The depth of the men’s 800 has continued to increase as the season has gone on. We saw Thomas Staines post the fastest time early on the season, but was quickly followed by Ayman Zahafi who came along and usurped Staines of that top spot. As of now, we have eight athletes that sit under the 1:50 threshold and they certainly qualify as contenders who will want to knock Staines off the throne.
Staines ran another 800 at the end of the season and clocked a 1:47.53. While looking at the raw time, it’s a second faster than Zahafi’s 1:48.54 (converted down to 1:48.13). I think it’s safe to say that Staines is the clear favorite that was during the indoor season. He’s got the best championship racing ability of the group and also has the most experience of the group outside of maybe his own teammate Devundrick Walker.
The two biggest threats to Staines this time around are Zahafi and then Grand Valley State’s Dennis Mbuta. Mbuta was the 2nd place finisher during the indoor season, while Zahafi took home 3rd place honors. Mbuta ran 1:49.03 at Bryan Clay earlier this year which is his personal best. Meanwhile, Zahafi set a new best three different times during the outdoor season. Both have the ability to stay on Staines the entire time and try and out-kick him in the final stretch. The question, however, is whether or not they have the foot speed to do so.
Something worth watching is that Staines is apart of the CSU-Pueblo 4x4 team that has prelims just two hours later while Mbuta and Zahafi are only entered in the 800.
We have three freshmen that are under the 1:50 mark as well. Queens’ (N.C.) Seb Anthony ran 1:49.10 at the end of April and has the fourth fastest seed time. Butare Regenerwa of West Texas A&M waited until last weekend to run 1:49.78 (converts down to 1:49.41) and TAMU-Commerce’s Timon Kemboi was 2nd to Regenerwa in that same race, running 1:49.99 (converts down to 1:49.62).
Anthony was an All-American during the indoor season as he finished 8th at the national meet. Since then, he’s built up some momentum and has amassed quite a bit success. As for Rugenerwa and Kemboi, we’re not sure what to expect from them at their first national meet. They’re both in tough preliminary heats, so obviously their first priority is just to make the final.
We have some names in the field who have plenty of experience and are also probably being overlooked as we near Friday. The first name being the aforementioned Thunderwolf, Devundrick Walker. He ran 1:49.47 earlier this year and should be in good enough shape to improve upon that if need be. The senior is entering his eighth National Championship and the multiple time All-American will certainly be looking to make a mark in his last national meet.
Along with Walker is St. Augustine’s Shaquille Dill. Dill won this event back in 2016 as a freshman and then followed that up with another win during the 2017 indoor season. He’s run 1:49.95 this year and should be considered as a legitimate threat given his past results.
Other names that are worth noting include Hugo Arlabosse of Franklin Pierce (5th during indoors), John Partee of Lewis (who recently ran a personal best of 1:50.15 at the GLVC Championships), Notre Dame de Namur’s Jason Gomez (who is just a freshman, but won the 1500 at PacWest’s and just ran 1:50.11 at the Oxy Invitational), and Joshua Ajiero from Albany State (who was the 3rd place finisher during last year’s outdoor national meet en route to a pair of 1:48's in the prelims and finals).
Given the draws of each heat, it’s hard to say how each one will work itself out, but Anthony, Mbuta, and Ajiero are all in the first heat. That heat likely signals a slow race with the best kickers coming out on top. In the second heat, we have Dill, Zahafi, and Rugenerwa. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dill or Zahafi push the pace in an attempt to make this the fastest race of the afternoon. Meanwhile, the third heat is comprised of Staines, Walker, and Kemboi. I can almost guarantee you’ll see this as the slowest heat as Staines and Walker will work together to ensure they both make the final.
Thomas Staines, CSU-Pueblo
Devundrick Walker, CSU-Pueblo
Ayman Zahafi, TAMU-Kingsville
Dennis Mbuta, Grand Valley State
Shaquille Dill, St. Augustines
Seb Anthony, Queens (N.C.)
Joshua Ajiero, Albany State
Butare Rugenerwa, West Texas A&M
On the women’s side of things, there is a ton of depth as well as a name that everyone is looking to knock off. I am, of course, referring to another RMAC athlete in Skylyn Webb from UCCS who has finished the last two seasons atop the 800 meter ranks.
