Athletes from over 15 states will travel to Lisle, Illinois this weekend to take part in the fourth annual Midwest Distance Gala. This year's edition offers the best fields yet, with some incredible competition across the board, capable of running some of the nation's best times this season. Leading the way are Foot Locker finalists Rob Finnerty, Bobby Nicolls and Emily Sisson, middle-distance stars Andrew Perkins, Mat Smoody and Ashley Verplank, and coast-to-coast competition in Oregion's Taylor Morgan and Maryland's Graham Bazell. See which events are a must-see this weekend.
Midwest Distance Gala Meet Preview
Boys 800m Dash
A clash of the titans. That could be the phrase best to describe the match-up between Andrew Perkins (Watertown, WI) and Mat Smoody (Palatine, IL). It's rare to have two U.S. top ten caliber athletes go head-to-head before a national championship race, but on Saturday that is exactly what will happen.
Perkins enters the race with a 1:49.96 personal best run in early-May against collegiate competition. Perkins decided not to run for his high school this spring, focusing on peaking towards the end of the year. Meanwhile, Smoody ran a complete track season, finishing it off at his state meet with his second consecutive victory at 800m and a new personal best of 1:50.71. Currently, Perkins is ranked U.S. #4 and Smoody is ranked U.S. #8.
Perhaps the most overlooked athlete in the field is Tommy Brinn (Otsego, MI). Brinn, who's only a junior, ran 1:51.76 two weeks ago at his state championships, however, in the process of winning he broke the DII state record and won by over four seconds. That type of victory should leave everyone involved with the event wondering just how fast the kid can go. Obai Hussein (Rosemount, MN) is another proven veteran in the field. Hussein placed fourth at last weekend's Minnesota State T&F Championships with his 1:52.09, placing only behind the top junior in the country, the top sophomore in the country and another U.S. top twelve athlete. That's quite the company.
Three other Illinois athletes should fight it out for a top three finish as well. Illinois 800m runner-up Jeff Stapleton (Willowbrook, IL), third placer Graham Farnsworth (Wheaton North, IL) and fourth placer Sean Wiggan (Waubonsie Valley, IL) are all looking strong heading into this weekend's competition. Stapleton ran 1:51.97 at the state meet, while Farnsworth ran 1:52.39 and Wiggan ran 1:53.28. With the addition of these three, plus Illinois' Randall Babb (Wheaton Warrenville South, IL), that gives this field eight athletes at 1:53.46 or faster.
Athletes to Watch: Andrew Perkins (WI), Mat Smoody (IL), Tommy Brinn (MI), Jeff Stapleton (IL), Obai Hussein (MN), Sean Wiggan (IL) and Graham Farnsworth (IL).
Boys Mile Run
Every year this event is set up to be the highlight event of the evening, raced last in the schedule and rabbited to go under 4:10. This year's field is as talented, if not more so, than last year's stellar field that saw four athletes dip under 4:10, including two athletes at 4:07. Minnesota's Rob Finnerty (Burnsville, MN) and Jordan Carlson (Rosemount, MN) lead the charge this year. These two have battled a few times this season, twice dipping under 4:10 in the 1600m, each time Finnerty coming out slightly ahead. Both athletes will be looking to break the Minnesota state mile record of 4:05, which means the Gala Mile will be out fast.
Following closely behind in their footsteps is Oregon's Taylor Morgan (Central Catholic, OR). Morgan, who only had a chance to run 1500m races in Oregon this season, is entered with a 1500m seed time of 3:54.74, which converts to a 4:11.99 seed time. Morgan will look to run with the Minnesota front runners and bring down his personal best under 4:10.
The top Illinois seed is Chris DeSilva (St. Charles North, IL). DeSilva helped guide his team to the Illinois State 4x800m relay crown a few weeks back and looks to push the 4:10 barrier at the Gala. DeSilva missed the 1600m final at the state meet due to falling in the prelims, so his chance for a little redeption comes here.
State champions Drew Shields (Fishers, IN) and Blake Irwin (Pleasant Valley, IA) both look to drop significant time as well and challenge for a top three finish. Both Shields and Irwin were extremely busy at their respective state meets, guiding their team's 4x800m relay squads and winning both the 800m and 1600m events. Having one focus on race day allows all their energy to be poured into one event, which could spark some surprising results from these two.
Athletes to Watch: Rob Finnerty (MN), Jordan Carlson (MN), Taylor Morgan (OR), Chris DeSilva (IL), Drew Shields (WI) and Blake Irwin (IA).
Boys Two-Mile Run
While the boys 800m and mile events tend to steal the show every year at the Gala with their incredibly fast finishes, this year the boys two-mile may just be the best event. The field is stacked with talent that will be looking to break nine for the first time this season. Generally a deep field produces fast times across the board, so expect much the same this Saturday.
Leading the way are Michigan's Bobby Aprill (Dexter, MI), Colorado's Bobby Nicolls (Regis, CO) and Pennsylvania's Chris Aldrich (Henderson, PA), all of whom look to break the nine minute barrier. Aprill has had some classic match-ups this spring in Michigan, including a narrow defeat to Foot Locker all-American Maverick Darling (Ovid, MI) at the Williamston Invitational, where Aprill set his 3200m personal best of 9:02.90.
While Aprill leads the field, Foot Locker finalists Nicolls, Aldrich and Tito Medrano (Lafayette Jefferson, IN) look to challenge for the win as well. Nicolls is a name many in Illinois are familiar with, as he came earlier in the track season to compete in the always competitive Prospect Invitational 3200m run, where he finished the race with his seasonal PR of 9:07.09. Medrano is scheduled to compete, but race management is uncertain whether he'll run the MDG or Midwest Meet of Champions in Michigan.
