WEEKEND PREVIEW: The College Fan’s Guide to 2015 Payton Jordan

WEEKEND PREVIEW: The College Fan’s Guide to 2015 Payton Jordan

NEW ORLEANS — I can’t stop giggling at the photographer. Around the 13:05 mark of the video of the now-infamous Penn Relays men’s 4xMile, you can see a photographer catch himself slightly out of position. Maybe this is coming from a skewed visual perspective, but it sure seems like he notices how slow the men are running and casually jogs a few steps to get to where he wants to go.

That’s how slowly Cheserek, Williamsz, and friends were running at one point on the anchor leg–an oldish photographer in khakis and a sweater only had to gingerly jog a few steps to catch them.

They were running that slowly because the time didn’t matter–only winning did. It made for more compelling running than any time trial or record attempt ever could be, and it’s been heartening to see a general point of consensus on that.

Saturday’s Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford is not going to have any races like that. You go to West Philly to win a wheel and a watch; you go to Palo Alto to improve your TFRRS page and punch your ticket. Which is not to say that the races on Saturday night are going to be anesthetized and boring.

They simply replace one dramatic question–"Who is going to win?"–with another: "How fast will they go?" Humans competing against humans (i.e. Penn) is more reliably interesting, but humans competing against gravity, history, and general bootylock (i.e. Stanford) can certainly have its moments.

Below we preview the ten distance events going down on Saturday night, in chronological order.

The three columns in the tables are, from left to right, where an athlete is on the 2015 descending order list if they’re in the top twenty-five, where the athlete finished in the 2015 indoor NCAA final, and where the athlete finished in the 2014 outdoor NCAA final. For the steeple and 10k, obviously, there was no ’15 indoor final. Athletes’ names are marked with asterisks if they’re entered in two events at Payton.

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Women’s 800 Meters
Name 2015 DL 2015 IN 2015 OUT
Savannah Camacho, Oklahoma State 10 x x
Kaela Edwards, Oklahoma State 4 2 x
Hanna Green, Virginia Tech 3 5 x
Raquel Hefflin, UC Riverside 25 x x
Faith Makau, UC Riverside 20 x x
Shea Martinez, BYU 8 7 x
Natalja Piliusina, Oklahoma State 24 x x
Claudia Saunders, Stanford x x 2
Sabrina Southerland, Georgetown x x x
Chrishuna Williams, Arkansas 7 4 x
Olicia Williams, Baylor 5 3 x

First of five sections begins at 4:56 PT/7:56 ET
Non-DI notables: Lindsey Butterworth, Simon Fraser (DII, 2:09.18 PB)
Non-collegians: Melissa Bishop, Megan Malasarte

Don’t be fooled by Natoya Goule’s dramatic loss to Annie Leblanc on the anchor leg of the sprint medley at Penn. Per TFRRS, since 2013 Goule is 3-0 in NCAA 800 finals, but just 5-3 in the open 800 in the regular season. She’s beatable in January, February, April, and May; not so in March and June.

The 2-3-4-5 finishers behind Goule from indoor NCAAs are all here, and with Goule’s recent loss, and they all may be angling to position themselves as the best regular season runner in the country before things change in Eugene. Goule and Shelby Houlihan have both run 2:01 this season; Edwards, the Williamses, and Green have all been over 2:03. 2:02 and change would be a success; 2:01 would be a smash hit; and 2:00 would inspire crazy talk of beating Goule.


Men’s 800 Meters
Name 2015 DL 2015 IN 2014 OUT
Edward Kemboi, Iowa State x 1 x
Brannon Kidder, Penn State 8 x x
Luke Lefebure, Stanford x x 6
Keffri Neal, Kentucky* x x 3
Shaquille Walker, BYU 1 x x

First of five sections begins at 5:14 PT/8:14 ET
Non-collegians: Mac Fleet, Andrew Wheating, Mark Wieczorek

It’s the outdoor open 800 season debut for indoor 800 champ Kemboi. He told us last month that "I can run much better than 1:46. If I were in a really good race, I am ready for it." First of all, Ed, props on the correct use of the subjunctive. Second, this could be that really good race. Some serious pro names are coming down from the Pacific Northwest, and it seems safe to assume that Fleet, Wheating, and Wieczorek wouldn’t make the trip from Oregon and Seattle (though Wheating might not be) if they weren’t planning on running fast.

Kentucky’s Keffri Neal was third at NCAAs last year in the 8, but hasn’t chased any fast times in the event this year. He’s won four races in 1:48 or slower, and took third in 1:48 at the ultra-competitive SEC indoor meet. If the rabbit gets things just right in the finicky event, Neal and Kemboi could walk away with their first-ever outdoor 1:45.


