We're at the midpoint in men's and women's track and field and the season is red hot with championships rapidly approaching.
Let's hand out midseason superlatives to some of the nation's top performers in 2023 ... so far.
Best individual performance
Overall superlative: Masai Russell
The best individual performance category goes to... a group. Georgia's 4x400 meter relay stole the show at Texas Relays with its second-fastest all-time finish of 2:58.82. The Bulldogs relay consisted of Elija Godwin, Matthew Boling, Caleb Cavanaugh and Will Sumner. The quartet was less than three-tenths of a second away from breaking the collegiate record. It was the most impressive men's performance in any event this year.
Also considered: Terrence Jones (Texas Tech, sub-10 100 meters)
Kentucky's Masai Russell has the best individual performance of any woman during the outdoor season after setting the 100-meter hurdles collegiate record at Texas Relays. Russell finished in 12.36 seconds to break Brianna Rollins' record that stood for nearly 10 years.
Russell is one of two women to set individual NCAA records this year, but the Kentucky Wildcat gets the nod because she broke a record that stood for longer.
Also considered: Britton Wilson (Arkansas, NCAA record 400 meters)
Freshman of the year
Overall superlative: Keyshawn Strachan
Auburn's Keyshawn Strachan is the only freshman with a nation-leading mark, leading the country with his 84.27-meter javelin. No other freshman is within the top four of an event.
Florida's Alida Van Daalen is the women's outdoor track and field freshman of the year at this point in the season. She's the only freshman with two top-10 marks in the country, sitting fourth in the shot put at 18.14 meters and seventh in the discus at 58.70 meters.
Also considered: Anthaya Charlton (Kentucky), Autumn Wilson (Georgia), Kenna Stimmel (Virginia Tech)
Overall superlative: Julien Alfred
The best sprinter at the midpoint of the season is the only sprinter to break 10 seconds in the 100 meters this year, Texas Tech's Terrence Jones. Jones finished in 9.91 seconds at the Tom Jones Memorial. If that wasn't good enough, he also ran 20.05 in the 200 meters at Texas Relays. Since returning from injury during the indoor season, Jones has been elite on the track.
Also considered: Tarsis Orogot (Alabama)
The best sprinter in the country is Texas' Julien Alfred. She's only run two individual races this year but has the nation-leading all-condition times from both. Alfred is the only woman to break 22 seconds in the 200 meters, running 21.91, and she ran 10.72 (+2.4) in the 100 meters.
Before her individual debut, Alfred set three collegiate records as a part of relay teams in the sprint medley relay, 4x1 and 4x2.
Also considered: Britton Wilson (Arkansas), Mckenzie Long (Ole Miss), Rhasidat Adeleke (Texas)
Best distance runner
Overall superlative: Everlyn Kemboi
Plenty of athletes can make a case for the best distance runner, but Wisconsin's Bob Liking gets the nod at midseason. Liking has run the third-fastest 5000 meters and the sixth-fastest 10,000 meters. He's continued to climb the Wisconsin record books throughout the season.
Also considered: Ky Robinson (Stanford), Brian Fay (Washington)
Utah Valley's Everlyn Kemboi is the best distance runner midway through April. She ran the nation's fastest 5000 meters at 15:20.67 and the third fastest 10,000 meters at 32:03.30. Only six other women have multiple top-three marks in individual events this season.
Also considered: Emily Venters (Utah), Grace Fetherstonhaugh (Oregon State)
6 women have 2⃣ top-3 nat'l marks through 4/15 #NCAATF— Stan Becton (@stan_becton) April 16, 2023
-Julien Alfred 100m+200m @TexasTFXC
-@kenzielong21 100m+200m @OleMissTrack
-Everlyn Kemboi 5K+10K @UVUxctf
-@masai_russell 100H+400H @KentuckyTrack
-@brittonwilsonn 400m+400H @RazorbackTF
-@Jasmineemoo LJ+TJ @GatorsTF
Best mid-distance runner
Last year, I didn't have a best mid-distance runner superlative category, instead lumping events beyond sprints into one distance category. This year, I have mid-distance on its own, in large part because LSU's Michaela Rose created the need for it.
Rose has been the best mid-distance runner during the outdoor season. She's the only collegiate woman to break two minutes, thanks two her 1:59.08 800-meter finish at the Bryan Clay Invitational that stands as the second-fastest time in NCAA history.
