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U.S. Championships Women's 1500m preview

U.S. Championships Women's 1500m preview
Once upon a time, there was a high school girl, a junior nonetheless, who captivated the distance running world with her carefree attitude, meteoric rise, and ability to continuously set the bar and then raise it.
You would think the story, or at least the high school subplot of the U.S. Championship Women's 1,500-meters, would end with the Nike Oregon Project's Mary Cain. But in the wake of her pioneering performances, a new crop of high school athletes have emerged, and they're just as unbelievable.
The upcoming Women's 1,500-meters will potentially be the first of three match-ups between the Cain and still amateur, at least for now, Alexa Efraimson. The two will meet later this season at the U.S. Junior Championships and then, potentially, the IAAF World Junior Championships. But let's not get ahead of ourselves; one championship meet at a time.
Even though the teenagers will get main billing this weekend, we can't forget about the other, more veteran women.
Jenny Simpson, a two-time World Championship 1,500-meter medalist, is looking to win her first U.S. 1,500-meter title, two-time U.S. 1,500-meter champion Morgan Uceny is on the upswing, and the defending U.S. 1,500-meter champion Treniere Moser and her teammate Shannon Rowbury have opted for the 5,000-meters.

Oh, there's more.
Below, we'll quickly breakdown the favorites in the field and give our final, stone-cold predictions.
Jenny Simpson

Like most discussions, I'll start by giving the definitive answer first: Jenny Simpson will win her first U.S. 1,500-meter title this weekend. She's not only in the form of her life following a 3:58.28 personal best at the Prefontaine Classic, but she knows what it'll take to win, tactically speaking.
How can the third fastest American of all-time possibly lose? It'll either be because of an unfortunate event we won't mention because we're superstitious about that sort of thing (hint: it rhymes with ball), or because the Sacramento, CA heat turns this race on its head.
There's a projected high of 101 degrees for Sunday's 2:39pm final, so you know, bring coconut water and sodium tablets (disclaimer: I'm not a doctor).
With all of that in mind, we'll be stunned if she doesn't win.
If you either forgot or just started following the sport recently -- which is great -- the reason Simpson is without a U.S. title in her main event is a combination of the fact that she used to be a the 3,000-meter steeplechase specialist and Morgan Uceny was the dominant force in American middle-distance running when Simpson took up the metric mile.
Morgan Uceny

The 2011 and 2012 U.S. 1,500-meter champion had a tough 2013, but recent results have shown that Uceny is still a factor.
At the New Balance Twilight Meet, Uceny won the 800-meters in 2:00.29, which was her fastest time since 2011, where she ran her personal best of 1:58.37.

A few weeks later at the New York Diamond League, Uceny, who finally got her own personal t-shirt from adidas, ran 4:04.87 for 1,500-meters, which was good for 7th place in a world-class field. That was Uceny's fastest time since 2012, where she ran 4:05.30 at the Oslo Diamond League.
Is it great to see a champion rise back to the top after falling not once, but twice? That's an emphatic yes. Will she be in the mix? Yes. But can she upset Simpson? No.
Mary Cain
The high school 1,500-meter record holder isn't in top form and that's alright. After a busy winter campaign, which ended with a lower calf injury, Cain is back to full health, but not full fitness.
We've talked with both the talented 18-year-old and both her coaches, Alberto Salazar and Pete Julian, and they've all emphasized that this Cain has different goals than the Cain of last year.
In 2013, Cain's focus was the U.S. Championships, and if she qualified for the World Championships, everything that came after would be an added bonus. Now, Cain's focus is a strong summer showing in Europe, which could run all the way through September.
That's not to say that Cain is taking this weekend's championship lightly; it's anything but that. It's just that she's not as dominant as when we saw her absolutely crush the U.S. Indoor Mile.
So far this season, Cain has only run the other event in which she holds the high school outdoor record, the 800-meters. Her 8th place showing at the Prefontaine Classic 800-meters in 2:02.31 was a disappointing opener, but her 4th place finish at the adidas Grand Prix in 2:01.67 pushed away any murmurs of regression.

Quick Note: That's still #5 all-time on the high school list
Stepping back up the 1,500-meters, is it unlikely that Cain will have the same lethal kick that's brought her so many stunning wins on the U.S. circuit? Unless it's been unearthed in recent weeks, no.

The bigger story on our minds is whether she'll fall to another high school superstar.
Alexa Efraimson

The following is a conversation between my old roommate and I after the adidas Grand Prix:

Me: In other news, a high school junior ran 4:07.05 in the 1,500-meters.
Her: Mary Cain is a senior. Even I know that, you idiot. Aren't you supposed to know these sorts of things?
Me: There's this other girl, Alexa Efraimson, and she's also, really, really good at running.
Her: Scorching analysis.
The great thing about Efraimson is that she's arrived after the storm. The hype, compared to another high school junior that happened at this exact time last year, is a little more diluted.
And that's a good thing.
In this excellent ESPN profile by none other than our former intern Chris Chavez, Efraimson's coach Mike Hickey reflects on the wake of Cain-sanity and how it's alleviated the pressure around his athlete.
This is all great because this time last year, the total tonnage of expectations from the running community for a high school girl to succeed on the world stage could have crushed a pack of elephants.
A high school junior, who just ran the second fastest high school 1,500-meter mark of all-time, is here to mix it up with the senior women before she goes home and bakes cookies with her friends or whatever 17-year-old girls do these days.
Editor's Note: That was actually taken from the ESPN article.