Women’s 3000-Meter Steeplechase
Name 2015 DL 2014 OUT
Courtney Frerichs, UMKC 3 x
Tori Gerlach, Penn State 22 x
Marisa Howard, Boise State x 2
Shannon Klenke, Arkansas 13 x
Ingeborg Loevnes, Oklahoma State 4 x
Colleen Quigley, Florida State* x x

Fast section 6:01 PT/9:01 ET
Non-collegians: Bridget Franek, Aisha Praught

The big question in this race: is Quigley running? She’s one of the best NCAA steeplers ever, behind only Leah O’Connor and Olympians Jenny Simpson, Anna Willard, and Emma Coburn on the all-time list, but hasn’t run the event since last year, and hasn’t broken 9:55 since finishing second at outdoor nationals in 2013. The Florida State senior is entered in the steeple and 1500 on Saturday night and will likely only race one.

She’s not the only national runner-up in the field: 2014 second-placer Marisa Howard of Boise State is also making her 2015 steeple debut.

The two silver medallists could both be upstaged by UMKC Kangaroo Courtney Frerichs, who, along with Quigley and O’Connor, is the third highest finisher remaining from the 2013 NCAA steeple final. In a recent interview, O’Connor seemingly elided her choice of events at outdoor nationals–with her dominant win in the indoor mile and the 15/steeple double nigh impossible, she could elect to only run the 15 at nationals, and if she does that, the NCAA steeple champ will likely be Quigley, Frerichs, or Howard.


Men’s 3000-Meter Steeplechase
Name 2015 DL 2014 OUT
Jakob Abrahamsen, Eastern Kentucky 12 x
Darren Fahy, Georgetown 8 x
Ryan Gil, Georgetown 10 x
Mike Hardy, Weber State 9 x
Ole Hesselbjerg, Eastern Kentucky 2 3
Tripp Hurt, Furman 18 x
Stanley Kebenei, Arkansas 1 2
Zak Seddon, Florida State 3 x

Fast section 6:28 PT/9:28 ET
Non-DI notables: Tabor Stevens, Adams State (DII, 8:32.50 PB)
Non-collegians: Dan Huling, Haron Lagat (possible rabbit)

Five of the top ten men (Kebenei, Seddon, Fahy, Hardy, and Gil) on this year’s descending order list and two of the top three finishers from last year’s national meet (Kebenei and Hesselbjerg) are here. And oh yeah–the last time there was a steeplechase at Stanford, Adams State’s Tabor Stevens won the race in a world-leading time. Tabor Flav is entered in Saturday’s race, and his 8:32.50 from a month ago is still faster than everyone in the NCAA except for Kebenei.

The last time Kebenei and Stevens raced, Kebenei finished eighty-six seconds ahead at US Cross. That was a 12k on grass at altitude and could hardly be more different than a sea-level steeple on one of the fastest tracks in the world. Stan-Flav might be the men’s collegiate matchup of the weekend.


Women’s 1500 Meters
Name 2015 DL 2015 IN 2014 OUT
Elise Cranny, Stanford 21 x x
Samantha George, NC State* 14 x x
Linden Hall, Florida State x x 3
Brook Handler, Michigan x x 6
Shannon Osika, Michigan 8 x x
Colleen Quigley, Florida State* 1 3 x
Hannah Richardson, Kansas 23 x x
Amanda Smith, Virginia Tech 17 x x
Sara Sutherland, Colorado 20 x x

Fast section 7:44 PT/10:44 ET
Non-DI notables: Hannah Fields, Oklahoma Baptist (NAIA, 4:14.35 PR)
Non-collegians: Steph Charnigo, Alexa Efraimson (high school), Brie Felnagle, Violah Lagat, Cory McGee, Sammy Silva, Lauren Wallace, Phoebe Wright (possible pacer)
Note: Indoor mile tenth-placer Mariah Kelly of Baylor is listed as unattached.

When Phoebe Wright rabbits, good things happen. If she indeed is pacing and not racing, she brings a résumé that includes records at numerous levels and multiple world-leading times. The pro startlist is strong enough that the best collegians entered won’t be mixing it up front; they’ll be tucked in and going along for the ride, hoping for a fast time and sixth place.

Stanford’s Elise Cranny hasn’t turned in a blazing collegiate mile/1500 to match her all-time great high school credentials, mostly focussing on longer races and relays. She has run exactly one open 1500 or mile in a Stanford uniform, going 4:18.36 in a blanket finish with teammates Jess Tonn and Rebecca Mehra at the Big Meet three weeks ago. The last time she raced now-high school senior Alexa Efraimson, she ran 4:12 and finished fourth at world juniors. They could bring out the best in each other again this weekend.

