The most compelling storyline of the women's distance events at the 2018 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships revolves around Karissa Schweizer of Missouri, the three-time national champion who has run on a different level from the rest of the NCAA this season.
With a collegiate record in the 3K and the NCAA leader in the 5K to her name, can Schweizer take vengeance on NCAA XC champion Ednah Kurgat of New Mexico in the 5K this weekend in College Station, Texas?
And, can she pull off the 5K-3K double — a feat that eluded her last season? Will Kurgat anchor New Mexico's DMR and go for a triple: DMR, 5K, 3K?
We analyze these races (and more!) below.
Women's 800m: Can Sammy Watson & Jazmine Fray Pull Off An Aggie Sweep At Home?
When: Prelims on Friday @ 7:25 PM CT; Final on Saturday @ 5:40 PM CT
Top Seed: Agnes Abu, Middle Tenn. State, 2:02.30 / Jazmine Fray, Texas A&M, 2:02.30
Top Returner: Jazmine Fray, Texas A&M, 4th
Analysis: All eyes in Aggieland will be on Texas A&M's Jazmine Fray, the collegiate record holder and NCAA leader this season, and Sammy Watson, the undefeated freshman and SEC champion, to see if they can pull off a 1-2 finish at home to match their conference finish.
Fray placed fourth in last year's final; two other women return from that race: Olivia Baker of Stanford (seventh) and Abike Egbeniyi (eighth).
Of those two, Baker seems the most likely to make some noise here, as she's quietly one of the most consistent performers in the NCAA and has never missed an 800m final at the championships in the past five outings. Her best year was 2016, when she placed third indoors and second outdoors at NCAAs.
Women in front of Watson on the descending order list include Agnes Abu of Middle Tennessee State, whose 2:02.30 season-best ties for No. 1 with Fray; Penn State sophomore Danae Rivers, who has run 2:03.13 this year and was third in the NCAA indoor mile finals last year; Sadi Henderson of Boise State, who set a Mountain West Conference Championship record of 2:03.95 two weeks ago; and Rachel Pocratsky, who has stepped up nicely for Virginia Tech after the graduation of Hanna Green and whose season-best of 2:03.17 ranks No. 4 and qualified her to her first appearance at an NCAA Championships.
Watson, Baker, Rivers, Henderson and Pocratsky are all undefeated in individual events vs collegians this season.
Women's Mile: It's Time For Elinor Purrier To Win An NCAA Title
When: Prelims on Friday @ 5:50 PM CT; Final on Saturday @ 4:20 PM CT
Top Seed: Elinor Purrier, New Hampshire, 4:26.55
Top Returner: Elinor Purrier, New Hampshire, 2nd
Analysis: New Hampshire senior Elinor Purrier is one of the most consistent distance women in the NCAA, which is no small feat given the level of talent in the collegiate system and the number of chronic injuries that typically plague distance runners.
In three and a half years, Purrier has placed in the top four of an NCAA final on four different occasions: NCAA 3K SC '17 (fourth), NCAA mile '17 (second), NCAA 3K SC '16 (third), and NCAA mile '16 (third).
This year looks like her best shot to finally take the gold. Her 4:26.55 at the BU David Hemery Valentine Invitational is the second-fastest time in NCAA history and is only half a second off Jenny Simpson's collegiate record of 4:25.91.
Watch Elinor Purrier run the second-fastest NCAA mile of all-time at BU Valentine:
Purrier may want to take the pace out and make this thing honest to ensure herself the win, as no one else in the field has broken 4:31 this year.
A slow early pace leaves a lot of kickers in the mix, including Colorado's Dani Jones, who won the NCAA 3K and DMR in 2017 and ran 4:36.05 at altitude this year; Elise Cranny, the newly minted Stanford school record holder at 4:31.29, and Nikki Hiltz, the 2017 NCAA runner-up for 1500m.
Defending champion Karisa Nelson of Samford broke her foot earlier this season and is redshirting the rest of the year.
Women's 5K: Schweizer vs. Kurgat, Round III
When: Friday @ 8:25 PM CT
Top Seed: Karissa Schweizer, Missouri, 15:17.31
Top Returner: Karissa Schweizer, Missouri, 1st
Analysis: The Friday night 5K will be the first showdown of the weekend between defending champion Karissa Schweizer of Missouri and reigning NCAA XC champion Ednah Kurgat of New Mexico.
The last time these two met was at December's BU Season Opener, where Schweizer took the advantage by 15:17.31 to 15:19.03. Those are the fifth- and seventh-fastest marks in NCAA indoor history (not including oversized tracks).
Watch Karissa Schweizer and Ednah Kurgat battle over 5K at the BU Season Opener:
We should all be on record watch for this one. Both athletes are fierce competitors and if NCAA XC was any example, Kurgat is not one to hold back in a championship race.
The de facto NCAA indoor record for 5K is 15:12.22, set by Emily Sisson of Providence in 2015.
The overall collegiate record is Simpson's 15:01.70, set on UW's oversized track in 2009.
Women's 3K: Schweizer vs. Kurgat, Round IV
When: Saturday @ 6:25 PM CT
Top Seed: Karissa Schweizer, Missouri, 8:41.60
Top Returner: Karissa Schweizer, Missouri, 2nd
Analysis: The 3K is the race that Schweizer should have in the bag, figuratively speaking, as her NCAA record of 8:41.60 is 14 seconds faster than anyone else in the field.
But with what is likely to be a tough 5K on her legs already, the field certainly has more than a fighting chance to take down the champ. Remember that last year, it was Colorado's star miler Dani Jones who kicked down Schweizer for the 3K crown.
The women who should be the top challengers will also be doubling back from other events; Elinor Purrier of New Hampshire will have two rounds of the mile on her legs while Kurgat is racing the 5K and possibly the distance medley relay on Friday night -- the Lobos rank No. 3 with her on the anchor.
Nine more women (including reigning NCAA steeplechase champion Allie Ostrander) have run between 8:58 and 9:01 this season — which means, if Schweizer doesn't go out at collegiate record pace, this should be a very exciting race to watch.