FOR SOME in the tea-leaves-reading crowd who seek to ID winners ahead of time, the 5000 presented an obvious analysis. Colorado’s fourth-year junior Dani Jones had already won 3 NCAA titles: ’17 Indoor 3000 & distance medley anchor and last fall’s XC (leading another team win). No one else had a résumé like that. Jones lived up to hers, notching trophy No. 4, though not without threading some real-world needles. In the Darjeeling cup, the most obvious challenger, New Mexico’s Weini Kelati, would be doubling back from a 10K win two nights before. Hard-finishing Jones had bested XC runner-up Kelati with a kick in the harrier nationals, and temperatures still above 90° (32C) for this meeting virtually ensured a tactical contest would ensue.
That was the tea leaves picture. The real-world twist was that after triumphing on the packed snow in cross country, Jones shortly thereafter developed a fibular stress reaction that hampered her preparation for 3½ months early in the year. She only returned to running on the ground—after a long stint of AlterG only—in April.
Hence the decision to race over 5000 and not tilt at her preferred distance, the 1500 (to which she plans on returning at USATF). Prior to the big dance this year Jones only raced the Pac-12’s 5K—taking the loop title in 15:54.86—and at the Regional. In her Conference victory, she had kicked to the finish with a 68.3 last lap; quick but not the kind of speed with which tactical NCAA wins are sewed up with assurance. Arkansas soph Taylor Werner, the SEC champ, had zipped to 2nd in the Indoor 3000 with a 64.47 last 400 so constituted a threat.
As the race played out here, Jones had more to give 4 weekends down the road from Conference and drew on memories of her harrier win. “Cross is really just all about confidence,” she said. “It really boosted me, especially with the injury I had. I was just keeping that race in mind, so it was super helpful.”
Here, with no one overly eager to lead, Air Force’s Jaci Smith inherited the job for 3000m (9:37.05, averaging just under 77.0 per lap). Kelati led next with no real change of pace until Werner—hunting for important team-score points—brought one over the penultimate lap. She covered it in 75.26. With a lap left 5 rolled in contention arrayed single-file: Werner, Jones, Penn State senior Josette Norris, Kelati and Alabama’s Esther Gitahi. On the backstraight Gitahi drove up into 3rd before 200 to go. There would be one more change in the order. Werner ran into the homestretch ahead until Jones, upright in posture and efficient, drew even on the outside some 90m out and rushed to victory 4m in front. To gain her 15:50.65–15:51.24 margin, the Colorado star covered her final 200 in 31.3 (64.60 last lap), as Gitahi, Norris and Kelati held their order.
“I knew I just had to stay calm,” Jones said. “There were so many impressive girls out there. Taylor put up a really good fight. I just really tried to enjoy it like I did in cross. It was a really similar finish, really last minute, but I looked up at the screen and got to celebrate at the end. You’ve got to enjoy those moments because they don’t happen very often.”
NCAA WOMEN’S 5000 RESULTS
1. *Dani Jones (Co) 15:50.65
(pace—36.00, 76.04 [1:52.04], 77.39 [3:09.43], 78.09 [4:27.52], 77.07 [5:44.59], 77.94 [7:02.53], 77.93 [8:20.46], 77.04 [9:37.50], 77.69 [10:55.19], 78.54 [12:13.73], 77.06 [13:30.79], 75.26 [14:46.05], 64.60)
(finish—31.3, 64.60, 2:19.86, 3:36.92, 4:55.46);
2. **Taylor Werner (Ar) 15:51.24 (32.1, 65.33, 2:20.30, 3:37.56, 4:56.20);
3. *Esther Gitahi’ (Al) 15:51.85 PR (32.2, 65.28, 2:21.00, 3:38.31, 4:56.76);
4. Josette Norris (Gtn) 15:52.05 (32.1, 65.83, 2:21.01, 3:38.17, 4:56.68);
5. **Weini Kelati’ (NM) 15:54.46 (34.4, 68.14, 2:23.82, 3:41.07, 4:59.84);
6. *Makena Morley (Co) 16:02.89 (73.79, 2:31.13, 3:48.66, 5:07.41);
7. *Fiona O’Keeffe (Stan) 16:07.84 (fell);
8. **Hannah Steelman (Woff) 16:14.58;
9. *Jessica Pascoe’ (Fl) 16:17.82;
10. **Bethany Hasz (Mn) 16:18.13;
11. Caroline Alcorta (Vill) 16:18.66;
12. **Alexandra Hays (Col) 16:19.45;
13. Jaci Smith (AF) 16:22.42;
14. *Abbey Wheeler (Prov) 16:23.42;
15. *Charlotte Prouse’ (NM) 16:26.57;
16. *Allie Ostrander (Boise) 16:28.19;
17. **Abby Nichols (OhSt) 16:37.45;
18. Angie Nickerson (SnUt) 16:38.08;
19. *Jessica Drop (Ga) 16:40.84;
20. *Rachel DaDamio (NDm) 16:43.69;
21. **Joyce Kimeli’ (Aub) 17:02.91;
22. ***Julia Paternain’ (PennSt) 17:13.82;
…dnf—*Devin Clark (Ar), Adva Cohen’ (NM).