What a race. Seven national qualifiers from indoors. 21 runners sub 1:50. The top 4 all sub 1:47. The fastest 800 from a collegian this season. The men’s 800 at Florida Relays was the deepest race we’ve seen in the NCAA this year, and the results for many of the top runners could have a significant impact on how the rest of their season plays out. Let’s look at some of the biggest individual names in the race and analyze what their finish potentially means moving forward...
The race winner and the leading time. Not a bad way to start the season for the sophomore from Penn State. Harris’s performance goes beyond just a hot start for me, however. During indoor, Harris ran fast all season, but failed to notch big wins over national-caliber competition. In this race, Harris took down some of his biggest rivals on the east coast. In his biggest race of the indoor season, Harris lost to Joseph White, a name he beat in Florida, in addition to five other national qualifiers.
Moreover, Harris showed signs last year of being a totally different runner outdoors. As a freshman, Harris failed to make the NCAA 800 finals after notching strong times all year. Harris followed this up with a 4th place finish at Nationals outdoors and a surprising 6th place finish in the Olympic Trial finals. With this strong opening performance, Harris has established himself as one of the leading candidates to unseat Emmanuel Korir in the 800.
As stated earlier, White failed to take down Harris in a marquee matchup for a third time (White edged Harris at Nationals for a third-place finish), but a runner-up finish in this race is nothing to stick your nose at. More importantly, White notched a solid PR in this race, just missing the elusive 1:45 mark with a time of 1:46.07.
In the past, White has been a bit of a mercurial runner, but found more consistency during indoor in securing his first individual All-American honor. This race sets up White to continue improving throughout outdoor and fortify his position as one of the elite half-milers in the NCAA.
There’s not much to say here. Arroyo always runs fast early, and always finds a way to blow his shot at a top finish at Nationals. His 1:46.42 is par for the course at this point. Don’t believe me? Just wait. I’m sure Garrett will go on one of his trademark tirades against Arroyo soon. Maybe more notable was Arroyo’s impressive anchor leg to bring Florida to victory in the 4x8 relay. Regardless, until Arroyo proves himself in the postseason, this is just another notch on a resume with a lot of fast times, but very little hardware to show for it.
For as much loathing Garrett shows towards Arroyo, I may match him in my love for Engels. Maybe it’s the hair. Maybe it’s his versatility. Maybe it’s his commitment to his teammates.
Okay, it’s the hair. Regardless, this is a really strong result for Engels. I was overconfident on Engels during indoor despite his injury troubles, but this time highlights Engels’ return to full health. Moreover, a fast 800 backs my bold prediction that Engels will be the 1500m winner for the NCAA this season. Like everyone else, I’m high on Josh Kerr, but let’s not ignore that Engels has a 1500 PR that is 3 seconds faster than Kerr’s, and an 800 PR which is 5 seconds superior to the upstart Brit from New Mexico. Moreover, we know what Engels can do in rounds from his breakout performance at Olympic Trials. Engels’ 1:46.96 at Florida, while not a PR, is fast enough to convince me he’s close to or at 100% moving forward, and is primed for a dominant outdoor season.
What’s there to say about this guy? He’s the model of consistency. In an 800 class that included Donovan Brazier, Harris, Myles Marshall, John Lewis, and Carlton Orange, the stud from Wake Forest is the only one who has managed an All-American honor in every track season he’s run. This 5th place finish is a testament to Heppenstall’s consistency, as he continues to prove he’s one of if not the most underrated runners in the NCAA.
What happened to this guy? In 2014, Schnulle was a breakout sophomore who finished as a runner up to Brandon McBride at outdoor Nationals, missing the title by .03, and boasting a PR of 1:46.29. Since that performance, Schnulle has been relatively unheard from. A 16th place finish in this race on his home track doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in a dramatic comeback from the senior. However, if Schnulle can regain his form, him and Arroyo form a potentially deadly, but unpredictable, 1-2 bunch for Florida in the mid-distances.
One of the most exciting prospects in his grade coming out of high school, Marshall continued his uninspiring collegiate career with a 17th place finish in this race. Despite his obvious talent, Marshall has only managed to lower his high school PR by hundredths of a second through three full track seasons of collegiate competition, and missed a golden opportunity to run a breakout time here. It’s not that Marshall’s collegiate career hasn’t been without highlights, including a Heps title in the 800 this past indoor season, but he has yet to qualify for a national meet, as many of his classmates have.
There is still ample time for Marshall to find his groove at Harvard and become the runner many thought he’d be at the college level, but this result is certainly a disappointment for those waiting for his eruption.
It’s not worth over-analyzing the first outdoor race of a true freshman’s collegiate career, but given what I know about Perretta and how competitive he is, I’m sure he is not thrilled about his result in this race. Perretta certainly didn’t race poorly, notching a sub 1:50 time for 18th overall, but given how good Perretta was indoors, we know he’s certainly capable of better. With Michael Slagowski’s departure and Perretta’s outstanding indoor season, which established him as one of the top mid-distance runners in his grade, Perretta is now Isaiah Harris’s partner in crime, and a time that is a second slower than what he ran indoors is probably not how he wanted to kick off his outdoor campaign.
Nonetheless, Perretta’s drive and competitive nature should benefit him moving forward, as the toughness he’s displayed in the past is rare and unteachable. Perretta may be somewhat irked by this otherwise average outdoor debut, but look for him and Harris to lead Penn State for the years to come, and potentially claim a wheel in the 4x8 at Penn Relays later this season.