Two others to watch in this event are Elliot Krause (Appleton North, WI) and Graham Bazell (Atholton, MD). Both enter with PR's close to or at 9:10 and both look to make significant drops.
Athletes to Watch: Bobby Aprill (MI), Bobby Nicolls (CO), Chris Aldrich (PA), Tito Medrano (IN), Elliot Krause (WI) and Graham Bazell (MD).
Girls 800m Dash
While the talent might not be as fast up top, the depth of this year's field is very good. Five athletes have run faster than 2:15.5, including front runner and meet favorite Ellen Dougherty (Sioux City East, SD), who leads the way with a 2:11.59 seed time. A quick early pace could help push Dougherty under 2:10, joining the ranks of an elite few.
Behind the South Dakota native are Wisconsin athletes Jami Hill (Onalaska, WI) and Ann Tank (Dodgeville-Mineral Point, WI), Illinois' Annette Eichenberger (West Chicago, IL) and Michigan's Monica Kinney (West Catholic, MI). Hill is entered with a time less than a second off of Dougherty's, which means she should be the chief comeptition up front. Tank, Eichenberger and Kinney are all withing 1.5 seconds of one another, which could create quite the finish.
With the entire fast heat seeded under 2:20, this event will surely be entertaining.
Athletes to Watch: Ellen Dougherty (SD), Jami Hill (WI), Annette Eichenberger (IL) and Ann Tank (WI).
Girls Mile Run
Testing herself one last time before Nike Outdoor Nationals, Illinois' Ashley Verplank (Bloomington, IL) looks to challenge the girls state mile record one last time. While Verplank is clearly the class of the field, she will be helped early on by a rabbit. An opening pace of 2:22 is not out of the question and Verplank has shown the speed and strength to run 4:45 if she is fresh and ready to go. She hasn't had the chance to run a fresh mile in quite some time, pulling double state victories in the 800m dash and 1600m run one month ago.
Following Verplank are Kristen Smith (Clarkston, MI), Alexandra Leptich (Saline, MI) and Linsday Flanagan (Lake Park, IL) lead six others under 5:10 in their seed times. All three will be looking to crack the five minute barrier for the first time this season. Expect Flanagan to lead the chase pack for much of the way, as the junior likes to lead from the front whenever she can.
Athletes to Watch: Ashley Verplank (IL), Kristen Smith (MI), Lindsay Flanagan (IL) and Alexandra Leptich (MI).
Girls Two-Mile Run
Emily Sisson (Millad North, NE) is simply amazing. Her high school career up to this point has been outstanding. Early this season Sisson ran 10:21 out at the Arcadia Invitational, placing well in the race that pitted California's Jordan Hasay and Christine Babcock in their epic 3200m clash that saw two U.S. top ten all-time marks go down. Since then Sisson has beaten her competition soundly, winning multiple state titles a few weeks ago.
With her sights set firmly at Nike Outdoor Nationals, Sisson looks to break 10:20 this weekend at the MDG. An early pace of 5:05-08 for the first mile will get her out at the right pace, but few challengers will make it a grind to the finish. Her one chief challenge comes from Illinois State 3200m champion Kristin Sutherland (Sandburg, IL), who enters the meet with a personal best of 10:31, but after seeing her blazing finish at the Illinois State Meet, one has to wonder if she can go a bit faster.
**This is the first year for a girls two-mile at the MDG.
Athletes to Watch: Emily Sisson (NE) and Kristin Sutherland (IL).
Boys Freshman Mile
The freshman boys mile meet record of 4:33.49 is in serious jeopardy this Saturday, as a strong field takes aim at the record and the win. With four athletes entered under 4:39, including front runners Quincy Downing (Cleveland Glenville, OH) and Jack Driggs (York, IL), this record will be challenged all the way to the line. Downing and Driggs have are both entered in the 4:33-34 range, while Indiana's Scott Stanley (Lawrence North, IN) and Ryan Mitsos (Lockport, IL) both fall in the 4:36-38 range. A fast early pace is the key to breaking Tim Marr's record set last year.
Athletes to Watch: Quincy Downing (OH) and Jack Driggs (IL).
Boys 2k Steeplechase
The defending champion and meet record holder Aaron Goble (Mustang, OK) returns this year with another MDG title in his sights. After a strong state track season in Oklahoma, the junior will be looking to not only break his meet record, but dip under the 6:15 mark as well. However, he will be challenged this year, at least more so than last year which saw him winning by seven seconds. Ben Steavenson (Dexter, MI) is entered in the field after a strong outdoor campaign, which saw him finish second in the Michigan DII State 3200m. Steavenson is a newcomer to the event, so it will be interesting to see how he handles the barriers and water jump.
Other top contenders are Mickey Stott (Lake Zurich, IL) and Mahmoud Bahrani (Vernon Hills, IL). Both athletes improved greatly on the track this spring, with Bahrani earning a spot at state in the 3200m run. Bahrani is a veteran in this event, placing third each of the last two years.
Athletes to Watch: Aaron Goble (OK), Ben Steavenson (MI), Mahmoud Bahrani (IL) and Mickey Stott (IL).
Mens 3k Steeplechase
Athletes to Watch: Michael Spence (UT), Andy Smith (CO), Brett Holts (OR), Macharia Yout (PA) and Tom Chorny (IN).