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The 10 Most Important People
To Watch At The NCAA Indoor

by Jeff Hollobaugh

1. Donavan Brazier (Texas A&M)

brazier donovanIn the last three years, the Aggie frosh has only lost one 800, the New Balance Indoor last year, where he took 2nd to Brian Bell in the fast heat and ended up 3rd overall (“Which isn’t good,” he told us, shaking his head.)

Prior to that, you have to go back to the Michigan high school state finals of ’13 where the then-soph lost to a senior. In other words, he’s not used to crossing the line behind other people.

In Birmingham, however, he will have his biggest test yet as Isaiah Harris is very ready, fresh off his oversized 1:46.24 Big 10 win, and Clayton Murphy is doing the best indoor running of his life, with a best of 1:46.13. And they’re not the only two who could challenge Brazier in this is loaded field.

Harris, the other super-frosh in the field, had the range as a prep to win his state meet in the 200, 800 and 1600. He is untested in a race of this caliber, so it remains to be seen if he has the tools to deal out an upset.

Murphy, as we saw last summer in Beijing, has developed real savvy and resourcefulness in tight-pack tactical situations, which will help him here.

Brazier has worked all season at going out hard and controlling the race from the front, but don’t forget what we saw in his prep races—running from behind and destroying people with brutal negative splits is second-nature to him. He may be frighteningly comfortable with any tactical scenario that emerges in the final.

2. Kyra Jefferson (Florida)

The Gators are favored to win the team title in Birmingham, but only if Jefferson can keep it together. The defending 200 champ has to produce in three events, and the schedule is not her BFF.

On Friday, she has the heats of the 400 at 7:10. Just 45 minutes later, she has to qualify in the 200, where more so than in the 400, she needs to blast a fast one to secure the best lane for the final. On Saturday, she would run the 400 at 4:55, where she’s expected to score key points behind favored Courtney Okolo.

Her 200 defense comes a mere hour later, and she will have her hands full there after getting whomped by Felicia Brown at SECs, 22.45–22.76.

Then comes the 4x4 less than an hour after that, and the third section promises to be a rumble between Texas and USC, with Florida and Tennessee (anchored by Brown) ready to capitalize on any weakness. No matter how magic Jefferson is with a stick—remember she ran on both relay winners at NCAA outdoors last year—the Gators’ fortunes ride on how well she bounces back from each of her races.

3. Ryan Crouser (Texas)

Whatever happens in Birmingham for Crouser is foreshadowing for the Olympic Trials. The Longhorn senior is in the last competition of his collegiate career. He’s already tied the collegiate record at 71-3½ (21.73).

In a championship situation, he may find the adrenaline to take the record even farther. If he’s able to pop a huge one, it may good news for America’s discus throwers, as he will have more evidence to back up his desire to focus on the shot at the Trials. However, a sub-par performance here may encourage him to concentrate on the discus.

4. Akela Jones (Kansas State)

The Wildcat senior could probably win the team title if they spread the meet out over a week (hyperbole alert! she could finish 3rd). Alas, on Friday we’ll only get to see her in the pentathlon, where she faces an epic battle with Georgia’s Kendell Williams.

The multi will keep Jones out of the long jump, where she is tied with Quanesha Burks of Alabama for the NCAA’s leading mark at 22-1¾ (6.75); and the hurdles, where she has the No. 4 time at 8.00. On Saturday, the Barbadian just may dominate the high jump, where her 6-4 (1.93) gives her a 2½-inch gap on the field.

5 & 6. Molly Seidel (Notre Dame) & Allie Ostrander (Boise State)

The next chapter in the battle for NCAA distance dominance will unfold with two races between Irish junior Seidel and Bronco frosh Ostrander.

Last fall in cross country, Seidel put the yearling in her place (a very respectable place), beating her by 5 seconds for the NCAA crown.

This winter, Seidel is undefeated, and prepped for this clash with a brilliant ACC double, clocking 15:19.64 on day 1 to win by more than 12 seconds, and coming back on day 2 to win the 3000 by nearly 9 seconds (9:02.24).

Ostrander looks solid, with an oversized 15:21.85 that she ran in losing to Kim Conley. At 3000, she used a great kick to win her only race, an 8:54.27 (again, oversized). Watch the clock, especially in the 5000, where Emily Sisson’s Collegiate Record of 15:12.22 could be in jeopardy.

7. Kahmari Montgomery (Missouri)

The world wants to see just how real the Tiger frosh is. A 46.24 last year put him No. 9 on the national prep list, but no one really saw him winning the SEC at 45.78 in his first try. And some of the biggest SEC talents (Marqueze Washington, Michael Cherry) weren’t even in the same section.

Sadly, that’s again a prospect at Nationals, as the split-section final is one of the necessary evils of indoor championship racing in this event. (For fun pre-meet warm-up, just try explaining to the casual fan why we can’t quite figure out how to get the best sprinters into the same race at NCAAs.)

Watch for Cherry, who leads the NCAA with his 45.61 in the SEC heats (but placed only 5th in the final), race his heart out to try to restore order to heaven and earth. Of Montgomery, Mizzou assistant Carjay Lyles says, “It's going to come down to race execution and being free of distraction.”

8. Jordan Moore (LSU)

In the hurdles, many eyes will be on comebacking Devon Allen of Oregon, which is why it might be important to watch former football player Moore closely. The Bengal junior has only lost once (to Aries Merritt, so no shame there). His 7.60 is tied with Allen for the NCAA lead.

Allen has an equally impressive record undercover, so the contest will be as thrilling as it is brief. Oregon is expected to be the dominant team favorite on the men’s side, but LSU stands to be one of the biggest threats waiting in the wings should Edward Cheserek and Company have a rough weekend.

In other words, either hurdler may be exceptionally motivated by team considerations, depending on how the meet has played out to that point.

9. Raevyn Rogers (Oregon)

We haven’t seen a lot of Rogers in the 800 this season, but her only race was a barnstorming 2:00.90. She did that in a crowd, placing 4th at Millrose. While that gives the Duck soph 2-plus seconds on the field, it remains to be seen if anyone will take the race out fast enough to challenge the meet record of 2:01.64 or the Collegiate Record of 2:00.75.

What we will see, however, is how defending outdoor champ Rogers handles herself with a target on her back as the strong favorite. It may give us a real indication of whether the talented youngster (still just 19) has the competitive mettle to challenge for an Olympic berth.

10. Edward Cheserek (Oregon)

If for no other reason, the Duck star—strongly favored to win both the 5000 and 3000—must be watched closely so that you can hold your own in a conversation with the many distance fans who will only be able to talk about “King Ches” and the dominant Oregon program.

Wrapping Up

Trust us, you’re not going to find as many people who want to jabber with you about undefeated triple jumper Eric Sloan from USC or ultra-favorite Raven Saunders of Mississippi in the shot put.

Nor are you likely to see much of their competitions on TV. But if you want to be keep an eye on our Olympic prospects, you might want to keep an eye on the runways and circles during Saturday’s running events.

March 10, 2016