Championships. The top-ranked athletes in each event are assigned 30 points (plus bonus points based on how far ahead of the rest of the list they are), and each successively ranked athlete is assigned fewer points. For the preseason and the first three regular-season editions of the rankings, the top 2014 marks by returning athletes will be included to show the potential each team has demonstrated based on past results as athletes round into peak form.
Team totals are derived by adding up all the points assigned to the athletes on a given team.
Breaking Down Those Top Eight Teams
Texas A&M has history on its side as all but one preseason favorite in the history of the rankings (since 2008) have gone on to win the national team title later that summer. The Aggies also have strength in numbers on their side.
Only No. 4 Oregon matches their 11 athletes ranked among the top 10 nationally in their events (including the top 2014 marks from returning athletes), and no team equals their seven athletes ranked in the top-three nationally. No. 3 Texas is next on that list with six, while No. 2 Florida, No. 4 Oregon, No. 5 Kentucky and No. 6 Georgia all have just three.
Texas A&M returns three individual national champions in Kamaria Brown at 200 meters, Shamier Little in the 400-meter hurdles and Shelbi Vaughan in the discus – not to mention the defending 4×100 relay team.
No. 2 Florida, which finished fourth a year ago at NCAAs, returns javelin champion Fawn Miller, who is joined as a preseason top seed by Bridgette Owens in the 100-meter hurdles and Ciarra Brewer in the triple jump – an event in which she won the indoor crown. Indoor 200-meter champion Kyra Jefferson is ranked just seventh in the preseason based on her 2014 resume, giving the Gators the potential for more points.
Last year’s runner-up outdoors, No. 3 Texas will once again be powered by the quarter-mile trio of defending champion/collegiate record holder Courtney Okolo, No. 2 Kendall Baisden and two-time NCAA champ No. 5 Ashley Spencer – the three of whom combine for the defending 4×400 relay champion.
However, the Longhorns earn a significant number of points from former indoor pole vault collegiate record holder/defending champion No. 1 Kaitlin Petrillose, who has no-heighted at each of her past two NCAA Championship meets.
No. 4 Oregon surprised with a runner-up finish indoors, a result driven by the phenomenal efforts of Jenna Prandini. The junior will once again be leaned upon heavily as the defending champion in the long jump. She scored 24 points at NCAAs a year ago to propel the Ducks to a third-place effort, and put up 23 points at indoor NCAAs just two weekends ago.
The Ducks are credited with the No. 3 4×400 relay based on 2014 results, but that relay team was dismantled by the graduation of Bowerman Trophy winner Laura Roesler and indoor collegiate record holder Phyllis Francis, and consequently did not qualify to NCAA indoors. However, Oregon will likely gain points as sophomore Jasmine Todd and Sasha Wallace bounce back from injury-abbreviated 2014 outdoor seasons.
No. 5 Kentucky will look to get big points from Kendra Harrison – last year’s fastest woman in the 400H and No. 3 in the 100-meter hurdles – and Dezerea Bryant, who is No. 2 and No. 4 at 100 and 200 meters, respectively. The long jumping duo of No. 6 Sha’Keela Saunders and No. 9 Kenyattia Hackworth will also be key for the Wildcats.
The most field-event dependent team contending for the national title is No. 6 Georgia. The Bulldogs will be led by three-time combined events NCAA champion Kendell Williams and three-time NCAA high jump champion Leontia Kallenou. Williams is also credited for sizeable points in the 100 hurdles, but has never contested more than just the pentathlon/heptathlon at NCAA Championship meets.
Likely filling in those points and then some will be frosh Keturah Orji in the triple jump and long jump. Orji was the top triple jumper for much of the indoor season before finishing runner-up to Florida’s Brewer.
No. 7 Arkansas just won its first women’s NCAA national team title in any sport by claiming the indoor crown, but the Razorbacks will be hard-pressed to pull it off again during the summer. One thing Arkansas will have going for it is that these rankings do not take into account the indoor season.
Numerous Razorbacks experienced breakthrough seasons this winter. Indoor 400-meter runner-up Taylor Ellis-Watson is seeded just 15th based on her 2014 outdoor season; Chrishuna Williams is seeded 38th at 800 meters but finished fourth indoors; Tamara Myers is No. 15 and No. 17 in the long jump and triple jump, respectively, but finished eighth and seventh at NCAAs indoors; and Alex Gochenour finished fourth in the indoor pentathlon but is ranked only No. 16 in the outdoor heptathlon .
No. 8 Southern California is another team with significant room for improvement in the rankings. Their score does not take into account standout frosh athletes like Ky Westbrook and Dior Hall. Westbrook was the runner-up indoors at 60 meters, while Hall was keeping pace with the leaders in the 60-meter hurdles final before tripping up on a hurdle. She finished the season as the No. 3 hurdler in the country.
Women’s Indoor Track & Field National Team Computer Rankings (Top 25)
2015 Preseason — March 24
|next ranking: MONDAY, April 6|
|Rank||Institution||Points||Conference||Head Coach (Yr)||2014 FINAL|
|1||Texas A&M||311.82||SEC||Pat Henry (11th)||1|
|2||Florida||293.78||SEC||Mike Holloway (8th)||4|
|3||Texas||287.62||Big 12||Mario Sategna (2nd)||2|
|4||Oregon||272.55||Pac-12||Robert Johnson (3rd)||3|
|5||Kentucky||260.25||SEC||Edrick Floreal (3rd)||7|
|6||Georgia||229.62||SEC||Wayne Norton (16th)||5|
|7||Arkansas||207.42||SEC||Lance Harter (25th)||9|
|8||Southern California||200.91||Pac-12||Caryl Smith Gilbert (2nd)||16|
|9||Florida State||156.96||ACC||Bob Braman (12th)||16|
|10||Baylor||147.22||Big 12||Todd Harbour (10th)||14|
|11||Kansas State||144.12||Big 12||Cliff Rovelto (23rd)||19|
|12||Stanford||139.09||Pac-12||Chris Miltenberg (3rd)||11|
|13||Texas Tech||122.74||Big 12||Wes Kittley (16th)||51|
|14||Oklahoma State||121.93||Big 12||Dave Smith (6th)||NR|
|15||Missouri||113.96||SEC||Brett Halter (5th)||30|
|16||Clemson||98.01||ACC||Mark Elliott (2nd)||NR|
|17||Michigan||96.65||Big Ten||James Henry (30th)||37|
|18||LSU||95.83||SEC||Dennis Shaver (11th)||6|
|19||Miami (Fla.)||87.00||ACC||Amy Deem (25th)||54|
|20||Michigan State||86.67||Big Ten||Walt Drenth (9th)||22|
|21||Auburn||86.05||SEC||Ralph Spry (18th)||NR|
|22||Boise State||84.26||Mountain West||Corey Ihmels (2nd)||8|
|23||UCLA||83.23||Pac-12||Mike Maynard (3rd)||37|
|24||NC State||82.22||ACC||Rollie Geiger (31st)||NR|
|25||Kansas||79.60||Big 12||Stanley Redwine (15th)||42|
|View All Teams Beyond the Top 25|
|Women’s Conference Index Top 10|
|Rank||Conference||Points||Top 25 Teams|
|Women’s Regional Index Leaders|
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|Mountain||(starts April 6)||0.00|
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