Here are the 8 of the best matchups that you should watch out for this indoor track season...
8. Harris vs White
The 800 field is a wild one. Most fans who follow the sport know that. Yet, with Emmanuel Korir now out of the picture, it seems like Isaiah Harris is the favorite to win it all as we enter the season. Still, the entirety of last year wasn't just about Korir and Harris. The Virginia Tech duo of Piazza and Joseph, UTEP's Michael Saruni, Robert Heppenstall of Wake Forest, and Indiana's Daniel Kuhn all put immense pressure on the top group. No one seemed to be a "lock" for the title.
The one name that seemingly went under the radar was Georgetown's Joe White. The Hoya senior got the best of Harris throughout the entire indoor track season and often threw down performances that put his name in the title conversation. White ran a 2:21 1k to upset Harris at the Nittany Lion Challenge, defeated Harris (again) at Indoor Nationals, and later pulled off a 1:45 during the outdoor season. The spring season would be a reversal of what happened during the winter. Harris would best White at the Florida Relays as well as at Outdoor Nationals.
While there may a slew of top-tier elites, Harris and White may be one of the more exciting matchups to keep an eye on as we transition into 2018.
7. Colorado State vs Colorado
It's a well known fact that the Colorado Buffaloes are one of the best collegiate distance running programs in the nation. With that in mind, we need to start giving the Colorado State Rams some love. When you look at the personal bests and the weapons that each team holds, we could see multiple exciting matchups throughout this winter season.
The 5k will be an interesting battle between these two teams as CSU's Jerrell Mock and Grant Fischer will look to take on Joe Klecker and John Dressel. With strong 10k PR's and indoor track personal bests of 13:44 (Mock) and 13:46 (Fischer), this Ram's duo looks like a formidable opponent for Klecker and Dressel. Then again, Dressel placed 4th in the 5k at Indoor Nationals last year. Who is going to get the edge in 2018? Will Dressel even be healthy enough to compete this winter?
If Colorado State dominates the 5k, then the Buffs will still be able to lean on their talent in the 3k. Last year, Dressel, Klecker, and Perrin all ran under 7:56 in the 3000. In fact, Colorado actually had four individuals in the top 20 when the season ended. Only Oregon had more than one individual in the top 20 last year (Cheserek and Maton).
Each team boasts some impressive talent with potential new-comers looking to step up (i.e. Eduardo Herrera). This might be one of the more underrated in-state rivalries in the nation.
6. Teare vs Herrera (vs Worley?)
This past cross country season was an exciting one for many freshmen across the nation. Cooper Teare gained national attention by leading the Oregon team as just a freshman with Matthew Maton out of commission. His 8th place finish at PAC-12's earned him PAC-12 Freshman of the Year honors over Colorado's Eduardo Herrera who was 14th at Pre-Nats and 10th PAC-12's. Of course, Herrera would later go on to finish 33rd at Nationals and earn All-American status while Teare was 44th overall. Who really deserved PAC-12 freshman award?
One name that fans of the sport are still unsure about is Sam Worley. The Texas Longhorn freshman was a stud during cross country as he led his team throughout most of the regular season. However, he was a DNF at the South Central Regional Championships and a DNS at Nationals. Is Worley healthy enough to be racing this winter? Will we even see him at all? He would be one of the very few freshmen who could push Teare under the 4-minute mile mark. Luckily, Reed Brown is training right next to Teare...
5. Scott Carpenter vs Jonathan Green
It's not unusual to see some of the best rivalries in the NCAA occur on the same team. Cheserek vs Jenkins is a perfect example of that and Baxter vs Day is developing into a solid (friendly) rivalry as well. Yet, one of the more underrated matchups we could potentially see this winter is the Jonathan Green and Scott Carpenter.
2015 was the first time we saw Jonathan Green really have a breakout season after placing 5th at Nationals in cross country. Fast forward to 2016 and Green would sustain an injury. Luckily for the Hoyas, Carpenter stepped up and had a breakout season of his own when he placed 10th at Nationals. Now, Green is healthy and back to the height of his fitness which is evident by his 10th place finish at NCAA's this past cross country season. The upcoming indoor track season will be the first time that both of these men are at the peak of their fitness, 100% healthy, and running with full eligibility. Green owns personal bests of 13:45 and 29:09 while Carpenter has run 7:51 and 14:00. We could potentially see these two push each other to the top of the NCAA leaderboards in an effort to establish Georgetown dominance in the distance events.
4. Knight vs Fisher
What? Did you think that we weren’t going to mention Knight and Fisher? The graduation of Edward Cheserek has left us with new favorites fighting for the title. Naturally, we were left with the two best runners in the NCAA. After Fisher’s upset of Knight in the 5k last spring, this past cross country season proved to be a season of vengeance for Knight who finally earned his first individual title while Fisher fell back to 5th at NCAA’s. The best part of this rivalry is that both of these individuals acknowledge the importance and excitement that this matchup brings to the running community. It’s difficult to say what these two will run and if they will even race each other at all at Nationals. Could one enter the 5k and the other enter the 3k? It is certainly very possible, but we’ve seen that these two aren’t afraid to back down from competition and take the easy way out to get the win. They elite duo will most likely seek each other out and give the fans one of the most anticipated matchups of the indoor track season.
