The 2023 DI women's indoor track and field regular season is over for most teams and the postseason is here. We're two weeks away from selections — conference championships lie in between — but the regular season has provided enough races to predict this year's future champions.
Who do I think will be lifting the hardware? Find out below.
The close, but no cigar teams
I evaluated the championship potential of the top-four teams from USTFCCCA's Feb. 12 rankings. Here's why the third and fourth-ranked teams are on the outside looking in.
No. 3 Arkansas
I can see an outcome where we end March 11 and Arkansas will have won four first-place trophies. That still won't be enough for the Razorbacks to contend with the top two teams.
Why? Because Arkansas doesn't have a diverse set of point scorers. I'll have Arkansas as my favorite to win the 4x4, and Amanda Fassold leads the country in the pole vault, but there are gaps. The Razorbacks may not score points in any other field event, and Lauren Gregory is the only distance runner that's shown flashes of point-scoring performances. Arkansas would need Gregory to double at championships and score more than the 11 combined points she totaled last year to contend for a title.
Arkansas' best chance at a title will rely on the sprints, but I don't think it'll be enough. Ackera Nugent could win the 60 meter hurdles, and Britton Wilson and Rosey Effiong could go 1-2 in the 400 meters. At its best, Arkansas could even see five point scorers in the 400 meters, an event where the Razorbacks concluded the regular season with five top-10 marks.
However, all of that happening would be like Razorback stars aligning in the New Mexico sky in mid-March.
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No. 4 Oregon
Oregon has fantastic individuals, but not the depth needed to win the title. I see the Ducks scoring in the high 20s to low 30s at championships, with seven finalists.
For Oregon to score the points needed to contend for a title, it would take Jadyn Mays pulling off a 60-200 double, Aaliyah McCormick winning the 60 hurdles at a near collegiate record pace, Jorinde Van Klinken and Jaida Ross going 1-2 in the shot put and an Oregon sweep of the horizontal jumps.
Even if all that happened, the Ducks would likely need more points from another distance event and other teams to falter shockingly to win the title. Even the most optimistic Oregon fans may see that as a reach.
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The top contenders
It's a two-horse race for the 2023 DI women's indoor track and field crown in my eyes. While you may think it's déjà vu with my projection of 2022's champion and runner-up, No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Texas, respectively, as the top title contenders.
It's not. The Gators and Longhorns have proven to be a step above the rest after the regular season.
That said, who do I think is the front-runner for the title pre-conference championships? Let's break it down event-by-event, and then I'll give you my pick.
We'll start with the event that has the most events, the pentathlon. Florida's Anna Hall may be gone, but Sterling Lester is no stranger to competing in the combined events at indoor championships, finishing 10th last year. Texas has a pentathlon challenger of its own in Kristine Blazevica. After the regular season, Blazevica has the third-best pentathlon performance. Lester has the 25th best.
I think both end up qualifying for nationals by the time conference championships are over, but Blazevica is in the title-contention range while Lester is in the point-scoring range. Texas will score more points in this event.
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Florida and Texas have two of the best horizontal jumpers in the sport in Jasmine Moore and Ackelia Smith. Both are capable of sweeping the long and triple jumps. Between the two, I'm going with the more experienced Moore, who swept every horizontal jump title last year.
Florida also has Claire Bryant in the long jump and she could finish above Smith in that event. Throw in the potential one or two points the Gators can get from Alida Van Daalen in the shot put, and I see Florida scoring more points in this category.
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Expect to see a lot of Gator and Longhorn uniforms in the sprint events. It'll all come down to doubling with the 60 meters and 400 meters back-to-back and the 200 meters 30 minutes after the 400.
Here's how things may shake out.
Texas has the 60-meter collegiate record holder in Julien Alfred, plus Kevona Davis and Ezinne Abba in the event. There's a lot of point potential there. In the 200 meters, Texas has Rhasidat Adeleke as its star, joined by Alfred, Davis, Kennedy Simon and Lanae Thomas. All of them could score points, with Adeleke as a potential winner. Adeleke and Simon round out the Texas sprints with the 400 meters.
There's no doubt in my mind that Texas will walk away with at least 40 points from the sprints. How close the Longhorns can get to 50 points in the sprints will determine if they emerge victorious.
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Meanwhile, Florida's sprint crew will also make noise. Jayla Hollis and Imani Carothers could contend for a finalist spot in the 60 meter hurdles and Kynnedy Flannel, Laila Owens and Jasmine Montgomery could contend for a finalist spot in the 200 meters. I think at least one of those sprinters scores points for the Gators.
That leaves Talitha Diggs. She's run the fifth-fastest 60 time, the third-fastest 200 time and the fifth-fastest 400 time. Florida will need Diggs to double in the sprints for points, with Grace Stark yet to take the track after an injury.
Based on the event's start times, the 200 is Diggs' surest bet. From there, I have to think Diggs picks the 400 over the 60 so she can defend her title from last year. Regardless, I think Diggs finishes with at least 14 points, if not more.
I'll also throw the 800 meters, a mid-distance event, into this section. Florida's Imogen Barrett and Texas' Valery Tobias have the fourth- and seventh-fastest 800 times this season. The two may not finish in the same spots at the DI championships, but I think Barrett will finish ahead of Tobias, giving the Gators more points here.
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The distance events
One of the biggest differences between the Florida and Texas teams comes in the distance events. Texas doesn't have any distance runners with times that contend near the top. Florida has Parker Valby.
Valby has the third-fastest 3000 meter time this year — and she's only run one individual race all season. Valby is well-rested entering the championship season, so it wouldn't surprise me if she doubled in the 3000 and 5000 meters (she finished second in the outdoor 5K). In fact, I'd be surprised if she didn't double given her potential to score points in both events.
Valby also anchors Florida's ninth-fastest DMR team that will be looking to pick up a handful of points that could determine the title.
I think Valby scores high points individually in both distance races and helps lead Florida to DMR points. She gives Florida a clear advantage over Texas in the distance events.
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The deciding event
The event that will decide the 2023 DI women's indoor track and field championship is the final event of the day, the 4x400 meter relay.
I predict Florida will lead entering the relay after Valby picks up key points in the 3000 meters as mentioned above. From there, Florida won't have to beat Texas in the 4x4, but the Gators will have to keep it close. Texas, of course, will be aiming for a win.
After the regular season, I see Arkansas finishing first in the 4x4 and Texas finishing as a clear second. Now, scoring comes into play.
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As you can see, the gap between second and third place is two points. I think a third-place finish from the Gators wins the title. Fourth place could mean a tie. Anything less than fourth, and it's a Texas title.
Florida currently has the third-fastest 4x4 time after the regular season by almost two seconds. I'll have the Gators hanging on to third place in the 4x4 and winning the DI women's indoor championship in a meet that is thrilling from start to finish.
Florida's distance points and higher number of projected first-place finishes keep the Gators on top.