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NCAA Indoor Track Championships Preview

March 11, 2010  Lynchburg, Va.  RSS
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Sam Chelanga will attempt to claim his first NCAA Division I track & field national title when he runs the men's 5K Friday at 9 p.m. Eastern in Fayetteville, Ark.

Sam Chelanga will attempt to claim his first NCAA Division I track & field national title when he runs the men's 5K Friday at 9 p.m. Eastern in Fayetteville, Ark.

Live results (Courtesy of Flash Results, Inc.)

ESPN360.com (Live video streaming)

NCAA.com (Friday's video streaming link)

NCAA.com (Saturday's video streaming link)

Flotrack.org's meet coverage page

Meet schedule

Men's heat sheets

Women's heat sheets

NCAA official meet website

For the first time since 2005, Liberty is sending both men's and women's athletes to the NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships. Sam Chelanga will compete in the men's 5K and Jaime Watson will run the women's 800 at the two-day meet, slated for Friday and Saturday at the Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville, Ark.

How to Keep Up with Chelanga and Watson
Live video streaming will be provided throughout much of the meet. ESPN360.com will begin its streaming coverage at 9 p.m. Eastern on Friday and at 7:10 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, including the finals of the men's 5K and women's 800.

Supplemental video streaming coverage, including Friday evening's women's 800 preliminaries, will be provided on NCAA.com.

Flotrack.org will be at the meet, filming interviews with many of the top competitors.

ESPN2 will air a 90-minute show on the NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships March 17 at 1:30 p.m. Eastern.

Finally, live results will be available for all events, courtesy of Flash Results, Inc.

Men's 5K Preview
Competition Schedule:
Final – Friday at 9 p.m. Eastern
Liberty Entrant: Sam Chelanga, R-Jr., Nairobi, Kenya – No. 2 seed (out of 15) at 13:44.16
Top Seed: David McNeill, Jr., Northern Arizona – 13:39.32
Defending Champion: Galen Rupp, Oregon – 13:41.45
Top Returnee from 2009: Sam Chelanga – 2nd place, 13:44.57

Sam Chelanga's list of accomplishments is both lengthy and impressive, highlighted by the NCAA national cross country title he captured in November. He is also the NCAA 10K record holder (27:28.48) and a six-time All-American. However, Chelanga is still in search of his first track & field national championship. In fact, no Liberty men's athlete has ever won an NCAA Division I national title in either indoor or outdoor track & field.

The closest Chelanga has come to breaking the tape first in an NCAA national event came in the 5K at the 2009 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships in College Station, Texas. Chelanga placed second to Oregon's Galen Rupp in that race. The Nairobi, Kenya native also posted a fourth-place finish in the NCAA indoor 5K final as a freshman in 2007, when he attended Fairleigh Dickinson.

A candidate for the 2010 Bowerman award, Chelanga has kept a bit of a low profile during the 2009-10 indoor track & field season, racing only six times total and contesting just one 5K. Three of his races came at the Big South Indoor Track & Field Championships on Feb. 28 and March 1. Chelanga helped Liberty capture its unprecedented 13th consecutive men's team crown at the meet, winning the mile, 3K and distance medley relay.

Chelanga has enjoyed success at the Randal Tyson Track Center before, including at this season's Tyson Invitational on Feb. 12. He won the 5K that evening in a time of 13:44.16, which took over the NCAA national lead. At the 2009 Tyson Invitational, Chelanga blazed the second-fastest indoor 5K time in NCAA history, a 13:19.79. The Randal Tyson Track Center also served as the venue for his fourth-place 5K showing in the 2007 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships.

