I truly enjoy Matt Wisner’s writing. Even when I post it late. Which is my fault. I missed his NCAA coverage, due to too many things happening, and traveling between Spokane to San Jose to Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. This is a good analysis of the NCAA women’s distance races, which had some fascinating tactics.
NCAA Women’s Distance Recap
The Arkansas team of Isabel Van Camp, Paris Peoples, Krissy Gear, and Logan Jolly won the DMR in 10:51.37. They split 3:22.76, 52.65, 2:03.76, and 4:32.21.
They were a bit back at the first exchange. Van Camp was only the eighth fastest split in the field. But the other three legs were much more dominant: Peoples had the second-fastest 400 split, Gear had the second-fastest 800 splits, and Jolly was the fastest miler.
There was a pack of five teams together at the start of the final leg, but Jolly pulled away with 600 meters remaining and became too far out of reach for the chasing teams (the most notable of which was a fast-closing Julia Heymach from the Stanford team. She’s run 4:04 in 1500).
At the Pac-12 Invitational two weeks before NCAAs, Oregon, Stanford, and Oregon State finished basically three-wide in 10:57, all three teams qualifying for NCAAs but a bit further down the performance list. These three teams ran together again in Birmingham, but this time a bit faster. They were all together for most of the race but separated over the final 400 meters and finished second, third, and fourth behind Arkansas.
- Stanford, 10:53.37
- Oregon, 10:55.52
- Oregon State, 10:58.76
Arkansas has a lot of interchangeable parts. Lauren Gregory, for example, was fourth in the 5,000 and third in the 3,000 this weekend, and Shafiqua Maloney finished sixth in the 800. Because of Arkansas’s depth, they could run four women who didn’t qualify for the meet-in-individual events on the relay and hold out Gregory and Maloney for their other events.
“We all had just missed [qualifying for the meet], which put a fire under us,” Jolly said. “We were fired up and we were like, ‘We deserve to be here.'”
Woo pig sooie. They’re right: They deserve to be here.
The race began dramatically: Sarah Hendrick from Kennesaw State immediately started cooking and opened up a 15-meter gap on the field with her 56.15 over the first 400. Second place was over two full seconds behind Hendrick at the halfway point.
Everybody was out fast. All eight women were under 60 seconds for the first 400.
After getting out that fast, the winner of the race was going to be the woman who would slow down the least. And one woman has a dramatically better mile PR than everybody else, the aerobic strength that is required to continue pushing through the lactic acid that builds up after such a fast first lap. Her name is Lindsee Butler. She split 4:29 on the anchor leg of Virginia Tech’s DMR when they won ACCs two weeks prior.
Butler was in third at the halfway point and was always in control of the chase pack.
Hendrick, although way off the front for the first 600 meters, ultimately made it pretty easy for Butler over the final lap. Like she was trudging through quicksand, Hendrick faded from first to last over the final lap, and Butler continued forward, ultimately winning in 2:01.37, essentially tying her PR.
The women behind her, in second, third, fourth, and fifth all PRed. They ran the best races of their life, and it still wasn’t. Lindsey Butler is just that good.
“Once you’ve been here for a few years, you kind of learn how everybody races,” Butler said. “I knew I could hold it down with the mile strength that I have.”
Behind Butler was Claire Seymour of BYU who finished second in 2:01.96, and McKenna Keegan of Villanova who finished third in 2:02.70.
From the gun, the pace wasn’t that fast. The women were all packed up, all 16 of them, and the leader changed like a hundred times.
There were a few times where an athlete would surge past the others on the outside and into the lead, and I thought “This is it. This is the time they split it open and the race breaks up,” and it was never true. The new leader just assumed their position on the rail and kept the pace slow.
Until Taylor Roe from Oklahoma State made a dramatic move with 700 meters remaining in the race. Lauren Ryan tried to go with her. Courtney Wayment tried to go with Lauren Ryan. But they didn’t come within five or 10 meters of Roe, who continued to run by herself off the front of the pack. With 300 meters to go, her lead was the biggest it was the whole race. She seemed untouchable.
