Women's indoor track and field: What to watch at DI Championships
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- There are quite a few story lines heading into this weekends DI Women’s Track and Field Indoor Championships. Three in particular should be captivating on the national stage.
A rematch for the ages: Molly Seidel versus Allie Ostrander
Notre Dame’s senior distance runner Molly Seidel will be running the last few races of her storied career. Seidel was the first woman in Irish history to win an individual title in track and field and this weekend she looks to add some more.
Seidel is heading into this weekend as the ACC Champion in both the 3000 and 5000-meters. 15:19.64 time in the 5000 was good for fourth all-time.
“The main goal is to go after the win and get as many points for the team as possible,” Seidel said. “I wanted to go into it and have some fun and run a fast time. I was a little bit surprised at how fast it came out being.”
The Hartland, Wisconsin native knows she will have her hands full in trying to claim victory in her last go at an individual indoor title. While her goal is the same as anyone else in the race, her experience keeps her grounded.
“You never know going into a race like this,” Seidel said. “There’s so much talent coming in here. I’m looking forward to being able to go out and race and compete and see what happens."
Standing in her way will be Boise State’s true freshman Allie Ostrander. Ostrander is coming off arguably one of the strongest freshman Cross Country campaigns in DI history. She took off making her name known across the country right out of the gates and would finish as the National Runner-Up at the NCAA Championships.
The only person who defeat her was Seidel.
Their seasons have been eerily similar. Both were Cross Country All Americans. Seidel was named the Great Lakes Women’s Track Athlete of the Year after going undefeated in the 3000 and 5000 meters. Ostrander comes into this weekend’s action as the West Region’s top women’s track athlete, setting both school and Mountain West records in both the 3000 and 5000 meters. Both are top ten all time in the 5000 meters.
While the rivalry is new and will shortly come to an end, Seidel and Ostrander Part III will certainly be one of the more exciting events of the weekend.
“I’m extremely excited to get to race Allie,” Seidel said. “We never quite get to see each other during the regular season. It’s a completely different sport. To be able to race her in cross country is a completely different ball game here. I’m looking forward to it.”
Raven Saunders quest for Olympic hopes continues in Birmingham
Raven Saunders took the nation by storm as a freshman shot putter at Southern Illinois last season. A change of scenery this year hasn’t slowed her down at all.
As a Saluki in her freshman campaign there was nary a title or record that Saunders didn’t achieve. She was both the Indoor and Outdoor National Champion in the shot put, becoming the first freshman to do so. She shattered SIU records along the way, leaving a mark in the Missouri Valley Conference as well, setting four MVC records while grabbing two titles there as well.
This past July, Saunders was faced with a career-changing decision. Her head coach — four-time U.S. Olympian Connie Price-Smith — and her throwing coach — Price-Smith’s husband John Smith — were named to head up the staff at Ole Miss. Saunders would have to decide on whether to follow her coaches or stay with Southern Illinois.
“I knew I was going to stick with my coaches the whole way through,” Saunders said. “I won two NCAA titles as a Freshman underneath my coaches. For me, I go with the saying, ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.’”
Ultimately it was the right decision, which all came to fruition on February 16th. Saunders became legendary that day at the Iowa State Classic. She had two monstrous throws that both eclipsed the 19-meter mark -- one landing at 19.02 and the other at 19.23 -- en route to becoming the first woman in collegiate history with two 19-plus meter throws in the same event. Her throw of 19.23 not only set the all-time Indoor mark, but is the farthest a shot put had ever been thrown by a female in either indoor or outdoor events.
The historic day saw her pass her own head coach and mentor into fifth place all-time on the U.S. Indoor list. She has been on an entirely different level this entire season.
“My mentality changed a lot coming into this year,” Saunders said. “My freshman year, you want to do a lot. It’s challenging trying to be a regular student versus being a student athlete. This year I was more focused.”
After securing yet another title, this time at the SEC Championships, Saunders is the most heavily favorite women’s athlete to win her event coming into the NCAA Championships. But for the sophomore, it is simply another day at the office.
Despite remaining in the present and not getting ahead of herself, Saunders ultimate goal is to be in Rio this summer alongside her head coach, as Price-Smith will be the women’s head coach for Team USA at the Olympics.
“Rio is definitely one of my biggest motivations I have,” Saunders said. “I have things relating to the 2016 Olympics hanging all around my room. Everything getting there for me is basically training me for that USA Championships. That’s why I’m really excited to be here at NCAAs. I have a lot of tough competition, so I basically have to go out and compete hard and practice as if it were the USA trials.”
Can Arkansas repeat and take their second consecutive indoor crown?
Head coach Lance Harter has his Razorbacks heading into this weekends action on the heels of their second consecutive SEC Indoor championship. The 24-time SEC Coach of the Year is looking to become a repeat national champion, as the Razorbacks are set to defend their 2015 crown.
Sitting as the No. 4 team in the nation in the most recent USTFCCCA poll, Arkansas comes into Birmingham with the second most qualifiers. They will bring 12 into the competition, trailing only Oregon who brings 16.
Lexi Weeks, a freshman pole vaulter, is one of the most exciting Razorbacks to keep an eye on. Weeks — the NCAA’s co-leader in the vault tied at 4.60 with Duke’s senior Megan Clark — has yet to lose this season. Weeks best vault on the season is 15-1, making her the fifth woman in Indoor history to clear the 15-foot mark.
What makes the event more interesting is that Lexi will be joined by her twin sister Tori in the event. Tori is tied with three others for the fifth best mark in the NCAAs at 4.40. The two will be key in Arkansas’s attempt at their second Indoor title in program’s history.