Although this is the shortest event we will discuss, it gave us the most to talk about.
With the exception of Eliud Rutto and Patrick Joseph, most of the stars in this race made it through the prelims and into the finals. Most of the race was led by Drew Piazza (Virginia Tech) as he brought the field through the first 400 in 51 seconds. Piazza held the top position until the final 200 meters where UTEP’s Korir and Saruni immediately took over by passing Piazza on both his inside and outside shoulders.
Saruni took the lead as Korir attempted to settle in behind him. However, Korir could not find his proper position near the rail and made a move to get to the outside of the lane. In doing so, Korir clipped Saruni’s leg which sent Saruni plummeting to the track and nearly being trampled by the rest of the field.
In the final 100, Isaiah Harris (Penn State) approached Korir’s shoulder as they charged down the home straight. Korir eventually responded and held off Harris to defend his NCAA title with a winning time of 1:45. Harris, along with Georgetown’s Joe White, rounded out the top three with both athletes dipping under 1:46.
Korir was not DQ’d for clipping Saruni, but you have to wonder if the result would have been different if they weren’t teammates. Could Saruni have declined Korir getting DQ’d because it was his teammate? It’s possible, but I admittedly don’t know if the race officials would have allowed it.
Hypotheticals aside, you can’t help but feel bad for Saruni. The UTEP freshman has been living in the shadow of Korir all season despite running 1:45 and defeating Donavan Brazier earlier this season. Saruni was also disqualified during indoor NCAA’s after making too much contact with Drew Piazza in one of the final two laps. An 8th place finish with a time of 2:15 is not the way you want to finish your first collegiate season.
But something we aren’t talking about is the performance from Robert Heppenstall. The Wake Forest sophomore enters each season under the radar and quietly puts together solid performance after solid performance. With his 4th place finish on Friday, Heppenstall has now become an All-American every time he has raced at NCAA’s (four times).
Finally, I think Andres Arroyo deserves some recognition. He has had so many struggles throughout his career in championship races and should honestly be a much more decorated All-American. Maybe that’s why his 5th place, All-American performance seems like an appropriate way to finish out his collegiate career.
Although there were a few minor surprises in the prelims, Saturday’s final was relatively unsurprising.
Josh Kerr is once again a national champion. Justine Kiprotich was the sleeper pick that everyone knew about. Craig Engels, Josh Thompson, and Neil Gourley cemented themselves as elite milers in an early Kerr-dominated era. The top five met their expectations.
However, it was the lower portion of the results that interested me, especially when I saw the 6th place finisher.
Andrew Dusing (Miami-Ohio) had a personal best of 3:45 and was ranked 91st on TFRRS as he entered East Regionals. He had never been to a NCAA championship and had only recorded two individual wins throughout his entire career (both were in the 800). You can see why it was such a surprise when Dusing made it to NCAA’s.
Once there, Dusing made the most of his opportunity as he unleashed a HUGE personal best of 3:40.99 to snag the very last qualifying spot to Saturday’s final. It was a 4.08 second PR, an improvement that is unprecedented at this level and at this point in his career.
But the Cinderella-streak of success had to run out eventually for Dusing…right?
Wrong. Dusing entered a stacked field full of super-star milers and did not flinch in the big moment. The Miami-Ohio senior ran an incredibly smart race as he made sure to keep the leaders within striking distance. Although he wasn’t able to navigate around the lead pack, he was still rewarded with a 6th place All-American finish.
Jeff Thies (Portland) also deserves some love after his 7th place, All-American finish. I always viewed Thies as a long-distance runner which is why it surprised me a bit to see him step down in distance have such strong success in the 1500. He's done well in the 1500 before this season began, but not to this extent.
Throughout the entirety of the spring season, steeplechasers as a whole drew criticism from myself as only two individuals had dipped under 8:40 entering Regionals (Fraley and Roth).
Of course, that number of two individuals quickly increased as Kibichiy and five others dropped under the 8:40 mark and established a new standard for what to expect at NCAA’s.
