NCAA D1 Indoor Championships

From NCAA to Team U.S.A.?

From NCAA to Team U.S.A.?

Mar 18, 2015 by Meg Bellino
From NCAA to Team U.S.A.?

The NCAA Championships brought out the best of every collegiate athlete competing. Collegiate records, NCAA all-time top 10 marks, championship meet records, and facility records went down. Two-time champion Dominique Scott was even proposed to after her winning 3000m.

But what we wanted to point out are the athletes that performed so well at the championships that we believe have a legitimate shot of making the U.S. team for the 2015 World Championships.

Obviously, there are incredible athletes competing in the NCAA who may have not had the best weekend, so for the purpose of the article, we’re taking a look at those that stood out as world team contenders.

Leah O’Connor, Michigan State
Leah O’Connor ran the most dominating race of the weekend, and arguably, of the history of the NCAA women’s mile. Her time of 4:27.18 is the No. 2 NCAA all-time mark, behind Jenny Simpson’s (then Barringer) 4:25.91 at the Big 12 Championships in 2009. You may be thinking, wait, Simpson’s time is almost a second and a half faster? But it was the manner in which O’Connor ran the race and took down the field. Below is Simpson’s 2009 victory over Sally Kipyego. Kipyego and Simpson are together until the final 100m, a stark contrast to O’Connor dropping runner-up Shelby Houlihan with about 300m to go. Simpson is one of the greatest American runners, there is no doubt about that. But coming into this weekend, O’Connor didn’t have the kind of resume Simpson had already built for herself, which included the then-American record in the steeplechase.

I’ve gotten carried away, but after watching O’Connor’s race, there’s no doubt in my mind she’s on the right track to running sub-9:30 in the steeplechase and making the U.S. team. I guess we should also mention the fact that Emma Coburn won the NCAA mile her senior season, before cementing herself as the greatest American steeplechase athlete.

Courtney Okolo, Texas
This Longhorn’s future is bright. Don’t believe me? Her winning NCAA 400m mark of 51.12 ranks No. 1 on the 2015 indoor world list. Also, her split on Texas’ winning 4x400m relay was 50.36. The 21-year-old is well on her way to becoming one the best. Teammate Ashley Spencer made the U.S. team in 2013 after posting times of 51.27 indoors and 50.28 outdoors to win her second NCAA title while at the University of Illinois. Okolo will have stiff competition with Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards-Ross, Francena McCorory, and Natasha Hastings, but take a look at her 400m final to see how calm and cool she races.

Raven Saunders, Southern Illinois/Tori Bliss, LSU
The NCAA Champion and runner-up cemented themselves as possible contenders for Team U.S.A. Saunders, only a freshman, lived up to her hype. The 2014 World Junior Silver Medalist (only the second American in 10 years to ever medal in the shot put at the WJC) won the NCAA with a monster PB of 18.62m. Bliss was right behind in 18.47m. Though both tosses are outside of the NCAA all-time top 10 list, only three ladies are on that list: Tia Brooks, Laura Gerraughty, and Teri Steer. If Saunders and Bliss keep inching closer to 19 meters, they could be challenging for a spot on the U.S. team.

Sandi Morris, Arkansas/Demi Payne, Stephen F. Austin
Morris used her home track to her advantage when she upset collegiate record-holder Payne, winning the NCAA pole vault in 4.60m. Payne disappointed, no-heighting at three attempts at 4.40m. Morris went out on three attempts at 4.70m, just over her PB of 4.66m. These two are possibly the second and third best vaulters in the U.S., behind Olympic Champion and American Record Holder Jenn Suhr. It is the #YearOfTheVault, right?

Ciarra Brewer, Florida/Keturah Orji, Georgia
Brewer and Orji slammed the competition in the NCAA triple jump. Brewer’s winning jump of 14.01m marked the Gator’s first time over 14 meters, while Orji’s 13.77m fell short of her PB of 13.98m, still finishing runner-up as a true freshman. Last year, Brewer recorded the top TJ mark from any American and placed third at the USATF Championships, while Orji was ranked eighth (with a much lower PB of 13.46m). Either way, these two will be the ones to watch during outdoor season.

