Five Races to Watch at Mt. SAC
Every year at the Mt. SAC Relays, some of the best distance fields you’ll find throughout the season are assembled, producing exciting races and fast marks. The 2013 edition of Mt. SAC is no different. Here are five key races to watch:
Speed is the name of the game in the men’s 800m. Remember during the indoor track season when Duane Solomon broke the American 600m record with a time of 1:15.70, where only an hour or two later Penn State standout Cas Loxsom broke the old record with his 1:15.79. While Solomon was celebrating his record, Erik Sowinski broke it at the Millrose Games with his 1:15.61 performance.
Turns out, all three athletes will be battling for first at Mt. SAC. That’s right, the Olympic fourth place 800m finisher Solomon, the upstart Sowinski and the collegiate phenom Loxsom are all toeing the line, and while it’s still early in the season, all three seemed poised to run something very fast.
New teammates Charles Jock and Ryan Martin, who ranked fourth and sixth respectively on the American depth charts in 2012 over 800m are in the field, as well. While both have been relatively quiet this season, both are big talents over the two lap event and will contend from start to finish.
It’s early in the season, and it may take another few months for an 800m runner or two to dip under 1:44.75, but if anytime is appropriate for it to happen in April, it would most certainly happen at Mt. SAC.
Anytime Dartmouth junior Abbey D’Agostino is in a race these days, it’s a race fans want to follow. D’Agostino opens up her outdoor season taking on a stacked field of talent in the women’s 5,000m. While it remains to be seen what the pace goes out at, don’t be surprised to see a winning time of 15:15 or faster.
At the Stanford Invitational two weeks ago, pro Alisha Williams and Iowa State senior Betsy Saina battled to 15:09 and 15:12 clockings. While the same battle up front may not occur, one needs to remember that D’Agostino showed she was clearly the class during the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, where she beat Saina to win the 5,000m and 3,000m titles.
Following closesly on the heels of D’Agostino will be Hansons-Brooks standout Neely Spence Gracey. Spence Gracey ran an inspiring race at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in March, leading Team USA with a 13th place finish, while leading Team USA to a strong fourth place showing. The former Shippensburg standout should be ready to push D’Agostino and crack the 15:20 barrier.
Collegiate standouts Megan Goethals (Washington) and Emily Sisson (Providence) will make their presence know, as well. Both runners have come up big time and time again at meets like Mt. SAC and it would not be surprising to see both go after sub-15:35 marks.
Two other pros in the field should push for top three finishes. Sara Hall and New Zealand 1,500m Olympian and former Stony Brook standout Lucy Van Dalen both have the talent and potential to run under 15:40. Similar to many of the other athletes, Mt. SAC most likely won’t be a place where they set a PR, but will give them an early season test of where their fitness lies.
Two weeks ago, Utah prep senior Ben Saarel shocked the high school running community, as he beat one of the deepest fields ever assembled over 3,200m, outkicking mile standout Bernie Montoya (AZ) and California junior Blake Haney to win in an eye-opening 8:45.74. Montoya and Haney came in shortly after in 8:47.06 and 8:48.58, as four athletes broke 8:50 and 16 athletes broke the nine-minute barrier.
Saarel, Montoya and Haney are back at it again this weekend at Mt. SAC, this time going head-to-head in the mile. Despite losing to Saarel at Arcadia, Montoya is considered the pre-race favorite after his 4:01.32 mile win at the adidas Grand Prix last year. While he’s obviously peaking for the end of the track and field season, Montoya has shown enough early fitness to where it would not be surprising to see him run under 4:04.
While many have the expectation that Montoya will challenge the four-minute barrier this spring, Saarel added his name to the four-minute watchlist. He closed in an astonishing 4:11 for the final 1,600m at Arcadia, and his last lap was run in 55 seconds. That speed and strength show he’s ready to pop something special in the mile.
While Haney is only a junior, he may very well be the top junior in the country this spring. Obviously his sub-8:50 clocking is special, but he’s also shown mile speed. Haney ran 4:09.43 as a sophomore at the adidas Grand Prix and it should come as no surprise if he challenges 4:05.
While Montoya, Saarel and Haney get much of the pre-race press, don’t overlook Arizona senior Andy Trouard. He finished seventh at Arcadia and has already run sub-4:10 this season. The Northern Arizona-bound runner is the underdog, but has the talent to compete with the three favorites.
Leading the charge in the women’s 1,500m race are standouts Anna Willard and Brenda Martinez. Willard, who finished fifth at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials last year, had a busy off-season, moving to the UK and traveling with her training group to Kenya for a few weeks. While Mt. SAC is her 2013 opener, she’s a savvy veteran and will undoubtedly be looking for the win and a fast time.
Meanwhile, Martinez is seeking a more consistent 2013 season. After a slew of ups and downs during her 2012 campaign, the middle distance standout looks to get her season off on the right foot. Challenging for the win and a sub-4:11 mark would be terrific.
Brie Felnagle and Olympian Kim Conley are two other athletes to watch. Felnagle is a proven 1,500m veteran, having placed third at the U.S. Indoor Track and Field Championships in the mile, while Conley is coming off a 30th place showing at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships. Conley ran well in Poland, but looked even stronger earlier in the year, when she placed a commanding second at the U.S. Cross Country Championships. If either runner is on their mark, a sub-4:12 clocking is not out of the question.
While the Americans undoubtedly capture much of the pre-race discussion, don’t discount Oklahoma State junior Natalja Piliusina. The Lithuanian star has PR’s of 2:02.12 for 800m and 4:09.51 for 1,500m. She’s been quiet so far this 2013 season, but don’t count her out, as she’s sure to contest.
While the top heat of the men’s 5,000m is loaded with collegiate talent, three of the more notable athletes in the field are Hansons-Brooks runners Bobby Curtis, Jake Riley and Colby Lowe. After a strong race the U.S. 15 km Championships in March, Curtis seems ready to open his 2013 track season with a winning effort at Mt. SAC. He’s the early favorite and should set a fast early pace.
Riley and Lowe each look to set a strong tone to the beginning of their track seasons. While Riley has had a series of up and down showings in his previous races, Lowe has been very quiet. The former Oklahoma State standout has been biding his time and the 5k at Mt. SAC seems like the perfect time to test his fitness.
Speaking of Oklahoma State, teammates Girma Mecheso and Tom Farrell are entered in the field. Both athletes have shown numerous times they can easily rank top 5-8 in the 5,000m at the collegiate level and nothing less should be expected, with a sub-13:35 clocking a reasonable expectation for both.
One of the more intriguing athletes in the field is Oregon Track Club’s Will Leer. Leer, who generally competes in the 1,500m, is testing his fitness over the longer race. After a stellar indoor season, which saw the mustachioed veteran win both the 1,500m and 3,000m events at the U.S. Indoor Track and Field Championships, Leer could be the surprise winner in this race. Keep on the looking for him.
While Payton Jordan is still a week away, top collegiate runners are gearing up their outdoor seasons. All-Americans like Elliot Krause (Wisconsin), Jared Ward (BYU) and Futsum Zeinasellassie (Northern Arizona) have shown sub-13:40 are certainly reasonable. Zeinasellassie is one of the more intriguing athletes in the field being only a freshman, but has shown how dominant of an athlete he can become, especially after his top freshman and 31st place showing this past fall at the NCAA Cross Country Championships.
Anything can happen when you stick 30+ runners in a 5,000m race. Odds are a handful will have breakout races, a handful will have sub-par races and the rest will ride the line of running their best or not being able to handle the intense early pace. Regardless, Mt. SAC is always exciting and a few athletes are bound to make themselves heard.