Cole Hocker edges Oregon teammate Cooper Teare in the 3000m at the 2021 NCAA Indoor Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas (photo by Mike Scott for Race Results Weekly), used with permission.
This is David Monti’s piece on the last day at NCAA Indoors. We use with permission.
OREGON’S HOCKER WINS BOTH MILE AND 3000M AT NCAA INDOOR CHAMPIONSHIPS
By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2021 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved, used with permission.
(13-Mar) — On the final day of the NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships at the Randal Tyson Track Center at the University of Arkansas, Oregon sophomore Cole Hocker was the dominant distance athlete winning the mile in a championships record 3:53.71 then the 3000m in 7:46.15 about an hour later, both with sizzling final laps. The 20 points he scored for the Ducks helped them win the team title with 79 points, the second-highest score in meet history and highest total since 1994.
“With all that’s gone on in the world and having this meet canceled a year ago, I couldn’t be prouder,” said Oregon head coach Robert Johnson through a statement.
Hocker made short work of the men’s mile, calmly controlling the pace from the front then scorching a 25.9-second final lap to get the win. Hocker, 19, who ran a 3:50.55 personal best last month on the same track, did a masterful job of cutting down the pace and weakening his rivals. His 200-meter lap times tell the story: 30.54, 30.91, 30.06, 29.93, 29.92, 28.91, 27.61, and 25.87.
“There’s no reason to let it come down to a 500 meter race,” Hocker told ESPN after his victory.
Alabama’s Eliud Kipsang did a good job of following Hocker through most of the contest, and was within just a few steps with one lap to go. But when Hocker took off, Kipsang could not match his rival’s superior speed, and the Kenyan finished second in a personal best 3:55.93. Waleed Suliman of Ole Miss got third in 3:57.26, and the top eight men all broke four minutes.
Fifty-six minutes later, Hocker was on the starting line for the 3000m with his Oregon teammate, Cooper Teare, the collegiate record holder for the mile who had anchored Oregon’s distance medley relay squad to victory yesterday with a convincing 3:52.99 anchor leg. It wasn’t clear what strategy the two men would employ tonight, but just 400 meters into the race, Teare had assumed the lead with a grateful Hocker in his slipstream. Maria Garcia Romo –the Spaniard from Ole Miss whom Teare had beaten in the DMR yesterday– was behind the two Ducks as was Amon Kemboi, a Kenyan who attends the University of Arkansas. The pace was steady at around 32 seconds per lap.
“I made Cooper do most of the dirty work up front,” Hocker joked in his post-race television interview. “I’ve got to give him props for that.”
Antonio Lopez Segura of Virginia Tech, another Spaniard, briefly took the lead mid-race, but he would soon fade and only finish ninth. Teare still had the lead with two laps to go, and he decided the time was right to squeeze down the pace. He ran the penultimate lap in 28.5 seconds and had a slight lead over Hocker, Garcia Romo, and Kemboi at the bell. Hocker and Teare didn’t have a plan for how to race the final lap.
“We kind of just went for it,” Teare explained. “I gave all I had.”
Teare led on the backstretch and seemed to have enough of a cushion on Hocker to get the win. But Hocker had one more gear, hitting the afterburners as he exited the final bend and passed Teare just before the line to win by just 8/100ths of a second. Garcia Romo got third in 7:48.59 and Kemboi fourth in 7:50.54. Hocker’s final lap was 25.49, even faster than in the mile.
“Getting the result in the mile, I don’t know, it made going into this more stress-free,” Hocker said after getting the win. “It definitely helped me out.”
The women’s mile was a drama-free affair, won with seeming ease by Colorado’s Sage Hurta in 4:30.58, a personal best. Hurta, a senior, patiently followed the pace set by Kennedy Thompson of Arkansas and tucked in behind Oregon’s Aneta Konieczek who was running second. Krissy Gear, one of the favorites to win, stayed at the back of the pack to save energy. She had not only run the first round of the mile last night, but also anchored the Arkansas DMR team.
With three laps to go, Hurta started to move. She took the lead on the backstretch and quickly opened a generous gap. Gear, who had moved up to fourth place with two laps to go, started her long drive for home, but Hurta was simply too far ahead to be caught. Gear got second in 4:32.37, and Thompson was a surprising third in 4:33.95, a personal best. Kaley Richards of UMass Lowell got fourth in 4:36.26, her second personal best of the meet.
“That was the strategy,” Hurta said. “Over the second half I wanted to push it and make sure I was in good position to win.”
The men’s 800m final was a very physical race. In the final lap, Takieddine Hedeilli of Texas Tech put his shoulder into Jason Gomez of Iowa State causing Gomez to stumble. As that was happening, Finley McLear of Miami of Ohio scooted around those men on the outside, hotly chased by Charlie Hunter of Oregon. McLear, from Great Britain, had a clear lead coming out of the final bend, but Hunter, an Australian, was determined to run him down. At the line, Hunter outleaned McLear to win by 1/100th of a second in 1:45.90. Both student-athletes had to wait several painful seconds for the officials to decide who had won.
“It was messy,” Hunter told John Anderson of ESPN. “Messy like a Sunday dinner. But, I made best with it, stayed tough, and just kind of let it rip down that home straight.”
Hedeilli, an Algerian, got third in 1:46.84, and Sam Voelz of Notre Dame finished fourth in 1:47.62. Gomez ended up fifth in 1:48.06.
The women’s 800m was a wide open affair because Athing Mu of Texas A&M, the collegiate record holder, had decided to run the 400m and the 400m relay (she finished second and first, respectively, in those events). That provided a great opening for Baylor senior Aaliyah Miller who set her sights on winning right from the gun. Miller, the Big 12 Conference champion, pulled off a daring gun-to-tape victory in a championships record 2:00.69. She split halfway in 56.9 with a comfortable lead on the field, and although she tied up in the last 50 meters her cushion was sufficient to assure a comfortable win.
“That was my race plan,” Miller said in her post-race television interview. “I wanted to go. I wanted to stick with it and hang on. Catch me if you can.”
Clemson senior Laurie Barton got second in 2:01.21, a personal best, and Shafiqua Maloney of Arkansas finished third in 2:01.22, also a personal best and scored valuable points for the Razorbacks as they worked to catch Texas A&M.
The women’s 3000m came down to a last-lap drag race between BYU’s Courtney Wayment and Arkansas’s Lauren Gregory with Wayment, last night’s winning DMR anchor, getting the win in 9:01.47 to to Gregory’s 9:01.67. Auburn’s Joyce Kimeli, last night’s 5000m winner, took third in 9:02.79. With Katie Izzo taking fourth and Abby Gray fifth, Arkansas racked up 19 points in this event putting the meet out of reach of top rival Texas A&M. Under head coach Lance Harter, the Razorback’s won with 68 points to A&M’s 57, defending the title they earned in 2019 (these championships were cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic). His team won the meet without winning a single discipline.
“We were represented in 13 of the 17 events so it was a true team effort,” Harter told ESPN. “That’s what makes it so extra special. Each and every one of those events had to contribute.”
The 2022 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships will be held at the Birmingham CrossPlex in Birmingham, Alabama, on March 11 – 12.