Jan. 21, 2009

 

By Brett Hess
Special to NCAA.com

Line-up the team favorites of this season's men's indoor track championship and it's a Who's Who of track.

On the left is Oregon, the vaunted distance powerhouse. In the middle is Florida State, loaded with its sprinters and recent outdoor titles. On the right is Arizona State with its relays and field event expertise, still clutching last year's trophy. Also up there is Arkansas, the strongest indoor track and field program of all time, along with Florida, Texas and this year's host, Texas A&M.

Who will be hoisting the trophy March 14 in College Station is likely to be one of these all ready mentioned. But the beauty of indoor nationals is that with the limited number of events, there is the possibility of an underdog. Who thought Wisconsin would win in 2007?

With the preseason No. 1 ranking, Oregon, led by U.S. Olympic Team members and distance stars Galen Rupp and Andrew Wheating, is considered by many to be the favorite. Between those two, the Ducks could conceivably take three of the four distance events – Wheating in the 800 and Rupp in the 3000/5000. Don't forget A.J. Acosta, who placed third in the mile last year, and Oregon's possibilities in the distance medley relay and they may be all it takes to win the title.

While Rupp and Wheating will garner the headlines this winter, Acosta will be the not-so-secret weapon. Two years ago as a freshman, Acosta was an NCAA All-American in the mile and last year was All-American in both the mile and the 1,500. He broke Steve Prefontaine's school record in the indoor mile with a 3:58.52.

Florida State narrowly missed out on the national championship even without Olympic sprinter Walter Dix as they trailed Arizona State by three points (44-41). The Seminoles, however, return sprinter Charles Clark and a few talented freshmen. Clark finished second last year in the 200. Reportedly, twin brothers Kevin and Jonathan Borlee from Belgium recently enrolled at Florida State. The Borlee's helped lead the Belgium team to a fifth place finished in the 4x400m relay at the Beijing Olympics. Another Seminoles freshman sprinter to look out for is Maurice Mitchell, who recorded 10.24 and 20.74 last season.

Florida State will also be helped in the heptathlon by sophomore Gonzalo Barroilhet, the defending champion in the event. And, as always, Florida State will manage to score a few points, if not more, in the distance events. Their top gun this winter figures to be Luke Gunn, in both the 3000 and 5000 meter runs.

Arizona State is led by shot put defending champion Ryan Whiting, who set a NCAA and championship meet record with a heave of 71-feet, 3.5-inches. Another top returner is Joel Phillip, who placed second in the 400-meters. Philip is one of three Sun Devils returning from last year's 1,600-meter relay team which placed third. Arizona State also returns three of its members from the runner-up distance medley relay team.

Arkansas is also led by a defending champion: triple jumper Nkosinza Balumbu. Sprinter J-Mee Samuels returns after placing fifth in the 60 and third in the 200. Other points returning for the Razorbacks will come from Alain Bailey, who placed seventh in the long jump.

The host Aggies return eight all-Americans including Julian Reid (fourth in the long jump), Chris Dykes (fifth in the 200) and Gerald Phiri (sixth in the 60), Zuheir Sharif (ninth in the triple jump) and Bryan Miller (member of fourth place 1,600-meter relay team).