It's conference championship weekend where teams try to maximize point totals, move up the NCAA list and build some momentum for the final month of the season. The Big Ten Championships in Iowa City will have big names competing across a variety of disciplines. Here are four of the biggest questions heading into the meet this weekend.
How Many Titles Can Nick Gray Add To His Career Total?
It’s already been a historic season for Nick Gray. Indoors, the Ohio State sprinter won Big Ten individual titles number nine and 10. This spring, he broke Jesse Owens’ school record in the 100m when he ran 10.17 at South Carolina. What does he have in store in his final Big Ten meet?
He didn’t get an individual win at this meet last year so two wins aren't a given. He will get pressure in both the 100m and 200m. His teammate, Eric Harrison won the 200m last year and Purdue’s Waseem Williams took the 100m. Both men are back this weekend.
Illinois’ Devin Quinn has been a mainstay at the Big Ten Championships, though he’s never been able to crack into the top two. His 10.06 is the top seed time in the 100m. Samson Colebrooke and Rikkoi Braithwaite (Indiana) should also play a role in the short sprints.
Which NCAA Champions Run Which Events?
With two NCAA indoor champions competing, much of the women’s mid-distance races depends on who runs which event. Danae Rivers of Penn State, the 800m indoor national champion, has won at least one conference title in each of her previous five appearances. Regardless of which event she enters, there’s no reason to think that streak ends this weekend. Her 800m mark of 2:03.63 is the best in the conference by over a second.
Ohio State’s Julia Rizk has run both the 800m and the 1500/mile. But she has a national title in the latter so it stands to reason that she will run the 1500m in Iowa City. Her victory at NCAA Indoors was a huge surprise. Only two weeks before she needed a big personal best in the mile at the Big Ten Indoor Championships to qualify for the meet. Michigan’s Hannah Meier won that race, but Rizk was able to upend the pre-race predictions in Birmingham. Meier’s season best of 4:21 has her outside the top five in the conference this season, but she has plenty of experience.
Will Battle's Sophomore Success Continue?
Anavia Battle’s breakthrough came at the Big Ten Indoor Championships when the sophomore ran 22.80 in the 200m to smoke the field and establish herself as a name to watch in the NCAA women’s sprints. She continued her momentum this spring. At the Florida Relays, Battle ran 22.54 into a headwind. That mark stands as the second fastest in the nation.
While her status of favorite is secure in the Big Ten 200m, she should have more competition in the 100m. Nebraska’s Lakayla Harris won the 60m indoors and has a lifetime best of 11.45 (she’s run 11.53). Amira Young, the freshman from Minnesota, ran 11.40 at the Drake Relays. Battle’s season best of 11.25 is still superior, but those women present the best threat to keeping Battle from the sprint double.
Will Wisconsin Rule The Men's Distance Races?
A year ago, a rusty Morgan McDonald entered this meet to try and help Wisconsin score points. The sight of a 13:15 5K struggling in the middle of the pack was a clear indication that he was far from 100%.
Since then, McDonald has been close to perfect. He’s won three NCAA titles—two indoors and one in cross country and has only dropped one race.
In the 5000m, Indiana’s Kyle Mau and Ben Veatch can give McDonald some competition, but there’s no doubt who the overwhelming favorite is in that race.
Things could get interesting if McDonald decides to double. He’s never run a 10,000m on the track, though with his cross country success you can only draw one reasonable conclusion about how he’d fare over 25 laps. If he does do the 10,000m, does he try to just win the race, or will he be looking for a time that could qualify him for the NCAA meet? Right now, the 48th best mark in the 10,000m in the West is 29:25. That’s not much more than a tempo run for McDonald.
As a whole, the distance races will be fun to watch. Last year, the Big Ten produced men’s NCAA outdoor champions in the 10,000m, 3000m steeplechase, 1500m and 800m. Two of those winners are back this year in Wisconsin’s Oliver Hoare in the 1500m and Minnesota’s Obsa Ali in the steeplechase.
Ali is fresh off a personal best of 8:31.15 at the Payton Jordan Invitational, but will have company in the form of Indiana’s Daniel Michalski. Hoare wasn’t able to win the NCAA indoor title, but his outdoor season has gone smoothly. He ran a lifetime best at the Bryan Clay Invitational, 3:37.20 and then teamed up with McDonald to help give Wisconsin two Penn Relays victories in the 4 x mile and distance medley relay.