The Camas High School soon-to-be senior is coming off another personal best, this time in the 800-meters, at a windy Brooks PR Invitational.
After she got her feet wet in New York, is Efraimson ready to not just jostle with the senior ladies, but contend for something more?
It feels like we've been here before.
Earlier this season at the Prefontaine Classic, we predicted that another high school superstar and now Stanford freshman (technically?) Elise Cranny would drop her 1,500-meter personal best from 4:10.95 to the 4:07 - 4:08 range in the women's senior race.
Though she came away disappointed with a 4:13.38 showing, Cranny confirmed in her post-race interview that, if everything went well, she wanted to run around that time.
In the same regard, if everything goes according to plan, Efraimson may not set a new best, but could easily move up to a higher finish compared to her race in New York, NY.
Though, on paper, Efraimson doesn't have the same credentials as other ladies we mentioned above, we know the sky is the limit for her, and don't want to count her out over those final 400-meters. The X-Factor is real. The Truth lives.
Kate Grace

Speaking of athletes who have that certain je ne sais quoi, Oiselle's middle-distance star is having quite the outdoor campaign. Grace has not only set a personal best in the 1,500-meters this season (4:07.35) with a big kick at Payton Jordan, but she's undefeated in open races as well.
Her win streak may end this weekend, but we're sure she'll takeaway some sliver linings from that not-so-gray cloud.
I feel like people often forget that Grace, who boasts an 800-meter personal best of 1:59.47, almost made the World Championship team last year in the half mile. A fourth place finish in one's secondary event at a U.S. Championship should raise some eyebrows (Editor's Note: is it her secondary event?).

Even though she hasn't broken the two minute barrier this spring, her final kick has looked more clinical.
And even though, on paper, Efraimson edges out Grace in terms of 1,500-meter lifetime bests, we're more inclined to pick Grace, simply due to savviness and the fact that she's finally getting in some speed work, albeit in a t-shirt.

Brooks Beasts training partners Katie Mackey and Brie Felnagle should both be in the mix, with Mackey also entered in the 5K, which I assume, will be a non-contingency plan as the first round of the 1,500-meters is the same night as the 5K final.
Mackey was slated to run the Portland Track Festival 1,500-meters, and, while we were told that she was looking to run in the low 4:0x range, she was a late scratch.
Maybe that 15:04.74 5K out at Payton Jordan took a little too much out of her legs? Speculation aside, Mackey has shown a big improvement in strength, but has yet to reveal her middle-distance cards.
Felnagle ran 4:07.42 out at Oxy High Performance back on May 15th, but had a disappointing showing at the Prefontaine Classic 2-Mile, where she finished 15th in 9:54.61.

Sarah Brown, who's run 4:11.27 this season, and Heather Kampf, who ran a personal best of 4:07.15 at Drake Relays, have both been Team USA members in the last year, and will up up at the front in the final.

We also wanted to include Gabe Grunewald, the USA Indoor 3K champion, but something's been up since the end of her winter season. 4:17.66 at Drake Relays, 2:06.77 at Prefontaine, and 4:10.12 at adidas Grand Prix are all atypical performances for someone of her caliber.

Don't count out NCAA stars Cory McGee or Emily Lipari, either. McGee couldn't match Arizona State's Shelby Houlihan's ferocious kick at NCAAs, but the graduated Gator was 3rd last year at USAs. If Lipari's kick is in full gear, like it was at the NCAA Indoor Championships or at the end of any of her three Penn Relay anchor legs, then watch out. But if it's similar like her final 200-meters at NCAA Outdoors, then never mind. It's really hit or miss.
Final Prediction
1) Jenny Simpson
2) Morgan Uceny
3) Mary Cain

The full field is below.
Name Affiliation Mark Status Declaration
Jennifer Simpson New Balance 3:58.28 qualified declared
Gabriele Grunewald Brooks / Team USA Minnesota 4:01.48 qualified declared
Morgan Uceny adidas 4:04.87 qualified declared
Brie Felnagle adidas 4:05.64 qualified declared
Alexa Efraimson   4:07.05 qualified declared
Heather Kampf Asics / Team USA Minnesota 4:07.15 qualified declared
Katherine Mackey Brooks / BROOKS Beasts TC 4:07.19 qualified declared
Kate Grace Oiselle 4:07.35 qualified declared
Heather Wilson New Jersey New York Track Club 4:07.47 qualified declared
Lea Wallace Nike 4:09.13 qualified declared
Kerri Gallagher   4:09.64 qualified declared
Nicole Schappert Hoka One One / New York Athletic Club (NYAC) 4:09.87 qualified declared
Amanda Eccleston   4:09.88 qualified declared
Laura Thweatt Boulder Track Club 4:10.55 qualified declared
Lauren Paquette   4:10.98 qualified declared
Sarah Brown New Balance 4:11.27 qualified declared
Stephanie Charnigo New Jersey New York Track Club 4:11.33 qualified declared
Stephanie Brown Arkansas 4:11.40 qualified declared
Angela Bizzarri Brooks / BROOKS Beasts TC 4:11.63 qualified declared
Melissa Salerno New Balance 4:12.35 qualified declared
Rebecca Tracy   4:12.37 qualified declared
Cory McGee Florida 4:12.50 qualified declared
Amanda Mergaert Oiselle 4:12.83 qualified declared
Mary Cain Nike 4:24.11 qualified declared
Amanda Winslow Oiselle / New Jersey New York Track Club 4:26.28 qualified declared
Lauren Johnson Oregon TC Elite 4:33.00 qualified declared
Hillary Holt   4:13.13 accepted declared
Christina Cazzola University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh 4:14.20 accepted declared
Emily Lipari Villanova 4:14.64 accepted declared
Allison Peare Kentucky 4:14.91 accepted declared

Mitch Kastoff is the Senior Site Editor at Flotrack. Contrary to popular belief, he did not invent the high five. If you enjoyed these ramblings or have any comments, questions, or concerns, feel free to reach him on Twitter or by email.

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