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Syracuse Track & Field: NCAA Championship Preview

With the NCAA Outdoor T&F Championships in Eugene looming, let's look at the prospects for the 8 Syracuse athletes competing.

It's bittersweet to sit down and write this because on one hand we have the excitement of the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championship, but on the other hand it means the end of one of the best years in Syracuse Orange program history. According to this list at Flotrack, Syracuse is sending the highest percentage of their NCAA Cross-Country squad to the Outdoor Championships than any of the top 10 programs. This has been the next step in the evolution of the SU distance program as they are starting to convert their success to the track in bigger numbers. Will that mean better results this year in Eugene?

First-Team All-America honors will be awarded to those who finish among the top eight in an individual or relay event as part of a team; Second-Team All-America honors go to those who finish between ninth and 16th. There is a good chance that Syracuse will come home with multiple All-America recipients.

You'll be able to watch a lot of the action on the ESPN networks, so we'll preview the events based upon the schedule of events (All times listed are Pacific). For those of you who enjoy making predictions, there is a free contest available for you at the USTFCCA website.

Wednesday June 10th

- 5:02 pm 110 hurdles: Donald Pollitt and Freddie Crittenden (3 heats, top 2 in each heat, and next 2 fastest time advance to Friday's final).

Pollitt enters the meet with the 11th-fastest time this season while Crittenden is 23rd out of the 24 qualifiers. Both Syracuse hurdlers bring NCAA experience, which serves as a benefit. They have the experience of competing at Hayward Field and going through what makes a NCAA Championship different from other meets, so just knowing what to expect can help an athlete to relax and worry solely about their competition.

The leading time in the event this season is Omar McLeod from Arkansas who has a time that is the 5th best collegiate time in history.  In a short race like the 110 hurdles, there is little margin for error, so you never know what to expect. I believe that SU will be happy to get one guy through this round. If both Pollitt and Crittenden advance to the final, it will be a big success for Syracuse.

Prediction: McLeod wins the title. Pollitt (13th) and Crittenden (15th) earn 2nd-Team All-American Honors

- 6:43 pm 10,000 meter run: Martin Hehir, Dan Lennon, and Max Straneva (24 person Final)

The first distance race of the meet shapes up to be a very interesting one. On paper, Jason Witt from the BYU Cougars is the heavy favorite with the fastest collegiate time this season of 27:54, which is 33 seconds faster than the 2nd fastest (Hehir). However, many expect  the Oregon Ducks duo of Edward Cheserek and Eric Jenkins to try to control the pace and turn the race into a "sit and kick". With both entered in the 5k, and Oregon in an expected battle for the team title, the Ducks would benefit from not having to run an all-out 10k.

This is where Syracuse having 3 runners, along with 2 from BYU and Northern Arizona, could dictate a different approach. The 7 runners are talented enough to make the race an honest effort from the start. Cheserek is the defending champion in the event, and he's known for being a strong finisher. He'd like to run hard enough to win (with Jenkins right behind for the 2nd place points). Martin Hehir was 21st in last year's NCAA race and he's said that he thinks the experience of being out there will help him this year.  Last year's winning time was 28:30, so Hehir has to be considered a contender, but I don't think it's in his benefit to dictate the pace early. If he runs like he did during the NCAA indoor meet, in contact with the leaders, but not at the front,  he should be able to garner another All-American award.

Lennon and Straneva will need to work off of the pacing of Hehir. Lennon's got a much faster time this year, so I believe he's got the better chance of earning All-America honors, but Straneva's come up big when the competition is the toughest, so maybe it's too soon to count him out.

Prediction: Cheserek defends his title. Hehir (3rd) earns 1st-Team All-America honors, Lennon (12th) earns 2nd-Team All-America, and Straneva (18th) earns Honorable Mention All-America

Thursday June 11th

- 6:38 pm Women's 10,000m: Margo Malone

Like Hehir, Margo Malone makes her 2nd straight appearance in the NCAA 10k race. After finishing 19th in 2014, Malone enters this year's meet with the 4th fastest time among the field. She'll be looking to unseat defending champion Emma Bates of the Boise State Broncos, and the top seed Dominique Scott from the Arkansas Razorbacks.

I believe that Malone might hold Syracuse's best chance at a win this week based upon her ability, and the competition. Bates and Scott are both scheduled to run the 5,000 m in Eugene, so like the men we would expect this race to become more tactical. It won't be easy, but if she's able to be in position late in the race, she can draw from her finish at the ACC Championships where she pulled away to win against a strong field.

Prediction: Bates defends her title. Malone finishes 3rd and earns 1st-Team All-America honors

Friday June 12th

- 5:15 pm Men's 110 Hurdles Final

Hopefully we'll be tuning in to see both Crittenden and Pollitt competing in the Final.

- 6:30 pm Men's 5,000 meter run: Colin Bennie and Justyn Knight

The two Syracuse athletes with the least NCAA experience are in this race, but their youth doesn't preclude them from being strong contenders. Knight enters the meet with the fourth-fastest time this year while Bennie is 18th among the 24 competitors. Like the 10,000, the Oregon men will be the favorites heading into Friday. However, last year Cheserek ended up finishing 2nd to Lawai Lalang of Arizona, as Lalang turned in the 4th fastest collegiate 5,000 of all-time in winning the title.

While Lalang has graduated, Kemoy Campbell of Arkansas seems the most likely to push the pace. Campbell has run 13:20 this year and could force the action. I've talked a lot about experience as being an advantage at the NCAA meet, but Justyn Knight has shown during this outdoor season that he is a poised runner, and unafraid of his competition. I think that Knight and Bennie would actually benefit more from a tactical race, unlike their teammates in the 10,000m. I'm not sure if either would be ready to throw down a sub 13:30 5k at this point, so seeing a race that turns into a sit and kick could help both earn All-America honors.

Prediction: Jenkins from Oregon wins. Knight finishes 7th and earns 1st-Team All-America honors while Bennie finishes 17th and earns Honorable Mention All-America honors.

I do hope Syracuse fans tune in to watch these athletes compete against the best the NCAA has to offer. We'll keep providing updates here at Nunes Magician.