2024 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships

These 10 NCAA Stars Are Legitimate Title Threats Heading Into Nationals

These 10 NCAA Stars Are Legitimate Title Threats Heading Into Nationals

Florida's Parker Valby and Texas' Leo Neugebauer are one of the many defending champions returning to NCAA's looking to go back-to-back.

Jun 4, 2024 by Maxx Bradley
These 10 NCAA Stars Are Legitimate Title Threats Heading Into Nationals

We're just a few days out from the start of the 2024 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, and there are a few athletes that are looking to defend their titles from a year ago.

Let's take a look at ten of the top returners who have the chance to go back-to-back.

10. Leo Neugebauer, Texas (Decathlon)

Last year, Neugebauer didn't just win a national title, but he took down one of the most accomplished multi-athletes in collegiate history, beating the defending national champion Kyle Garland, who also held the collegiate record going into the meet. 

In the end, Neugebauer put on a show on his home track, winning four of the ten events and finishing within the top three in five others. He's since become an outright star in the NCAA.

After the dust settled, Neugebauer had bumped up the score of the collegiate record, totaling 8,836 to beat Garland. This year, the Longhorn claimed the heptathlon title during indoors and no one has come within 200 points of him and his collegiate lead of 8708. 

There is a decathlon title up for grabs in Eugene and it's Neugebauer's to lose.

9. Nathan Green, Washington (1500)

Over the last couple of years, the men of Washington have had a chokehold on the NCAA mid-distance landscape. 

Green is the most recent outdoor national champion of the Husky bunch, winning the 2023 title in 3:42.78 over teammate and 2022 champion Joe Waskom

This year, the men's 1,500m field is one of the fastest in history and there are a more than a few contenders looking to challenge, most importantly, Northern Arizona star Colin Sahlman, who beat Green head-to-head in April. 

There have been 26 men under 3:40 so far this spring, meaning it's going to be a dogfight for whoever wins this weekend.

8. Ky Robinson, Stanford (5000)

In one of the most historic stretch of distance running achievements, Robinson has quietly been keeping pace with the best of the best as the months go on. 

Since November, Robinson finished third at the NCAA Cross Country Championships and then ran 13:06.42 and 7:36.69 on the indoor oval for 5K and 3K, which were the No. 3 and No. 2 fastest times in NCAA history. 

Robinson also picked up the last two ever 10,000m and 5000m Pac-12 titles, proving once again he's always ready for championship racing. He's not going to have a chance to defend the first of his two titles this time around, but he's a name to watch in what could be a historic 5,000m.

7. Romaine Beckford, Arkansas (High Jump) 

As one of many national title threats for the Razorbacks, Beckford has an important weekend ahead of him. Not only would 10 points help Arkansas in the team race, but it would be his fourth-straight high jump national title -- across the indoor and outdoor seasons -- and his second in a Razorback uniform. 

Beckford has yet to lose since moving to Fayetteville and most recently beat the biggest threats to a title on his home track at the West Regional. 

In an event like high jump, anything can happen, but more than expect Beckford to be ready for anything.

6. Phillip Lemonious, Arkansas (110H)

A year ago, Lemonious won the 110mH national title in 12.24, which was a new personal best and the first of his career. 

Since then, Lemonious has only raced six times, with his fastest mark in that timeframe being a 13.38. The hardest part about a title defense for Lemonious is the fact that there are a lot more guys in his vicinity this time around, including Auburn's Ja'Kobe Tharp, a guy that has ran as fast as 13.18 this season. 

For a guy that's won before, it's definitely a possibility he makes it two-in-a-row, especially when considering this is the first national championship of his young career.

5. Michaela Rose, LSU (800)

As the second-fastest woman over 800m NCAA history and one of just two to ever go under 1:59 in their collegiate uniform, Rose is already a consistent figure in the collegiate ranks. 

If that wasn't enough, Rose is also the defending champion. Throughout her career for LSU, Rose has posted statement-after-statement and consistently has been among the best in the NCAA.

After finishing second to Stanford's Juliette Whittaker, Rose has gone 5-0 in her favorite discipline, all while running a lifetime best of 1:58.37. 

Arkansas' Sanu Jallow is the only other woman under 2:00 this season, running 1:59.29 at SEC's. Rose has gone sub-2:00 three different times as well, and will surely look to add another statement performance to her resume.

4. Parker Valby, Florida (5000)

Arguably the greatest female distance runner in collegiate history, Valby is looking to become the first woman to pick up the 10K/5K double since Arkansas' Dom Scott did so in 2015. 

Since winning her first NCAA title last June in the 5,000m, she has been on a historic run, winning 12 of her 13 races. Three of those races were national titles, and three more were collegiate records. 

She was the first collegian under 15:00 and she's already done that twice. Additionally, she became the first collegiate woman to break 31:00 over 10,000m, lowering the previous record by 28 seconds. 

SEC foe Hilda Olemomoi isn't far off though, and could challenge Valby in either. 

3. Maia Ramsden (1500)

If you don't know the name Maia Ramsden by now, you need to take note of one of the great milers of today. Whether it's her 4:24.83 mile performance in February, or her 4:21.47 anchor leg in the new DMR collegiate record, the Kiwi has garnered a name for herself while winning a pair of national titles. Ramsden has proved she is the best mid-distance runner in the NCAA time and time again. This weekend, she isn't only eyeing a national title or two, but also an Olympic Standard. This season, Ramsden has ran 4:02.58, which is hundredths of a second shy of the 2024 standard of 4:02.5. Needless to say, it's going to take quite a bit of magic to take down Ramsden.

2. Olivia Markezich, Notre Dame (3000S)

One of the many future stars in women's collegiate distance running, Notre Dame's brightest star is in the midst of a dominant run of her own. She's run 9:25.03 in the 3,000 meter steeplecahse and 8:40.42 (No. 2 all-time) and 4:27.76 (No. 11 all-time) in the 3,000m and mile. 

A 9:23.00 Olympic steeple standard isn't far off from what Markezich is capable of and she's become one of the top contenders for a spot on the American team. 

She'll also have to deal with both Alabama's Doris Lemngole and Florida's Elise Thorner.

1. Ackelia Smith, Texas (Long Jump)

We already know that Smith is looking to capture both long and triple jump titles this weekend, but she's also wanting to defend her 2023 long jump title that she won over Florida's Jasmine Moore. 

Smith has jumped 23-3.5 and 45-8, both the best in the country. Smith already proved she's the best in the West, winning both regional titles over a deep field. 

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