If Quigley chooses the steeple and Cranny is closer to her indoor form, the top DI women to watch are Brook Handler and Shannon Osika of Michigan. Handler was sixth at 2014 outdoor nats, and Osika has the eighth fastest time in the country this year. Out of the NAIA, Oklahoma Baptist’s Hannah Fields has an SB just 0.09 seconds slower than Osika’s.

Men’s 1500 Meters
Name 2015 DL 2015 IN 2014 OUT
Ahmed Bile, Georgetown x 9 x
Peter Callahan, New Mexico x x 4
Graham Crawford, NC State* 13 x x
Robby Creese, Penn State 12 x x
Craig Engels, Mississippi 5 x x
Jake Hurysz, Colorado x 10 x
Patrick Joseph, Virginia Tech x x x
Justyn Knight, Syracuse* 4 x x
Keffri Neal, Kentucky* x 8 x
Chad Noelle, Oklahoma State x 5 x
Ben Saarel, Colorado x x x
Cristian Soratos, Montana State 3 2 x
Daniel Winn, Oregon x 6 x

Fast section 7:56 PT/10:56 ET
Non-DI notables: Oliver Aitchison, Adams State (DII, 3:40.77 PB)
Non-collegians: Mike Atchoo, Jack Bolas, Nate Brannen, German Fernandez, Grant Fisher (high school), Evan Jager, Lawi Lalang, Ford Palmer, Mike Rutt, Nick Symmonds, Dorian Ulrey
Note: High school star Patrick Perrier is making his collegiate debut for Stanford and listed as unattached.

Until proven otherwise, Cristian Soratos is the best non-Cheserek collegiate miler and the prohibitive favorite for outdoor nationals. Sub-3:40 men Knight and Callahan and indoor first-team All-Americans Noelle, Winn, and Neal are all good enough to stick their noses in it, and if Soratos has lost a little form with his minor injury after indoor nationals, one of those five could even the odds for outdoor nationals.

Even with an absolute murderer’s row of pros and collegians entered, the most eyeballs might be on Grant Fisher. The Stanford signee is in the right meet against the right competition to shoot for the sub-4:00 mile equivalent of 3:42.22; after Matthew Maton–a runner Fisher generally beats–went 3:42.54 at the Oregon Relays, that looks more and more plausible.


Women’s 5000 Meters
Name 2015 DL 2015 IN 2014 OUT
Erin Finn, Michigan 7 x x
Vanessa Fraser, Stanford 22 x x
Samantha George, NC State* 10 x x
Molly Grabill, Oregon x 15 x
Rachel Johnson, Baylor x 2 7
Tansey Lystad, Portland x 14 x
Maggie Montoya, Baylor x x x
Waverly Neer, Oregon x x 10
Dominique Scott, Arkansas x x 6
Jessica Tonn, Stanford x x 13
Pippa Woolven, Florida State x x x
Alice Wright, New Mexico x x x

Fast section 8:04 PT/11:04 ET
Non-collegians: Charlotte Arter, Angela Bizzari, Juliet Bottorff, Julie Culley, Abbey D’Agostino, Alexa Efraimson (high school), Brie Felnagle, Stephanie Garcia, Marielle Hall, Ashley Higginson, Sally Kipyego, Sheila Reid, Betsy Saina, Sammy Silva, Nicole Tully, Stephanie Twell
Waverly Neer is making her Oregon track debut this weekend, but it’s unclear if it’s here or at Oregon State.

Indoor 3k champ Dominique Scott and 5k runner-up Rachel Johnson of Baylor are head and shoulders above the rest of the collegians here, though Michigan’s Erin Finn has been trending the right way after an injury that cost her the XC postseason and the entire indoor season. Finn ran a relatively pedestrian 9:24 3k in her season debut, but then followed that up with a 5k in 15:41 at Virginia, which is nearly exactly the same pace in a race that’s more than a mile longer.

With cross country national champ Kate Avery and 5k indoor champ Emily Sisson (more on them below) clearly focussing on the 10,000 and 2014 outdoor top returner Aisling Cuffe still sidelined, the 5k at outdoor nationals could be wide open for Scott. The South African has made a huge leap in her senior track season, not losing to a collegian indoors and only losing to Colleen Quigley in the 1500 so far this outdoor season. She’s PRed at five distances in 2015, setting career bests in the 800, 1k, 1500, mile, 3k, and 10k.

