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June 5, 2017

With several favorites absent from NCAAs, here’s what to watch for instead

No Ches. No Cunliffe. No problems.

This weekend’s Division I NCAA Outdoor Championships were supposed to be easy from a fan’s perspective.

Oregon star Edward Cheserek was supposed to win the 5,000m and 10,000m, further cementing himself as probably the best collegiate distance runner of all time.

The Oregon women–on the strength of their incredible sprinting squad–was supposed to handily take the team contest.

For us sports bloggers, we were supposed to make lots of graphics of cartoon ducks and various Oregon athletes soaring high over Eugene’s Hayward Field and have some boilerplate posts ready to roll, proclaiming Oregon’s dominance.

In other words, the Ducks were supposed to do Duck things in Duck-town.

But Ches got hurt. Hannah Cunliffe got hurt–and thus, Oregon’s women’s sprints lost a good chunk of points. And while the Ducks are still in great position to win, it won’t be in the same overwhelming fashion (if it happens at all).

But to hell with it, this intrepid track blogger says. Who needs those storylines? The Warriors are going to win the NBA Title. The Patriots won the Super Bowl. Everyone should be very sick of the super teams and the favorites winning as projected. (Plus, if you’re truly a fan of the over-dog, the Texas A&M men look nearly unbeatable.)

So here are a handful of alternative happenings to keep tabs on this weekend. They should be entertaining, even if you’re the type who tends to cheer for schools with superior talent, training, resources, and air-tight sports information departments, for some reason.

Instead of Ches, try Coleman

There’s another studly trackman attempting a difficult double, whose last name also begins with a C: Tennessee’s Christian Coleman. He’s the only man seeded at under 10 seconds in the 100m and under 20 seconds in the 200m, AND he made a viral internet video earlier this season. He’ll presumably take things a step further, by probably anchoring the 6th-seeded Tennessee 4x100m relay as well.

The women’s steeple, in general

Seasoned steepler and accomplished miler Elinor Purier of UNH brings the fastest seed time to the mix, but many informed eyes will be on Boise State’s Allie Ostrander, in just her third ever steeple. Some pundits posit that it will be a battle up front between these two women. But I say, watch the bulk of the field, because this race could be wide open.

Bonus points for watching Columbia’s Nell Crosby, a junior who has run 10:02.02 in her third ever steeplechase, during her first ever outdoor track season–she’s run cross country before but high school and collegiate lacrosse previously kept her off the track.

Annie Bothma–she’s back

Coastal Carolina’s barefoot-running South African star Annie Bothma comes into NCAAs having run the fastest 10,000m at either of the two regional meets. Prior to winning the East Region’s 25-lapper, she raced just once this outdoor season: a 34:12.04 effort to win the Sun Belt Conference title. That time only ranked her 32nd in the region, so extrapolating from those two meager data points, she’s one to watch. The sophomore showed tremendous promise during her freshman cross country season, but has raced sparsely since. Here’s hoping this meet’s a springboard for a longterm comeback.

The men’s 1,500m, in general

Reigning indoor mile champ Josh Kerr of UNM appears to be the class of the field, having run 3:35.99 earlier this outdoor season. But given that NCAA 1,500/mile races have a propensity to turn tactical, unexpected outcomes abound. Nobody predicted Kerr would upset Ches this indoor season. It’s only fair we mention a few possible contenders who aren’t talented Scotsmen training out of Albuquerque.

Ole Miss’s Craig Engles would be the natural non-Kerr pick to win, after an impressive showing at last summer’s Olympic Trials. But don’t count out OK State’s Joshua Thompson, CU’s Ben Saarel, or–revealing my bias once again–Columbia’s Rob Napolitano, the Ivy League champ this outdoor season who ran 3:39.75 at Swarthmore.

400s & 4x400s

I’m fairly certain Citwits tend to favor the distances over the sprints, but for once in your goddamn lives stop doing that for a weekend. Texas A&M’s Fred Kerley comes into the weekend with the world’s fastest time this year (43.70). You’d be a fool to not watch him try to better that mark. Then a fool again if you didn’t watch the best event in track–the 4×4–where he’ll team up with –among others–younger brother Mylik to attempt to deliver the baton around the oval four times in under three minutes.

And on the women’s side, USC boasts the fastest qualifying time out of the regional meet, but will square off against Oregon, who has run the fastest time at the NCAA ranks this season. If it’s a rematch of the indoor meet, USC will be anchored by one of the open 400m favorites, Kendall Ellis, while Oregon will close with an 800m favorite, Raevyn Rodgers.

It’s possible (even if it’s unlikely) that both the men’s and women’s team titles could come down to the mile relay, which is just about the best possible scenario for us fans and bloggers alike.

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