Emily Sisson, Providence

This is a huge statement. Sisson broke the collegiate record on February 28, 2015, running 15:12.22 at the Big East Championships. She easily won the NCAA Championships in 15:32.15, dropping Rachel Johnson around the 3200m mark. Now now, two NCAA athletes ran that or faster last year outdoors (Aisling Cuffe 15:11.13 and Marielle Hall 15:12.79), with Hall beating Cuffe at USATF Outdoors for third and fourth place, respectively. And with this being a World Championship year, the competition at the national championship will be stiffer than ever. Abbey D’Agostino finished sixth in 2013 at USAs and fifth in 2012 at the Olympic Trials, after winning NCAA Outdoor 5k titles both seasons. But the fact that Sisson ran her collegiate record time in a race where she “wasn’t expecting it,” means she’s got a lot more in her.

Kendell Williams, Georgia/Erica Bougard, Mississippi State
Williams is three for three-for-three on NCAA appearances and wins. No bid deal. She and Bougard smashed the NCAA meet record and facility record, scoring 4678 and 4566 points. Williams’ score broke the collegiate record and was only 167 points away from Sharon Day-Monroe’s American record. Moving outdoors, Williams and Bougard owned the sixth and third best marks in 2014, respectively. They’re on the right track to becoming the next best American athletes.

Eric Jenkins, Oregon
I said it before and I’ll say it again: Jenkins is the next great American superstar. His double wins in tactical 3000m and 5000m fields means he’s great at Championship racing. His PB’s are also No Joke. 7:44.91 for 3k is only .22 off Galen Rupp’s collegiate best mark. His outdoor 5k time of 13:18.57 ranks No. 7 on the NCAA all-time list. He’s only getting better in the Oregon uniform, and it would be a treat to see him in a 10k this spring. When Ryan Hill (then at N.C. State) made the U.S. team in the 5k in 2013, his best mark was only 13:43.52 indoors, running the indoor mile, 3k, and 1500m at NCAA Championships. Granted the 2013 USATF Championship race was one of the most tactical races in history, with Hill splitting 54.57 for his final 400m. NCAAs wasn’t as tactical, but Jenkins split 56.15 in the 5k and 25.83 for his last 200m in the 3k. The guy has closing speed.

Conor McCullough, USC
McCullough was second in the weight throw, almost beating collegiate record holder Michael Lihrman in the process. He only threw three times during the indoor season since transferring to USC from Princeton, and he only just switched nationalities in July (He previously had dual citizenship in America and Ireland). This past summer he threw 77.20m in the hammer, which is better than any American thrower from 2014. He finished fourth in the 2012 Olympic Trials, so he’s not a stranger to the game here.

Marquis Dendy, Florida
Dendy went out with a bang. For his final NCAA indoor appearance, he swept both jumps in personal bests, taking the long jump in 8.28m and 17.37m in the triple jump. Dendy was a member of the world team in 2013 in the long jump, but his triple is where he shines. His 17.37m leap would have been the No. 3 ranked U.S. jump in 2014. Dendy will be in good company, with Florida Gator alums Christian Taylor and Will Claye, who won Gold and Silver in London in 2012.

Vernon Norwood, LSU
Norwood took down one of the deepest NCAA 400m fields, running 45.31 in Fayettevillle. The South Plains College import was ranked sixth in the U.S. after running 45.02 last summer, finishing fourth at the USATF Championships. He’s already faster indoors this season, even running a 600m in 1:18.57 in Albuquerque, N.M., which indicates that his strength is more impressive than ever. He came into the Championships with the fourth-fastest mark and left with a No. 1 NCAA indoor time. The sky is the limit.

Trayvon Bromell, Baylor
Bromell made a huge case for himself in Fayetteville when he blasted a world-leading 20.19 in the 200m final. Despite being disqualified from the 60m for a false start, Bromell entered his name in the 200m pool when he smashed his Baylor school record (previously held by Michael Johnson), and became the second-fastest runner in the NCAA, only behind 2005 Wallace Spearmon’s 20.10 American/Collegiate/NCAA Meet and Facility record. His best time in 2014? Only 20.59. After his indoor mark was thrown down, he’s thinking he can break 20-seconds outdoors, which puts him in an excellent position to rep Team U.S.A.

Jake Blankenship, Tennessee
Blankenship didn’t win the NCAA pole vault, that crown belonged to Collegiate record holder Shawn Barber. Barber is Canadian, which means he’s out of the U.S. Team, leaving Blankenship to prove his worth. His NCAA leap of 5.80m was HUGE, breaking his previous best of 5.70m. 2014 Champion Sam Kendricks, who already turned pro, has a personal best of 5.86m indoors and 5.81m outdoors. Blankenship’s new best ranks him with America’s best.