Winning a national title in a track and field event brings a trophy and a spotlight as perks, but also a new target on one's back. 16 DI NCAA champions fit the bill this winter, all looking to defend their crowns against a deep field of challengers.
I'll only be highlighting the indoor returning champions, saving the 12 returning outdoor champions for the outdoor season. I also will not include relay champions. That said, let's look at the potential title defenses.
Combined Events (sweep) — Defending Champion: Ayden Owens-Delerme | Arkansas
- Kyle Garland | Georgia
- Leo Neugebauer | Texas
- Marcus Weaver | Arkansas via Wisconsin Eau Claire
Kyle Garland and Leo Neugebauer were Ayden Owens-Delerme's biggest challengers last year, where Owens-Delerme swept the indoor and outdoor titles for combined events. All three return this year and we should see some exciting battles.
Owens-Delerme could also face a challenge for his new teammate, Marcus Weaver, who swept the DIII decathlon and javelin for the last two years.
Long jump (sweep) — Defending Champion: Wayne Pinnock | Arkansas (won titles at Tennessee)
- Jeremiah Davis | Florida State
- Johnny Brackins | Southern California via Baylor
- Brandon Hicklin | LSU via North Carolina A&T
After sweeping the long jump titles at Tennessee, Wayne Pinnock transferred to Arkansas after the Vols got a new coach. At his new home, Pinnock will face a challenge from a familiar face in Florida State's Jeremiah Davis, who finished second in the event during the outdoor season.
Other top challengers are new faces in new places after the transfer portal. Johnny Brackins heads to Southern California from Baylor, while Brandon Hicklin heads to LSU from North Carolina A&T. If these two jumpers thrive in their new homes, they could push for a title.
Pole Vault (sweep) — Defending Champion: Sondre Guttormsen | Texas (won titles at Princeton)
- Simen Guttormsen | Texas
Sondre Guttormsen transferred from Princeton to Texas this offseason as the reigning indoor and outdoor pole vault champion. His biggest competition may come from his younger brother Simen Guttormsen, who also transferred to Texas. Simen finished fourth in the pole vault at both of last year's championships.
60M — Defending Champion: Davonte Burnett | Southern California
- Matthew Boling | Georgia
- Micah Williams | Oregon
- Favour Ashe | Auburn
Davonte Burnett is back at Southern California after winning the 60 meters during the indoor season but getting hurt before the outdoor championships. As he returns, he'll face challenges from Georgia's Matthew Boling, Oregon's Micah Williams and Auburn's Favour Ashe, three of the biggest names in collegiate male sprinting.
200M — Defending Champion: Javonte Harding | Tennessee (won title at North Carolina A&T)
- Matthew Boling | Georgia
- Udodi Onwuzurike | Stanford
Javonte Harding is the defending indoor 200-meter champion and follows his head coach from North Carolina A&T to Tennessee this season. Harding will be motivated after getting disqualified at the outdoor championships in the 200.
Speaking of disqualified, Boling makes his second appearance as a top challenger after his own disqualification in the indoor 200-meter final last year. Stanford's Udodi Onwuzurike is another top challenger after bursting on the scene as a freshman.
High Jump — Defending Champion: Vernon Turner | Oklahoma
- Corvell Todd | Florida via Southern Miss
- Dontavious Hill | Auburn
Vernon Turner returns to Oklahoma for another year as the defending indoor high jump champion. His road to repeat won't be easy as this could be the year Auburn's Dontavious Hill finally makes the jump that lands him in first place. Elsewhere, Corvell Todd finished second during the last indoor season at Southern Miss. Todd should improve with more experience and a transfer to Florida.
Shot Put — Defending Champion: Turner Washington | Arizona State
- Jordan West | Arkansas via Tennessee
Arizona State's Turner Washington is the defending indoor shot put champion. His top challenger this winter is Jordan West, a member of Arkansas' loaded recruiting class after transferring from Tennessee.
Weight Throw — Defending Champion: Bobby Colantonio Jr. | Alabama
- Jayden White | Washington
Alabama's Bobby Colantonio Jr. should be the favorite in the weight throw this year, but Washington's Jayden White should contend after finishing fourth at NCAAs as a freshman.
