Unlike almost every distance event, there aren’t many 800 meter runners coming off of a cross country season. Obviously, it makes it that much harder to talk about those individuals because we have no idea how healthy or in shape everyone is.
At the beginning of the cross country season, I wrote an article outlining the remaining challengers to the half-mile throne after both Isaiah Harris and Michael Saruni turned pro. In this article, I will look at the top contenders for the indoor title. While many of the names will be the same for outdoor, it is important to note that the indoor 800 is a much different race than it is outdoors. The tight turns and shorter laps make it harder to pass people which makes good tactics essential. As we saw two years ago, the indoor race can be physical and chippy. Winning the title can happen in a variety of ways, but it is essential in these races to put yourself in position with a lap to go because it is so hard to pass people on the turns. In 2016, the year Clayton Murphy won the title, the race came down to a sprint finish in the last 50 meters while in Saruni had built up a big enough lead over Harris before the final stretch to win in 2018.
Marco Arop, Sophomore, Mississippi State
(PR: Outdoor 1:45.25 | Indoor 1:47.62)
I believe Arop could be the next NCAA 800 meter star following in a long line of top runners including Mississippi State alum Brandon McBride. The top returner from last year’s outdoor final, finishing right ahead of Saruni, has all of the talent to be considered the favorite going into the Indoor National Championships. My one worry with him was his performance at last year’s indoor final was not as stellar as his outdoor final. He failed to make the final after placing 6th place in his prelim.
Indoor races with its tight banked turns can sometimes give taller runners with slower turnover problems. Perhaps the prelim race was due to Arop’s inexperience or it was just a bad day, so there is no reason to put too much stock into it. I believe Arop should still be considered one of the favorites, especially in outdoor, but it will be interesting to monitor his progress in the winter.
Robert Heppenstall, Senior, Wake Forest
(PR: Outdoor 1:46.68 | Indoor 1:46.71)
One of the rare 800 meters runners who has nearly equal PR's in outdoor and indoor track, Heppenstall had his best ever National Championship finish at last year’s indoor national meet. His 3rd place finish from last year combined with his two 5th place finishes in the two years prior show his ability to show up when it matters the most. The top returner from last year’s indoor race, Heppenstall deserves to be co-favorites with Arop because of his consistency. His finishing kick to come in 3rd last year was impressive and it's the kind of kick that a national champ needs to be able to make.
While Heppenstall had a disappointing race at outdoors (still All-American), I’m betting that he will continue his strong indoor form and uses his lethal finishing speed to give himself a chance at his first national title.
Joe White, Senior, Georgetown
(PR: Outdoor 1:45.73 Indoor 1:46.44)
A little bit of a forgotten name after redshirting last year, Joe White comes in with as good of credentials as anyone. His return bolsters an already strong 800 meter field, and he should be compete for a title right away. White finished 3rd in both the outdoor and indoor 800 meters in 2017. In the indoor final, he finished strong, nearly beating Drew Piazza and Emmanuel Korir to the line. He’s already off to a good start running 47.94 in the 400 two weeks ago. With his proven ability to run well in indoors, as well as running his fastest indoor 400 in December, White will be one to watch as he reminds the country of his talent.
Bryce Hoppel, Junior, Kansas
(PR: Outdoor 1:45.67 Indoor 1:47.09)
One of the few 800 meter contenders who did run cross country this year, Hoppel is the second-best returner from outdoor only behind Arop. His 4th place finish at the outdoor national meet completed Hoppel’s breakout year. He made indoor and outdoor Nationals for the first time and also qualified for both finals. After finishing 32nd at the BIG 12 Cross Country Championships, the Kansas standout has shown that he has built up a nice endurance base. It will be interesting to see how quickly he gets into half-mile fitness compared to everyone else who did not compete in cross country.
Another thing to note, much like Arop, is that Hoppel struggled at the indoor national meet last year. He made it to the finals, but came in last. Again, I’m not worried about it, but it is something to monitor. Either way, Hoppel deserves attention as he has some of the best PR's of anyone in the country and has proven that he can consistently win time and time again.
Devin Dixon, Junior, Texas A&M
(PR: Outdoor 1:45.62 | Indoor 1:47.37)
Dixon is one of the most underrated 800 runners in the NCAA. His personal bests consistently put him in the title conversation every year. His raw talent makes him an extremely dangerous opponent. However, Dixon hasn't always been a major title contender at the national meet. His 5th place finish at the outdoor national meet was strong, but I'm sure he's looking to earn himself a national crown.
Dejon Devroe, Senior, Mississippi State
(PR: Outdoor 1:47.97 Indoor 1:47.69)
Devroe is the second-best returner from last year’s indoor championships behind Heppenstall. His aggressive front-running tactics make him a challenge for nearly anyone he faces. He's earned a few strong wins and also has the luxury of training with Arop.
John Lewis, Senior, Clemson
(PR: Outdoor 1:47.62 Indoor 1:47.14)
Lewis is a mid-distance stud who also has phenomenal range. He has already run 36.40 for 300 meters and 4:07 in the mile this year. Like Devroe, Lewis' aggressive front-running tactics has put him in great positioning when it comes to championship racing.
Jonah Koech, Senior, Texas Tech
(PR: Outdoor 1:46.23 Indoor 1:49.14)
Speaking of great range, Koech is another key name to keep an eye on. The long-time UTEP star recently transferred to Texas Tech. He will join 800 standout Vincent Crisp to give the Red Raiders a lethal 1-2 punch. Keep in mind that he is also a sub-four minute miler, so it's very possible that we won't even see him in the 800 at Nationals in March.
Cooper Williams, Junior, Indiana
(PR: Outdoor 1:46.06 | Indoor 1:49.78)
Prior to last spring, Williams was a solid, consistent contributor who was a key piece of Indiana's roster. However, the 2018 spring track season was when he truly broke out. He ran 1:46 at the BIG 10 Championships and tore through his competition going into Nationals. His massive stature makes him incredibly difficult to pass, especially during indoors. After a 2:23 season opener for 1000 meters, Williams seems ready to prove that he was not just a one-season wonder.
Other names to watch include...
Avery Bartlett (Georgia Tech)
Carlos Villarreal (Arizona)
Vincent Crisp (Texas Tech)
Alex Lomong (Ohio State)
Myles Marshall (Harvard)