Penn Relays Preview: Distance Relays

Penn Relays Preview: Distance Relays

NEW ORLEANS — Edward Cheserek and Olivia Baker return to Philadelphia a year after winning the athlete of the meet (Ches for college men, Baker for high school girls), but both have acquired new teammates and will be running different events. The Villanova program agains the Oregon men and Stanford women is the main storyline of this weekend’s distance relays. Read below for more detailed breakdowns and the full entries in the six distance relays. Only the men’s 4xMile will be on live TV; the other six are live on Flotrack.

Live stream | Schedule, start lists, and live results

Women’s DMR

Thursday, 5:30 PM
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Villanova is the top seed and will be wearing the "AA" bibs, but it’s hard to imagine them touching a Stanford squad that ran ten full seconds faster indoors. A more intriguing upset possibility is Georgetown. The Hoyas didn’t use Sabrina Southerland on their relay at indoor nationals, and ran Katrina Coogan on the 1200 leg instead of having their stud miler run the anchor leg.

Stanford has the best 400 runner (Kristyn Williams at 53.54; no one from Nova or Gtown has broken 56 this year), the best 800 runner (Claudia Saunders with a 2:02 PB), and the best 1500 runner (Elise Cranny with a 4:10 PB). If the Cardinal are going to lose this weekend, it won’t be here.

Women’s 4×1500

Friday, 1:20 PM
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Women’s 4×800

Saturday, 4:10 PM
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Lumping these two together. Like the DMR, the 4×15 tends to come down to the anchor leg, which means Stanford and Cranny are the clear favorites there. If the Cardinal are to become the third school–after Villanova and North Carolina–to sweep the three women’s distance relays at Penn, they’ll have to earn it in the 4×8. With Amy Weissenbach done with competitive running, Stanford only has two killer legs in Saunders and Olivia Baker. Cranny ran 2:04 at Mt. SAC as a high schooler, but has shown little interest in the shorter race in college. (She lost in 2:08 to Baker and Saunders at the Big Meet)

If Cranny is indeed a 2:08 runner, Villanova has just enough depth to make in interesting. Per TFRRS, the Wildcats’ #3 is a second and a half faster than Stanford’s #3. But if Cranny still has the half-mile speed and just still hasn’t shown it off in college, this is going to be a Stanford sweep.

 

Men’s DMR

Friday, 2:30 PM
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Oregon won indoor nationals without Eric Jenkins; now they are trying to win the de facto outdoor nationals without Edward Cheserek, per Flotrack. With Niki Franzmair and Marcus Chambers presumably on the 4 and 8 legs, Oregon can choose between Will Geoghegan and Johnny Gregorek for the 1200 leg. Jenkins flashed ridiculous speed when he closed the 3k at indoor nationals in 25 high. His ability to close like that off of a faster pace at a shorter distance is unproven–he hasn’t run an open mile or 1500 in an Oregon uniform–but a good bet. He ran 3:58 in a Northeastern uniform in 2013, and it seems safe to use context clues to guess that he’s improved as a miler since.

Oregon without Cheserek is Oregon at their most beatable. But there’s a reasonable argument that Jenkins is as valuable an anchor as Villanova’s Jordan Williamsz, and that Oregon is clearly better on the other two legs. That’s how it played out at indoor nationals, with Colby Alexander, Chambers, and Franzmair getting Cheserek the stick four and a half seconds before Villanova got it to Williamsz. If that happens again tomorrow, Jenkins isn’t getting caught.

 

Men’s 4xMile

Saturday, 1:15 PM
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Far be it from us to stop the entertaining slap fight currently underway on the running internet about the possibility of a sub-16:00 race. But an Oregon team of Galen Rupp, Matt Centrowitz, Andrew Wheating, and Shadrack Biwott couldn’t crack 16:00. Don’t let an obsession with times get between you and enjoying what should be a great race between Oregon and Villanova.

One of the trickiest questions in track is the stakes of each meet–beyond nationals and worlds, different meets mean different things to different athletes. A great example of that is the value of Penn Relays to Villanova. The Wildcats are the defining school in the history of the men’s distance events at Penn, and Marcus O’Sullivan clearly places a high priority on continuing that tradition.

Oregon wants to win at Penn, but the Ducks are more willing to roll the dice. (Now picturing a duck trying to pick up a die.) Colby Alexander, Chris Brewer, and Jeramy Elkaim are joining Ed Cheserek on this relay, which is a far cry from Oregon’s would-be A team with Johnny Gregorek, Will Geoghegan, and Eric Jenkins.

At indoor nationals, Villanova’s Jordy Williamsz had the fastest DMR mile leg, but it wasn’t enough to catch Cheserek and Oregon. This relay could be the exact opposite–Villanova’s first three legs (Sam McEntee, Patrick Tiernan, Rob Denault) are probably the best in the field, but Williamsz will have to try to hold off Cheserek.

This has been done to death elsewhere, but still:

Denault 3:40.78
McEntee 3:36.81
Tiernan 3:45.43
total
11:03.02

vs.

Brewer 3:44.18
Alexander
3:42.80
Elkaim
3:42.83
total 11:09.81

It’s almost as if Andy Powell is bored and trying to create the maximum degree of difficulty for Cheserek. King Ches and Williamsz have almost the exact same 1500 PR–3:36.50 for the former, 3:36.74 for the latter–and Williamsz could get the stick with a huge lead, in front of essentially a home crowd (Villanova is about fifteen miles from Penn) that Cheserek had to fly three thousand miles to get to.

It’s not quite racing Lawi Lalang two days after running a 10k, but we’re going to see something pretty rare: Ches needing to work hard for a W.

Men’s 4×800

Saturday, 4:40 PM
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If the Lawi-Ches 5k is the best collegiate distance race I’ve ever seen in person, then the 2010 4×8 featuring Robbie Andrews and Andrew Wheating is the second best. The event generally lends itself to thrilling finishes, and though the biggest collegiate names this weekend are opting for the 4xMile and DMR, there’s plenty of talent between Texas A&M, Penn State, Columbia, and more.

No SEC team has won the 4×8 in at least ten years. If you’re looking for history, Texas A&M and their three Hernandezes could be the ones to pull it off. With two wins in the last three years and Robby Creese back from those teams and Brannon Kidder added, Penn State is a pretty good default pick. Georgetown is the only team with two men already under 1:49 outdoors, and out of the top teams entered, the Hoyas had four of the six fastest men indoors. They could put it away on the first three legs. If they don’t, don’t bet against Creese at Penn.