Despite Kibichiy’s NCAA #1 time of 8:32, he didn’t seem to be an overwhelming favorite like Mason Ferlic or Anthony Rotich once were. Personally, I viewed guys like Troy Fraley, Dylan Lafond, and MJ Erb as candidates that could have potentially upset Kibichiy for the win.
But the Louisville senior had other plans for Saturday’s final as he set an assertive pace to break the field of any final-lap heroics. Sure enough, his strategy worked as Mississippi’s MJ Erb just couldn’t stay with the demanding pace and was eventually caught by the chase pack.
After a season where almost no one was breaking 8:40, Kibichiy crossed the line in first with a phenomenal time of 8:28 to secure his first national title.
Behind Kibichiy, we saw seven other individuals run under 8:40. Guys like Darren Fahy (Georgetown) and Dylan Blankenbaker (Oklahoma) were able to track down MJ Erb to claim silver and bronze while also running significant personal bests in the process. In fact, a heavy portion of the All-Americans in this field were able to get personal bests. Just check out the names listed below…
1. Edwin Kibichiy (Louisville): 2 second improvement (8:28)
2. Darren Fahy (Georgetown): 5 second improvement (8:31)
3. Dylan Blankenbaker (Oklahoma): 3 second improvement (8:31)
4. MJ Erb (Mississippi): 2 second improvement (8:32)
5. Scott Carpenter (Georgetown): 4 second improvement (8:32)
6. Benard Keter (Texas Tech): Did Not Improve (8:34)
7. Troy Fraley (Gonzaga): 4 second improvement (8:35)
8. Troy Reeder (Furman): Did Not Improve (8:38)
As you’ve probably already noticed, Georgetown continued to flex their strength in the steeplechase. Every single year, the Hoyas produce the best steeplechase talent in the nation that can compete for All-American spots. Whatever training they are going through, it’s working.
It’s also a bit interesting to note that guys like Fahy, Blankenbaker, and Carpenter didn’t really garner a lot of attention until Regionals where they began to gather momentum. Others like Erb, Fraley, and Reeder earned a lot of the national spotlight earlier this season and although they ran incredibly well on Friday, I thought at least one of them would be top three.
Two weeks ago, I published an article called Stanford’s Change of Pace, which discussed the training and racing dynamic between Sean McGorty and Grant Fisher. In that article, I brought forth a scenario where Fisher wins a national title in the one season when both Cheserek and McGorty aren't racing. Then, add on the fact that McGorty has consistently come up short of a national title win because Cheserek was the biggest obstacle in his way.
See the irony?
But let’s set that storyline aside and discuss the wicked kick from Fisher that made him an NCAA champion.
Overall, the race was incredibly tactical with the leaders coming through the 3k in 9:20. From there, the race slowly picked up and essentially became a one-mile sprint to the finish. Despite multiple lead changes, varying paces, and a tightly packed lead group, Fisher, Knight, and Bruce found themselves at the front and kicking hard with 300 meters to go.
As they came off the final curve, Fisher and Bruce hung on Knight’s shoulder and were able to slingshot off the turn and past Justyn Knight who just simply couldn’t respond. Fisher was the winner in a pedestrian time of 14:35.
Upon review, there were a few surprises especially when you think about how the race benefitted guys who can drop down in distance. Joe Hardy (Wisconsin), Cole Rockhold (Colorado State), and Julian Oakley (Providence) are guys who have proven themselves to be top-tier milers. I’m surprised that they didn’t perform better when you consider at the race played into their strengths.
In his second event of the weekend, freshman Jacob Choge failed to become an All-American. He had been performing so well throughout the season and held a huge personal best of 13:39 from late April. In all fairness, the slow pace did not benefit his racing style as it required plenty of leg speed. Choge is much more distance oriented than he is speed based and tactical races are not going to go his way until he develops the ability to change gears at the end of a race.