Five burning questions for NCAA track
The 2014 NCAA outdoor track and field championship kicks off in Eugene, Oregon, on Wednesday at the historic Hayward Field.
Most of the events finals won't happen until Friday and Saturday, but that's no reason not to tune in Wednesday and Thursday. Trials and finals for several field events will conclude by Thursday evening (hammer, long jump, javelin, discus), and the women's 10,000-meter run (no semifinals in this event) kicks off Thursday night at 10:15 p.m. ET.
With so many schools and athletes competing, it's hard to keep everything straight and know which storylines to follow. So to help you out, here are five burning questions.
How much will the state of Texas own the 200-meter dash?
Six of the top 10 runners in the 200-meter dash hail from programs located in the state of Texas -- Texas A&M (four), Texas (one) and Baylor (one). Texas has long boasted top athletes in many sports, but with Texas A&M juniors Olivia Ekpone and Kamaria Brown, and Texas sophomore Morolake Akinosun holding down the top three seeds, it seems relatively safe to say that the state of Texas has done it up bigger than any other state for the 200.
It seems kind of crazy to think that Oregon's Jenna Prandini, USC's Tynia Gaither or Iowa's Brittany Brown wouldn't appear in the finals, but if Texas A&M freshman Aaliyah Brown could sneak into the top eight (seeded 10th), there's a very real possibility that the Lone Star State could field six of the eight runners in the event finals Saturday.
Can Oregon step out of the shadows and finally clinch a title?
The Ducks are kind of in an "always a bridesmaid" position when it comes to track and field. They won the title in 1985 but haven't been back since. And over the past five years, they've finished as the runner-up four times. Much of the Ducks' chances rest on the shoulders of Prandini, who's a high seed in the 100-meter dash (No. 2), 200 (No. 4) and long jump (No. 1), as well as being the third leg on the Ducks' second-seeded 4x100 relay.
Texas, nearly 10 years removed from its last title and led by first-year coach Mario Sategna, is the favorite at this point. Sategna's group will rely heavily on the 400, in which four of the top 10 runners are Longhorns.
How many same-school races could we have for individual champions?
In seven different individual events, athletes from the same school are seeded together in the top four. This always creates an interesting finish, as training partners become rivals. We'll see this in the 200 (Ekpone and Brown, Texas A&M), the 400 (junior Ashley Spencer and sophomore Courtney Okolo, Texas), the 1,500 (senior Emily Lipari and sophomore Angel Piccirillo, Villanova), the 10,000 (senior Elaina Balouris and sophomore Emily Stites, William & Mary), the 400 hurdles (senior Janeil Bellille and freshman Shamier Little, Texas A&M), the high jump (sophomore Leontia Kallenou and freshman Tatiana Gusin, Georgia) and the pole vault (sophomore Sydney Clute and senior Kelsie Ahbe, Indiana).
From a team-point perspective, this gives programs a greater chance to build its point total, but only one person can stand at the top of the podium, and these teammates will be fighting neck-and-neck for that spot.
Could a freshman own the 10K?
Michigan freshman Erin Finn has already set outdoor Big Ten and school records in the 5,000-meter run (15:26.08) and the 10,000-meter run (32:41.65). She was named Big Ten Outdoor Athlete of the Year, Big Ten Freshman of the Year and the Big Ten's Athlete of the Championships. She's one of two freshmen to hold a No. 1 seed in an individual event this week (Georgia's Kendell Williams, heptathlon, is the other freshman), and if she were to win, she'd become the first freshman winner in the 10K since Stanford's Alicia Craig became the first freshman to win it in 2003.
Will any records be rewritten?
Eugene had the pleasure of seeing a few American records broken last week in the Prefontaine Classic, as Galen Rupp set the 10,000-meter run record and Shannon Rowbury set the two-mile record. But will any college or NCAA championship records be taken down in TrackTown USA this week? None of the seed times and scores are that close to the records, but keep in mind that not every runner went full-go to get that seed time or score in the preliminary rounds. With a week and a half off competition, athletes have been able to rest and prepare for the biggest meet of the year, and with the aura surrounding Hayward Field, it seems like we could have some pretty major performances and PRs on the way. And maybe, if we're lucky, a new record or two could be set, as well.