400M (sweep) — Defending Champion: Talitha Diggs | Florida
- Kennedy Simon | Texas
- Britton Wilson | Arkansas
Talitha Diggs won the indoor 400, the outdoor 400 and the American 400 title last year before finishing 10th overall at Worlds. She was truly "Talethal" last year and returns to defend her title, but will face competition.
Arkansas' Britton Wilson is best at the 400-meter hurdles, but during the indoor season, she runs the flat race. She finished sixth during the 2022 championships and has the speed to push Diggs. Elsewhere, Kennedy Simon remains a top contender at Texas after finishing second and third during last year's indoor and outdoor seasons. All three women competed for Team USA this off-season.
Long jump & Triple Jump (sweeps) — Defending Champion: Jasmine Moore | Florida
- Claire Bryant | Florida
- Ackelia Smith | Texas
Jasmine Moore returns to Florida after arguably the greatest collegiate horizontal jumping season ever, sweeping the long and triple jump titles across seasons. Moore likely has more to prove this year after her egregious snub for the Bowerman Award, but will face many challengers along the way.
In the long jump, Moore's teammate Claire Bryant should contend for a title. In the triple jump, Texas' Ackelia Smith was one of the best freshmen across events last year and out-jumped Moore at Worlds.
High jump (sweep) — Defending Champion: Lamara Distin | Texas A&M
- Rachel Glenn | South Carolina
Texas A&M's Lamara Distin swept the high jump titles last year, but only a year prior, South Carolina's Rachel Glenn won the outdoor high jump title. With both women competing in the SEC, the 2022-23 season could see some great battles.
60H — Defending Champion: Grace Stark | Florida
- Masai Russell | Kentucky
- Alia Armstrong | LSU
- Jasmine Jones | Southern California
You might have forgotten about Florida's Grace Stark after she missed outdoor nationals with an injury. Here's your reminder that Stark tied a collegiate record in the 60 meter hurdles to win last year's championship. Yet, even with a collegiate record, she might not be considered the favorite in the event entering the year.
That's because LSU's Alia Armstrong bounced back from a false start in the 60 meter hurdles final to win the outdoor 100 meter hurdles title at the NCAA Championships and finished fourth in the world in the event during the summer.
If Armstrong's star power wasn't enough among the top challengers, there's always Kentucky's Masai Russell, one of the most popular athletes in the NCAA across sports — and for good reason. Russell has progressed almost every year, finishing second in 2022's 60 meter hurdles. She should contend for a title again this year.
Lastly, there's Southern California's Jasmine Jones. Jones did not finish last year's indoor hurdles race but finished third in the 100 meter hurdles during the outdoor season. The returning 60 meter hurdles field is loaded.
800M — Defending Champion: Lindsey Butler | Virginia Tech
- Claire Seymour | BYU
- Sarah Hendrick | Kennesaw State
Virginia Tech's Lindsey Butler is the defending indoor 800-meter champion, but this season's title is anyone's race. There are plenty of top challengers, but BYU's Claire Seymour and Kennesaw State's Sarah Hendrick stand out as two of the most consistent returners from last year.
3000M — Defending Champion: Taylor Roe | Oklahoma State
- Katelyn Tuohy | NC State
- Lauren Gregory | Arkansas
Taylor Roe won the 3000-meter title last year and has what it takes to repeat. However, NC State's Katelyn Tuohy will have her eyes set on at least one indoor title after winning the 2022 cross country individual title this fall. Arkansas' Lauren Gregory is another top contender after finishing third in the event last year.
Weight Throw — Defending Champion: Shey Taiwo | Ole Miss
- Jasmine Mitchell | Ole Miss
Defending weight throw champion Shey Taiwo may face her biggest challenge this year from her teammate, Jasmine Mitchell. Week after week last year, Taiwo and Mitchell had impressive weight throw performances, with Taiwo ultimately getting the edge in the championships. These two should have great battles in practice and at meets.
Shot Put — Defending Champion: Jorinde Van Klinken | Oregon (won title at Arizona State)
- Axelina Johansson | Nebraska
Jorinde Van Klinken heads to Oregon after winning two titles in two different events last year. As she defends her shot put title at her new home, her biggest challenge will come from Ohio State's Adelaide Aquilla who's won three of the last for shot put titles across seasons. Expect Nebraska's Axelina Johansson, who finished third during the outdoor shot put as a freshman, to also contend.