Second to a cross country team national title, winning the distance medley relay at the NCAA Indoor Championships is among the most prestigious awards for a collegiate distance running team. The event exhibits a team’s middle distance prowess and outside of the Penn Relays is one of the few opportunities for distance runners to participate in relay events.
A select group of three teams have separated themselves as contenders for Friday night’s women’s DMR final – Washington, Oregon and Georgetown.
The Huskies are looking for some redemption after a runner-up finish at the NCAA cross country championships. Behind stellar sophomore Katie Flood, Washington ran the nation’s leading time of 10:55.01 at the MPSF Championships two weeks ago. Flood chose to skip the open mile – an event in which she is the national leader by more than three seconds – in favor of achieving team glory.
Just a few tenths behind in the MPSF race was Oregon. Choosing not to run Jordan Hasay on anchor, the Ducks instead went with outdoor 800 meter champion Anne Kesselring on the 1600 meter leg and ran 10:55.78. They enter the NCAA meet ranked second on the descending order list.
Georgetown has continued its success from fall’s cross country national title with a 10:55.95 DMR from back in late January at the Penn State National Invitational. The Hoyas are the defending Penn Relays DMR champions.
Taking a look at the opening 1200 meter legs, Oregon has a decided advantage over its opponents with 4:37 miler Becca Friday leading off. Washington and Georgetown appear closely matched on paper with Chelsea Orr and Rachel Schneider, respectively. Orr has a mile best of 4:39.78 while Schneider set her mile PR of 4:40.56 last weekend at the Columbia Last Chance meet.
None of the teams have blazing fast 400 meter legs but Georgetown has the edge with Chelsea Cox running the 800 meter leg. Her seasonal best of 2:05.78 is significantly ahead of 2:09 runners Baylee Mires of Washington and Claudia Francis of Oregon. Depending on how her 800 meter prelim goes, the Ducks could call of 2:05.07 performer Laura Roesler.
The DMR so often comes down to the 1600 meter anchor leg. Both Washington and Georgetown have standout anchors in Flood and Emily Infeld.
The big question mark will be Oregon. Will the Ducks choose to put Hasay on the final leg or stick with the MPSF lineup of Kesselring on anchor and Friday on the 1200 meter leg?
Kesselring appears to be the better choice. She has proven the ability to stick very closely with Flood at the end of races while Hasay has struggled with her closing speed this indoor season, which is not surprising her long-term focus of peaking at the Olympic Trials in late June.
It is important that note that the Oregon trio of Kesselring, Hasay and Friday will all be running preliminaries of the mile about four hours before the DMR is set to begin. Flood and Infeld, on the other hand, will be starting fresh.
A few other teams could be in the mix.
Cal ran 10:56.29 to finish third at the MPSF meet but will make a few changes to its lineup, replacing NCAA 5k leader Deborah Maier with 9:00.86 3k runner Chelsea Reilly on anchor and 4:41.57 miler Sofia Oberg on the opening leg.
Nebraska shocked everyone with its 10:58.74 auto qualifier last weekend at the Alex Wilson Invite. We know that their anchor Ashley Miller has gone 4:39.11 for the mile this season but little else is known about the quality of the rest of the Cornhusker squad.
Florida is the biggest potential darkhorse. In addition to the known commodity of Cory McGee on anchor, the Gators also have a strong 1200 meter leg in Agata Strausa. The native of Latvia just joined the team in January but has already impressed with a 4:36.39 mark in the mile at the SEC Championships.
Dartmouth could also be a factor but their weaker opening legs often lead too much of a gap for anchor Abbey D’Agostino to make up.
The Bottom Line
Although the anchor leg is important, it is also critical to get the baton to the miler in a good position.
However coach Vin Lananna decides to arrange his lineup, Oregon should hand off first given its incredible middle distance depth.
At the MPSF race, Washington passed to Flood with a gap to make up, which she was able to do, but only narrowly edged past Kesselring on the final straightaway. Such a gap will be more difficult to overcome on a 200 meter banked track like in Boise where passes are harder to make versus the oversized oval at the Dempsey.
Even with this concern, Flood and Infeld are a step above whoever Oregon will anchor with.
In the end, Georgetown will talk away with the title. Infeld looks to be extremely race sharp and is an excellent tactician on indoor tracks while her teammates are still full of confidence coming of their cross country national title.
Flood has run exceptionally thus far in 2012 but at some point she has got to cool down. Although she will not walk home with the DMR title, she will win her first NCAA championships the next day in the 3k.
The women’s DMR is set to kick off at 9:25 PM Mountain Time. Tune in on ESPN3.com.
Topics: Ncaa Indoor