Chelanga's primary competition in Friday's race figures to come from Northern Arizona junior David McNeill, a native of Australia. LetsRun.com's pick to win Friday's race, McNeill was the NCAA national cross country runner-up to Chelanga in November. He enters this weekend's meet seeded No. 1 in both the 3K and 5K and appears on the start lists for both distance races. Like Chelanga, McNeill has not yet won a national track & field championship, but he did place second behind Rupp in the 5K at the 2009 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

A trio of sophomores figure to have something to say about the race outcome as well—Stanford's Elliot Heath, Oklahoma State's Colby Lowe and Oregon's Luke Puskedra. Heath finished fifth in the 5K at the 2009 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Lowe, seeded No. 3 at 13:45.01, helped the Cowboys capture the team title at the 2009 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships with his impressive 10th-place individual finish. Puskedra, the sixth-place 5K finisher at the 2009 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships, will be counted upon by Oregon, which is in the hunt for the team championship.

Hometown favorite Scott MacPherson, an Arkansas senior, could be a sleeper. He is only seeded No. 10 in the 15-member field, but could be urged along by the home crowd. MacPherson stepped up to take fifth place in the 3,000-meter steeplechase final on his home track, at the 2009 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships.

Women's 800 Preview
Competition Schedule:
Preliminaries – Friday at 8:10 p.m. Eastern; Final – Saturday at 8:45 p.m. Eastern
Liberty Entrant: Jaime Watson, R-Sr., Ravenna, Mich. – No. 15 seed (out of 17) at 2:05.42
Top Seed: Phoebe Wright, Sr., Tennessee – 2:01.47
Defending Champion: Lacey Cramer, BYU – 2:04.27
Top Returnee from 2009: Cramer

Jaime Watson is punctuating one of the most impressive women's indoor track & field seasons in program history with her first-ever trip to the NCAA national meet. She was tabbed Big South Women's Outstanding Track Performer, after becoming the first runner ever to win both the 400 and 800-meter events at the Big South Indoor Track & Field Championships. A four-time Big South Women's Track Athlete of the Week, Watson set Liberty records in four different events during the year, including the 400 (54.59), 500 (1:13.98), 800 (2:05.42) and 4 x 800 relay (9:15.21).

Watson cemented her national berth by clocking a 2:05.42 in the 800-meter preliminaries at the ECAC Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships, Saturday in Boston. Although that race turned out to be little more than a time trial, Watson has been successful in championship races throughout her career. She has tied Liberty assistant coach and former national champion Heather (Sagan) Zealand's conference record of six Big South 800-meter crowns (three indoor, three outdoor) and won the 2008 ECAC indoor 800-meter championship.

Watson gained some valuable experience at the Randal Tyson Track Center by competing in the invitational section of the 800 at the Tyson Invitational on Feb. 12. The Wolverine State native finished fourth in a then personal-best time of 2:06.15, losing to a trio of past NCAA 800-meter national champions and defeating fellow NCAA 800 qualifier Stephanie Brown of Arkansas.

If her race starts slowly and is decided by a finishing kick, Watson could fare well. Her 54.59 clocking in the Big South 400-meter final at Clemson equates to 53.89 seconds on a banked track, like the oval at the Randal Tyson Track Center. Only one runner in this year's 800-meter field, Indiana State senior Erica Moore, has run a faster 400-meter dash this season.

The two most recent NCAA indoor 800-meter titlists are both in the field this weekend. BYU's Lacey Cramer was a surprise winner as a freshman last season. Meanwhile, LSU senior LaTavia Thomas captured the 2008 indoor crown.

Tennessee should also have a strong presence in the event, as the Lady Vols boast the top two seeds—senior Phoebe Wright (No. 1 seed at 2:01.47) and sophomore Chanelle Price (No. 2 seed at 2:03.12). Wright and Price helped Tennessee win the distance medley relay at the 2009 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships and set a new world record in the process. Wright's winning 800-meter time at this year's SEC Championships (contested at the Randal Tyson Track Center) of 2:01.47 ranks No. 2 all-time on the NCAA indoor list. She was the runner-up behind Cramer a year ago in this race.

Taking a look at Friday's heats, the 17 entrants have been divided into two sections and Watson appears to have gotten a favorable draw. The top three finishers in each race plus the next two fastest times overall will advance to Saturday's final. Watson is one of eight runners in the second heat, while No. 1 seed Wright and defending champion Cramer are part of the nine-member first heat. If the pace goes out fast enough, five of the eight competitors in Watson's heat could reach the final.