Rose has also run the 12th-fastest 1500 meter time this year at 4:11.98 and is the only mid-distance runner with two top-12 times.
Best field athlete
Overall superlative: Jordan Geist
Arizona's Jordan Geist leads the nation in the shot put and hammer. He's the only athlete in men's track and field to lead multiple events. This one is pretty cut and dry.
Also considered: Mykolas Alekna (California), Jeremiah Davis (Florida State), Zach Bradford (Texas Tech)
Athletes are competing at historic levels in field events during this outdoor season, highlighted by defending champions Lamara Distin (Texas A&M), Jasmine Moore (Florida) and Jorinde Van Klinken (Oregon). Among a trio of elite athletes, Van Klinken leads as the top field athlete at the season's midpoint, thanks to multiple record-level performances.
The Oregon Duck has been phenomenal in the discus, with two of the four farthest throws in NCAA history and three of the seven farthest throws. Van Klinken set the discus collegiate record in 2021 and she continues to chase her record week after week.
Also considered: Lamara Distin (Texas A&M), Jasmine Moore (Florida)
Note: I wrote this before Arkansas came in at No. 1 and Oregon at No. 4 in Week 4's USTFCCCA ratings, but the cases for each as contenders remains the same.
Can the indoor champions be a sleeper team? I say yes, especially in the case of the Arkansas Razorbacks. Arkansas didn't land above No. 19 in the USTFCCCA ratings during the first three weeks of the season. I think that allows me to place it in sleeper territory.
So why are the Razorbacks a sleeper team? It's simple. They haven't had performances from two of their best athletes this season. Ayden-Owens Delerme hasn't competed in the decathlon and Jaydon Hibbert hasn't competed in the triple jump on US soil. When these two are in full force, Arkansas has a deep roster that can score points from sprints, distance or field events.
The Razorbacks have 10 top-eight marks that would all score points if scored today. The potential is there for Arkansas to rise to the top.
Oregon is a sleeper team that could make a run towards a top-three finish come outdoor championships. The Ducks are hovering around the bottom of the top 10 of the USTFCCCA ratings, but have the potential for a late-season surge.
Oregon currently has national leaders in the 1500 meters and discus in Izzy Thorton-Bott and Jorinde Van Klinken, but the roster has plenty of talent. Jaida Ross and Shelby Moran join Van Klinken as potential point-scorers in the throws. Ross and Van Klinken could end up doubling in both the shot put and discus by the time championships roll around for all we know.
In the sprints, Jadyn Mays could score points in the 100 and 200 meters for the Ducks. Freshman Aaliyah McCormick will only get better with time as she nears sub-13 seconds in the 100 hurdles. Likewise, fellow freshman Klaudia Kazimierska already has a top-eight time in the 1500 meters.
Jumpers Alysah Hickey and Lexi Ellis round out the individual events for the Ducks so far, but there's always the potential of the 4x1 relay squad scoring points too.
Oregon has a group of athletes throughout the sprint, distance and field events that have the Ducks primed to rise down the stretch.
The men's Bowerman race isn't clear-cut at this point in the season, with plenty of athletes having strong cases. Yet, I still believe Kyle Garland is the front-runner for the award.
I had Garland as my leader for the Bowerman after an indoor season that he closed with a combined events collegiate record. While Garland's season-opening decathlon didn't end how he would've liked, he was projected for 8475 points before failing on the pole vault, a top-four score all-time.
However, Garland still set a collegiate record for the decathlon shot put. That, plus his indoor performance gives Garland a slight edge right now.
Before the outdoor season, I listed my top-five front-runners for the Bowerman. Halfway through the outdoor season, the woman at the top remains the same in Julien Alfred.
Since the Bowerman is an indoor and outdoor season award, Alfred's case will be boosted by winning the 60-meter and 200-meter titles, with plenty of records in the 60. Alfred's followed up a successful indoor season with three collegiate records — albeit in relays — in three different events.
Considering Alfred's individual debut performances discussed above, she has to be the current favorite to add more individual titles in the outdoor 100 meters and 200 meters. When adding Texas' potential as a team to win an outdoor title on the shoulders of Alfred and others, the star Longhorn sprinter may run away with the Bowerman by season's end.