Aside from the inherent drama and intrigue present in every NCAA Cross Country Championships, last month’s meet served as an excellent table-setter for the indoor season.
After watching them finish 1-3 in the women’s race, the battle between Dani Jones of Colorado and Oregon’s Jessica Hull in the indoor mile will be must-watch. In the 5000m Weini Kelati of New Mexico is in the mix for her first indoor title, but will get plenty of competition from teammate Ednah Kurgat, Boise State’s Allie Ostrander and Sharon Lokedi of Kansas.
For the men, Morgan McDonald and Grant Fisher's stretch duel in Madison was hopefully the first of several meetings between the two this academic year. McDonald’s Wisconsin teammate Oliver Hoare gets to return his focus on the mid-distance, but this time he comes in as the reigning outdoor 1500m champion and with a strong 17th place finish in cross country.
But it’s easy to be influenced by the most recent great performance. So before we start forecasting indoors there are distance runners who didn’t race this fall who should factor into the race for national championships at March’s national championship.
Vincent Kiprop, Alabama
Nobody should be overlooking Kiprop even after he missed the fall season. The Alabama senior was second in the indoor 5000m and outdoor 10,000m last year, making him the top returner in both events. The longer the distance, the better for Kiprop so look for him again to show up in the 5000m in March at NCAAs.
With the tightly-packed NCAA Indoor Championships schedule, it’s hard to know who is running what, particularly in the distance races. If Fisher and McDonald focus on the distance medley relay on the first night of competition, then Kiprop is in a good spot.
Christina Aragon, Stanford
Aragon only competed in one cross country race this fall, running with her teammates Elise Cranny and Fiona O’Keefe at the University of San Francisco Invitational on Sept. 1. In her two years competing at Stanford, Aragon has racked up an impressive string of performances at NCAA track championships.
In her freshman year, she was seventh outdoors in the 1500m. In 2018, she was seventh in the indoor 3000m and helped her team get second in the distance medley relay. Last spring, she was fourth in the 1500m, finishing behind two seniors and Hull.
This winter she could opt for either the 3000m or mile. With the presence of Hull or Jones in the mile, the 3000m/DMR schedule that she had last year might make the most sense, though her 1500m personal best of 4:08.71 isn’t too far off Hull or Jones’ PRs in the event.
Erin Finn, Michigan
The nine-time All-American was granted a sixth-year of eligibility this fall and is able to compete in both indoor and outdoor track for the Wolverines. She’s dealt with an array of injuries throughout her career but when she is healthy, she is always in the mix. Finn has placed runner-up at the NCAA Championships on four different occasions.
Her last race came in the Big Ten Outdoor Championships in an epic 10,000m win in the heat and humidity of Bloomington, Indiana.
That was the 10th Big Ten title of her career. This winter she will try to add to that total on Michigan’s home track.
Steven Fahy, Stanford
Like Aragon, Fahy only raced once during cross country, and if he is good form again this winter he should make it back to the NCAA Indoor Championships in either the 3000m or 5000m.
Fahy was ninth in a tactical 5000m last year in College Station and placed third in the steeplechase outdoors. The latter is his preferred event, but he put up marks of 7:54 and 13:44 last winter.
Jon Davis, Illinois
Those health issues were preceded by a fantastic indoor season where Davis showed the potential of one of the top mid-distance runners in the nation.
At the Illini Classic last January, Davis ran 3:58.46 in the mile. After conversions for the flat, 200m track, Davis’ mark was the second-fastest of the entire NCAA season (3:55.46). He also posted the sixth-fastest 3000m of the season, a 7:49.92. He opted to race the 3000m at the NCAA Indoor Championships, where he finished 15th.
Davis accomplished all of this in his first collegiate indoor season. With the setbacks of the spring and fall seemingly behind him, it should be another big winter for Davis.