In case you haven’t heard, UTEP has a true freshman named Emmanuel Korir and he is pretty darn fast. The 2017 NCAA indoor 800 champion did not ease up his efforts after the winter season. Instead, Korir blasted a 1:43.73 in late April which was good enough for NCAA #2 All-Time (behind only Donavan Brazier). He also tacked on a personal best of 44.53 in the open 400 to show that he may be the best all around mid-distance runner in the nation right now.
Guys like Andres Arroyo (Florida) and John Lewis (Clemson) are guys that will take the pace out hard and make the field work for a fast time. If either one advances to the final, they could be the final piece of the puzzle that pushes Korir to an NCAA record.
At the same time, you have to pay attention to the Virginia Tech duo of Drew Piazza and Patrick Joseph. They are sneaky good at working together and have some of the most underrated finishing speeds in the nation. They can easily disrupt the race in the last 200 and catch a lot of guys by surprise. Whenever they decide to kick, the field will most likely follow.
This year’s freshmen have really impressed me. Domenic Perretta (PSU) and Matthew Harding (UNC-Asheville) have proven time and time again that they are legitimate national contenders and deserve to be in the All-American conversation.
The same goes for Minnesota senior Nate Roese who has thrived in the month of May. In terms of racing, his momentum is at an all-time high and that can be dangerous for anyone that has to race him.
It seems pretty clear that Josh Kerr is the heavy favorite coming into this race (and rightfully so). The man has been on absolute tear after out-kicking Cheserek to win the NCAA indoor mile this past winter season. Since then, he ran an NCAA #6 All-Time 1500 in 3:35.99 and followed that up with a 1:48.05/3:46 double victory at the Mountain West Conference Championships (which was run at altitude). Regardless of how fast the pace is, whether it is pushed or tactical, Kerr has shown that he can respond (and win) in either situation.
Of course, I think it’s important to note that Craig Engels could be a legitimate threat to Kerr’s title. Engels ran 3:37 at Bryan Clay and was a large reason why Kerr ran such a fast time. The Ole Miss senior is arguably the most experienced individual in this field and has also proven that he can prosper in any type of race. He is one of the only individuals in this field that can match Kerr’s finishing speed.
The 1500 holds plenty of new and inexperienced athletes that have never raced at this level before. This means that established names like Josh Thompson (Oklahoma State), Neil Gourley (Virginia Tech), James Gowans (Cornell), and a few others are given more power to control the race however they see fit. It’s quite likely that the field reacts to the moves and surges from these elite athletes rather than someone else.
Chase Horrocks (BYU) has been one of the most underrated milers in the nation since the beginning of the indoor season. He can quietly gather wins, navigate through the rounds, and run blistering fast times. I would argue that he is one of the most consistent distance runners in the nation.
The same goes for William Paulson (Princeton) who caught a bit more attention than Horrocks this season after defeating Drew Hunter in a head-to-head matchup in late April. He is a great tactical runner and was able to place second in the Heps 1500 which was filled with elite Ivy League talent like Hatler, Napolitano, Randon, and Gowans.
The steeplechase has been the hardest race to figure out throughout this entire season. Coming into Regionals, Troy Fraley (Gonzaga) and Bailey Roth (Arizona) were the only two athletes to break 8:40 for the steeplechase, an all-time low for this event. Of course, no one anticipated that Edwin Kibichiy (Louisville) would unleash an 8:32 at Eastern Regionals and bring five others under the 8:40 mark with him.
Is Kibichiy the favorite to win? After his regional performance, I would have to say yes. However, I think it is also fair to say that Kibichiy is not nearly the favorite that Mason Ferlic once was. I don’t think anyone would be shocked if Kibichiy lost.
MJ (Ole Miss), Troy Fraley (Gonzaga), and Dyland Lafond (Illinois) are all names that have consistently improved this season and shown that they can run fast times against the best names in the nation. I believe these three, along with Kibichiy, are legitimate threats to win the national title.
Big 12 champion Benard Keter (Texas Tech) is someone I believe can have a serious impact on how some of these races are run. We saw Keter at NCAA’s last year where he took control of a demanding pace in the prelims and forced some notable names out of the steeplechase final. Don’t be surprised if you see him try something like that again.
The BYU steeplechasers have impressed me so much this season. Of the three steeplechasers they sent to NCAA’s, one is a senior, one is a sophomore, and one is a freshman. This group seems to only get better and better which each race and you have to think that at least one of them will walk away from Nationals as an All-American.
Out of the 24 men in this field, three individuals stand out as favorites to the win title. Justyn Knight (Syracuse), Grant Fisher (Stanford), and Marc Scott (Tulsa) have looked unstoppable with each athlete having at least one marquee performance this season.
If there was one name that stood above the rest, Justyn Knight would most likely be the guy. Knight unleashed an incredible 13:17 at Payton Jordan to defeat Cheserek and put himself at NCAA #4 All-Time. His ability to change gears and run at any pace makes him virtually impossible to defeat.
Of course, if there is any kryptonite to Knight, it’s Marc Scott who has consistently kicked down Justyn Knight in multiple match-ups throughout their career. Could Scott once again haunt Knight in his attempt to win a national title? It would certainly be a heck of a story if he did.
And if the race does become tactical, Grant Fisher may arguably have the best kick in the field. There’s been multiple times that Fisher has thrown down an impressive kick this season, but his PAC 12 championship performance stands out the most when he dropped a 51.8 second last lap to take the win in the 1500. If the race is slow enough, Fisher could easily snag this win.
At Eastern Regionals, we saw Amon Terer (Campbell), Emmaneul Rotich (Tulane), and Jacob Choge (MTSU) keep the pace honest in an attempt to separate themselves from any strong finishers in the field. If they take the same approach at NCAA’s, you can bet that strength will come into play much more than a kick.
Euan Makepeace (Butler) has been on my radar for a while. The kid has slowly improved his time throughout the season and has become a much better racer from a strategic point of view. His lethal kick at East Regionals along with the ability to run a wide range of events makes him the perfect sleeper pick.
Bryce Stroede (Oakland) is another name that has been incredibly consistent this season as he has proven that he can run with the best names in the nation. His constant improvement and ability to race in slow or fast races makes him a candidate capable of standing on the podium.
Before this past indoor season, there were questions as to how well Marc Scott would be able to perform on the national stage. However, those doubts were quickly put to rest after silver and bronze medal performances at NCAA’s this past winter. He will certainly be the biggest name to watch and most likely the biggest favorite to win.
Of course, we can’t forget about Alfred Chelanga (Alabama) who had the race of his life in the Stanford Invite 10k where he ran a personal best of 28:04 which is still an NCAA leading time at the moment. Can he put together another repeat performance and give Marc Scott a run for his money? It’s a scenario that is not out of the question.
Much like the 5k, guys like Hassan Abdi (Oklahoma State), Matthew Baxter (NAU), and Jacob Choge (MTSU) have shown throughout this season that they will push the pace in an effort to break the field. For guys that struggle in tactical races, this field may suit them the most.
Reeder Fischer (Drake) has elevated his fitness to a new level this year. He’s run some impressive personal bests in the 1500, 5k, and 10k which indicates that he is more than just a one-race wonder. Watch out for him to finish among the top eight this weekend.
Another guy we should keep our eye on is Grant Fischer of Colorado State. It’s easy to get his name confused with the sophomore out of Stanford, but his performances show that he is just as talented. After barely missing All-American this past indoor season by placing 9th at NCAA’s, Fischer secured an impressive 10k personal best in a time of 28:45 at the Stanford Invite. Watch for Fischer to step up and grab his first All-American honors of his career in Eugene this weekend.