Notice a distance missing there? This is Scott’s first track 5k since finishing sixth in the event at outdoor nationals last year. Based on everything she’s done over the last four months, her 15:42 PR is as good as gone. The only question is how many seconds she’ll blast away from it. Avery’s 15:25 from Stanford I is the only sub-15:30 among collegiate women this spring.


Men’s 5000 Meters
Name 2015 DL 2015 IN 2014 OUT
Kemoy Campbell, Arkansas x 2 x
Graham Crawford, NC State* 20 x x
Thomas Curtin, Virginia Tech x 8 x
Scott Fauble, Portland x x x
Mason Ferlic, Michigan x x x
Matt Fischer, Penn State x x 25
Jake Hurysz, Colorado x x x
Thomas Joyce, Cal x x x
Justyn Knight, Syracuse* x x x
Jake Leingang, Oregon 13 x x
Sean McGorty, Stanford x x x
Pierce Murphy, Colorado x 7 x
Marc Scott, Tulsa x x x
Weston Strum, Northern Arizona x x 10
Futsum Zienasellassie, Northern Arizona x x x

Fast section 9:00 PT/12:00 ET
Non-DI notables: Matt Daniels, Adams State (DII, sub-4:00 miler indoors)
Non-collegians: Juan Luis Barrios, Kevin Batt, Sam Chelanga, Maverick Darling, Trevor Dunbar, Diego Estrada, Tom Farrell, Garrett Heath, Ryan Hill, Matt Hughes, Henrik Ingebrigtsen, Tom Lancashire, Will Leer, Cory Leslie, Lopez Lomong, Riley Masters, Jeff See, David Torrence

Speaking of that Cheserek guy who keeps coming up, he and his fellow Ducks Eric Jenkins and Will Geoghegan could be the biggest victims here. As Gordon Mack pointed out after the Oregon Relays, the West Region might have gotten so good that 14:00–the 5k time the trio posted at Hayward–won’t be good enough to crack the top forty-eight. Check TFRRS on Sunday to see just how many guys ran fast enough to bump the three Ducks out of regionals.

The two names to watch that are actually in the race are Kemoy Campbell and Futsum Zienasellassie. Campbell of Arkansas finished second at indoor nationals, and Zienasellassie of NAU has finished two straight cross country seasons in the top four nationally AND two straight indoor seasons with a 5k season best north of 14:50. Futsum appears to be ready to finally crack into the 13:40s, though, as he covered 10k in 28:35 at the first Stanford meet four weeks ago.


Women’s 10,000 Meters
Name 2015 DL 2014 OUT
Kate Avery, Iona x x
Emma Bates, Boise State x 1
Katy Moen, Iowa State x 12
Emily Sisson, Providence x x
Liv Westphal, Boston College x x

Fast section 9:18 PT/12:18 ET
Non-collegians: Liz Costello, Buze Diriba, Emily Infeld, Alexi Pappas, Natosha Rogers, Betsy Saina, Lisa Uhl

Even though I only listed five names to watch, this is the collegiate race of the night. Sisson told us in January that she was shooting for the collegiate 10k record at Payton, and nothing she’s done since then has indicated that that was an unrealistic goal. The current CR holder, Lisa Uhl, ran 31:18 at Stanford I in 2010, and she’s on the start list for Saturday night.

Bates has similarly said for months that she wants to come to Stanford and leave with a record, but her progress towards that has been somewhat halting. Though she’s two for two in setting personal bests this outdoor season, one of them was a 15:32 5k at first Stanford. The college 10k record is back-to-back 15:39 5ks.

Kate Avery is the enigma in the field. When she’s raced against other collegians, she’s been every bit as good as Sisson, finishing half a second behind her in the Millrose 3k and finishing as the first collegian in the Stanford 5k. But skipping indoor nationals for indoor Europeans made it impossible to evaluate her merits against Sisson’s.

It’s not fair to Sisson’s indoor collegiate record and impressive front-running national title to simply grant Avery the same status as her. The Englishwoman has the best chance of dethroning Sisson as the top long-distance runner in the NCAA, but until proven otherwise, that’s Sisson’s spot.


Men’s 10,000 Meters
Name 2015 DL 2014 OUT
Maksim Korolev, Stanford x x
Jason Witt, BYU x 12

Fast section 9:55 PT/12:55 ET
Non-collegians: Mo Ahmed, Andrew Bumbalough, Andrew Colley, John Crain, Bobby Curtis, Shadrack Kipchirchir, Hassan Mead, Sean Quigley, Jake Riley, Brian Shrader, Ben St. Lawrence, Parker Stinson, Ben True, Ryan Vail, Andy Vernon

The last time that Korolev raced a 10k field this good: