What a week. NCAA's proved to be an exciting one with upsets, surprising performances, and flat-out dominance. We already gave our thoughts from Day One (which you can find here), so expect most of this article to be about Day Two...
We're still unsure, but a D2 Recap may be coming as well...
As expected, Michael Saruni was the winner. After keeping the first two laps relatively conservative, the UTEP 800 star broke away from the field dropping everyone but Isaiah Harris. Despite Harris covering the move, Saruni was simply too strong and cruised to the line with a mind-boggling 1:45.15. That time barely edges out his 1:45.19 from Texas Tech earlier in the season.
Harris threw down a strong indoor PR for himself with 1:46.08. His previous indoor best of 1:47.38 was from earlier this season at Iowa State. Some may say that Harris should have been better, but he has had a very underrated season and is still progressing incredibly well.
Speaking of big improvements, how about Robert Heppenstall? The Wake Forest veteran was on the podium once again with a 1:46.88 indoor PR and bronze medal, his highest Nationals finish ever. You may be looking at the most consistent championship performer ever. Heppenstall now has five straight Nationals appearances (and he began that streak as a true freshman). He is now 5/5 in his attempts to make the podium.
As for the rest of the field, I can't be too surprised. The stars like Saruni, Harris, and Heppenstall were expected to contend near the front and they did just like that. Kuhn, Alvarado, and Devroe all ran very well and showed a lot of poise.
John Lewis finished 7th overall which isn't too surprising when you consider how the race played out. The Clemson junior is someone who thrives with a fast pace from the gun. The pace was still plenty of fast in that first 400, but when Saruni turned on the jets, Lewis didn't quite have the edge to hang. Still, this is his first All-American performance. He has come a long way.
Finally, we have to mention Bryce Hoppel. After such an incredible regular season, expectations were high for the Kansas sophomore. He made the final relatively easily, but faltered in the later half of the race and finished in 8th. The end result was far from ideal, but you still have to applaud him for what he accomplished this season.
Josh Kerr is really good. Dominant in fact. He struggled in the DMR and then came back to win the title. Nothing new here, let's move on...
We use the phrase "powerhouse programs" a lot on this site. Teams like Oregon, Stanford, and Colorado constantly enter that conversation. Northern Arizona, Ole Miss, and Syracuse are also in the argument.
Yet, after this weekend, I can't help but think that Virginia Tech now belongs in the powerhouse conversation.
Wait, scratch that.
They don't just belong, they HEADLINE the powerhouse programs (at least in the past year).
The Hokies put all three of their milers into the NCAA final, doubled back to win the DMR, and later came back to have all three men finish as All-Americans. That is incredible. Gourley, Ciattei, and Joseph may be the best distance trio to hit the track since Oregon had Cheserek, Jenkins, and Geoghegan...
Speaking of Oregon, great racing from Prakel and Brown. Prakel showed so much consistency and composure throughout the entire season. He topped it off with a 3rd place performance. The same goes for Reed Brown who had some gutsy runs. He secured himself the 8th and final All-American spot. Not bad for the yougin'.
As for Knevelbaard and Rockhold, I'm not surprised by their finishes. These guys are some of the best in the NCAA and the media needs to start recognizing what they've done for their respective programs. 5th and 6th isn't anything amazing, but it's just another bullet point on a long list of accomplishments for both of these guys.
We called it and we're gonna make sure everyone knows...mainly to distract from the fact that we messed up a few other picks. But I digress...
While everyone expected Justyn Knight to walk away with his 2nd title of the weekend, Andy Trouard had other plans. A race that became somewhat tactical eventually led to Trouard gaining the advantage on the rail and holding off Knight. It is Trouard's first ever NCAA title.
Impressive? Yes. Surprising? A little bit. Shocking? Not quite...
Throughout this season, Trouard had never lost to another collegiate before he attempted his triple at the BIG Sky Championships. He out-kicked Grant Fisher enroute to a 7:48 and even threw down a 3:58 Mile as well. After showing outstanding consistency and strength during a triple at BIG Sky's, we couldn't help but think that he had a shot of winning it all (and we were right).
Outside of the top two, how about Cameron Griffith? The Arkansas junior had a huge breakout season and he was able to cap it all off with an incredible 3rd place finish to defeat Grant Fisher (who was 4th). The performances we've seen from Griffith this season remind me of Cristian Soratos when he came out of nowhere during his senior year to become a national contender.
We kind of skipped over Grant Fisher, but something just isn't right. His finishing speed is lacking and he just simply hasn't looked as sharp since XC Nationals. Then again, this is his first season of collegiate indoor track so that's definitely something to consider.
As for the rest of the finishers, there wasn't anything too exciting. Personally, I didn't have Gilbert or West on the podium, but it doesn't surprise me that they got on there. West has been one of the best transfer pick-ups of the 2017-2018 academic year.
Unlike the 5000, the guys who are aggressive front runners didn't seem to prosper in this race. Kipkoech, Tate, and Baxter all fell out of All-American contention. That's what happens when the race is close and tactical.
It was disappointing to see Mau and Davis fall out of the top eight (by a good bit), but they are still relatively young. They'll be back and most likely drop something big outdoors.
5000 & DMR