Webb comes in with a seasonal best mark 2:04.70 which was run at the Mt. SAC Relays. It’s the #2 time in the country as well. Webb ran her personal best of 2:02.47 at the outdoor national meet last year and I fully expect Webb to run the same type of race this year as she did then. She loves to run from the front, and if she is in shape, we’ll likely see a time somewhere in the same range as last year.
Her challengers, however, have been very close when it matters, but not always good enough. Rachael Walters of Grand Valley State and Danielle McCormick have both set personal bests in the event this year. They both ran those at the Bryan Clay Invitational as Walters ran 2:04.15 (NCAA #1) and McCormick ran 2:05.00 (NCAA #3). I believe both are legitimate threats to take home the title this upcoming weekend.
Walters was the 2nd place finisher behind Webb during indoors - only .15 seconds behind. McCormick was a second and a half back and finished as the 3rd place finisher. Both have opted for just the 800 instead of two events like indoor (Walters ran three) and should be fresher this time around. Also, for what it’s worth, McCormick was the indoor champion back in 2018 while Walters has finished 2nd the last four times she’s competed at Nationals.
Carsyn Koch-Johnson used to be the dominant force in this event just a few years ago. She’s now a senior and she looks to be getting close to her old form when she set the collegiate record. Koch-Johnson is a four-time champion in the 800 and has run just a hair faster than Webb has in her career as she holds a best of 2:02.39. She’s run 2:06.94 this season which is the #4 fastest time in the country and gives us an idea that she is continuing to track back towards where she was a few years ago. Her experience alone should put her in a place of contention as she can get through the prelims with relative ease.
Sophie Dodd and Alanna Mussatto are two of the three athletes from Simon Fraser competing in the 800 this weekend. Dodd and Mussatto have run 2:07.44 and 2:07.83 this year which happen to be the #5 and #6 fastest times. Dodd ran her personal best at the Mike Fanelli Classic earlier this year and has since posted a personal best in the 1500 (4:29). Mussatto ran her personal best at the Bryan Clay Invitational which was a full second improvement. Both ladies have consistently improved throughout the season and have the foot speed to keep pace with their competition.
Kristen Metcalfe from Embry-Riddle is an athlete that can be considered a dark horse this weekend. She had run the second fastest time during preliminaries during indoors, but didn’t toe the line the next day as an apparent injury forced her to make a decision in regards to racing. She didn’t debut during the outdoor season until five weeks later at the Peach Belt Conference Championships. Since then, she’s run 4:25.56 and 2:08.15 which are good enough to get her into both events at the national meet.
Western Oregon’s Olivia Woods is attending the sixth National Championship of her career. Her highest finish is a 3rd place finish which came in 2017 at the outdoor national meet. She owns a personal best of 2:05.91 and has been an All-American at every single national meet. She’s another athlete who has slid under the radar and is someone who could potentially find herself at (or near) the top of the podium in the right type of race. Currently, she has the seventh fastest seed time this year with a time of 2:07.93.
I also think Bailey Sharon of Western Colorado could be in the mix of things as she’s run 2:09.26 this season and has been an All-American in her two times competing at a national meet. This is the first time she’s made the outdoor meet and I think she can replicate an All-American effort.
Now to the heat draws.
Skylyn Webb is in the first heat, and it’s likely that she’ll lead them to the fastest race of the day. With her should be Sophie Dodd and Kristen Metcalfe. Webb runs from the front and she’ll make it as fast as she thinks it needs to be. My guess is the time qualifiers come from this heat as well.
In the second heat, we have Woods, Mussatto, and Walters as the top runners. I think Walters will take the heat win with Woods behind her. Much like the men's field, I think the third heat will be the slowest as McCormick and Koch-Johnson will likely play the clock and see what happens. It also helps that McCormick has a teammate in Ruth Cvancara who will also be looking to make the final. A team effort from Alaska Anchorage is a very real possibility.
Rachael Walters, Grand Valley State
Skylyn Webb, UCCS
Danielle McCormick, Alaska Anchorage
Kristen Metcalfe, Embry-Riddle
Sophie Dodd, Simon Fraser
Bailey Sharon, Western Colorado
Carsyn Koch-Johnson, Cedarville
Alanna Mussatto, Simon Fraser