Then Roe realized she may have made her move slightly too early. She was slowing down and Katelyn Tuohy and Lauren Greggory were coming toward her quickly. After the race, she said she could see them coming on the big screen. “And I was terrified,” she said.
From 600 meters out, Tuohy was way back in the line but barrelled forward, running 32s. The gap shrank and shrank, but Tuohy was running out of room. Tuohy pulled up onto Roe’s shoulder on the final straightaway, but Roe gritted her teeth and held her off. When she crossed the line it looked like she couldn’t have run another stuff.
In the end, Roe was the winner (8:58.95), Tuohy came second (8:59.20), and Greggory was third (8:59.50).
Roe made a dramatic move, and it paid off. Tuohy ran 1:37 over the final 600 meters, but it wasn’t quite enough.
On the broadcast, the interviewer asked Roe, “You went then why?” and she quickly said, “I don’t know.” There was a long pause, and she chuckled a bit, and then said, “I just go with whatever feels right. I trust myself and my intuition.” Her intuition was right.
Roe definitely wasn’t the favorite coming into the race. She was the 13th seed. She’d finished fifth at cross country nationals, which is definitely the most impressive performance on her resume before today. Now she’s a national champion.
Courtney Wayment, the 5,000-meter champion the night before from BYU, finished fifth in 9:01.77.
With 450 meters to go, the eventual winner, Micaela Degenero was in last place. With 400 to go, she had taken the lead.
She pulled outside, shot up to the front, and didn’t look back. Everybody else was packed up, and Degenero was off the front of the pack. At this point, the race had split open, everybody in a line, and Degenero was running away.
With 300 meters to go, it seemed that everybody was stationary except for the three Colorado women in the field, who at this point, were leading and running in third (Madison Boreman) and fourth (Rachel McArthur). In the end, McArthur was fourth (4:35.66), and Boreman finished seventh (4:38.32).
Degenero’s final lap was 61.07, and her finishing time was 4:33.92. Like the 3,000, the winning tactic was to make a hard and definitive move and not look back.
Degenero had a rough case of COVID in January and wasn’t sure that she’d qualify for NCAAs this season at all. She qualified just two weeks ago.
“The race went out pretty slow, which I figured played into my hands,” she said. “I’ve missed a bit of the training and was a little nervous about the pace being super fast. I bided my time in the back and tried to stay out of trouble.”
Speaking about her move, Degenero said, “That was not pre-planned at all. It was all spur of the moment.” She continued, “I was waiting and waiting for somebody to pull up on my shoulder… It didn’t really feel real until I crossed the line.”
Degenero also said, “My high school coach always said, ‘If you make a move, you have to slam
Sintayehu Vissa of Ole Miss finished second in 4:35.40, and Ellie Leather of Cincinnati finished third in 4:35.62.
Alabama’s Mercy Chelangat led a lot of the race. She was in the lead for 14 laps–five at the beginning, five in the middle, four at the end.
With 400 meters to go, there was a front pack of five women which included Chelangat. Courtney Wayment took over, and ran away from Chelangat, but some other women matched her move and followed her closely: Lauren Greggory and Katelyn Tuohy.
They were all running at the same pace (fast–32-seconds for the last 200), but over the bell lap, there was no change in position. Wayment won the race in 15:30.17. Tuohy was second in 15:30.63. Chelangat was third in 15:31.06. And Gregory was fourth in 15:32.95, before there was a bit larger of a gap before the next finisher.
“It doesn’t just happen,” Wayment said of her victory. “I have to make it happen.”
Wayment said, “I have to put in the hard work, and that’s exactly what we did.” She continued, “This race means a lot, not as an athlete but as a person,” referencing her challenge to herself, to sincerely try very hard and understand her capability.
Some broader takeaways
- Arkansas performed the best as a team: They won the DMR and placed in the 800, 3,000, and 5,000. As a distance team, they scored 24 points, which only nine full teams surpassed.
- The best multi-event performer was probably Katelyn Tuohy. She finished the weekend with two silver medals, one in the 3,000 and one in the 5,000.
- Making one big dramatic move was the defining winning strategy of the weekend: Degenero and Roe made big pushes to the lead and each won a race. Jolly in the DMR even kind of employed this strategy. The 5,000 was the only true close race of the meet.