3. The DMR: Historic Powerhouses vs The New Guys
The DMR is always an exciting race because you never know what is going to come out of it. There are so many pieces of each squad to decipher which makes the race that much more entertaining. Despite this being a hard event to predict, we always see teams like Penn State and Oklahoma State emerge towards the top of the results. Of course, this year may be a little different. Penn State, much like last year, isn’t showing that they have a true ace in the mile this year. They have the perfect pieces 1200 and 800 legs in Domenic Perretta and Isaiah Harris, but if they don’t have a sub-four minute miler, can they really be competitive? Oklahoma State is in a similar scenario after losing Josh Thompson to graduation. They have guys capable of going under four minutes in the mile, but aren’t always the most consistent. Oregon is another team that is often found in the All-American spots every year. Yet, with Cheserek now gone and Matthew Maton’s health still unclear, the Ducks will have to look to their younger talent. Sam Prakel and Blake Haney are stronger veterans, but they haven’t shown the same kind of fitness that we saw from them in 2015. Freshmen like Cooper Teare and Reed Brown as well as the slew of sophomores above them are strong talents that give the Ducks a lot of depth. Still, is this group experienced enough to bring the Ducks a top three finish at Nationals?
Obviously, there are other teams that should be given some attention as well. Virginia Tech doesn’t typically pursue the DMR, but they did last year with a “B” squad and STILL pulled out a 2nd place finish thanks to a 3:58 anchor from Vincent Ciattei. They return five men who have dipped under 1:50 in the 800 and now four guys who have either gone under four minutes in the mile or have a 1500 that converts to under four mile. If they wanted to, Virginia Tech could be the favorites to win it all. Indiana is another strong squad that is a little on the younger side, but they return everyone from last year’s national qualifying squad. Daniel Kuhn is an elite 800 leg while Kyle Mau never lost an anchor leg prior to NCAA’s. When you think of top-tier DMR teams, you don’t typically think of Indiana, but they have the all-stars and depth to form a scary good squad. Finally, let’s give some love to Georgetown. With Green and Carpenter set to compete this season, the Hoyas don’t need to worry about other open events as much. The DMR would be the perfect event to utilize the sub-four minute mile capabilities of graduate student Amos Bartelsmeyer. With two recruits entering the program who ran 1:49 in high school, as well as Joe White who owns a personal best of 1:45, the Hoyas could be a VERY dangerous squad for whoever they face.
2. The Battle for 800U
As a resident of Pennsylvania, a lot of fans in the running community will tell you that Penn State deserves the title of 800U. And you know? It’s hard to argue against them. Not only do they currently have half-mile stars like Dom Perretta (1:47) and Isaiah Harris (1:44), but they have been producing top-tier athletes for years on end.
Still, we can’t forget about Virginia Tech. As I just mentioned above, this squad has five men entering this winter track season with personal bests of 1:49 of faster. Drew Piazza and Patrick Joseph may be the best 1-2 punch in the 800 (ever?) as both individuals boast personal bests of 1:45 (Piazza) and 1:46 (Joseph). Not only does this team have depth, but they have the firepower to lead them past even the best teams in the nation (as evidenced by their 2017 Penn Relays 4x800 title).
Another team that I mentioned in the DMR conversation is Georgetown. Obviously, the presence of Joe White checks off the requirement of having an elite half-mile on your squad. However, it’s the guys behind him that gives the Hoyas a case to be part of the 800U conversation. Kenneth Rowe, Charles Cooper, Spencer Brown, Rey Rivera, and Ruach Padhal have all, at one point in their racing careers, dipped under the 1:50 mark. If you add in Joe White, there is no program in the nation that has six or more individuals with personal bests under 1:50.
Texas A&M is another program that a lot of people forget about mainly because they are known for their sprints and 400 runners. Yet, with the addition of star transfer Carlton Orange, the Aggies now have a squad filled with some outrageous firepower such as Devin Dixon (1:45), Carlton Orange (1:46), JaQwae Ellison (1:48), and Efrain Hernandez (1:48).
Other programs like Indiana and Ole Miss have a great mix of depth and firepower, but the teams mentioned above are simply much more well known for their 800 development and have the history to back it up.
1. Brandt vs Corcoran
How could we overlook such a great storyline? Robert Brandt narrows his college decision down to California and UCLA. He chooses California. While he’s at Cal, he develops into one of the best runners in the western portion of the country with personal bests of 7:58, 13:45, and 28:48. Then, all of the sudden, Brandt leaves to join arch rival UCLA. Why he transferred is still unclear, but it does make for an exciting headline.
Could Brandt have left the Cal team on good terms with his coach and former teammates? Absolutely. Still, I’m willing to bet that every single one of his former teammates are focused on beating him as often as possible.
Admittedly, Brandt simply has a stronger resume than most of the Cal team, but Garrett Corcoran was a name that I mentioned as a potential sleeper pick a few weeks ago. With personal bests of 3:59 and 7:52, Corcoran will most likely be gunning to take down Brandt in whatever event he can. A future matchup such as that could be extra motivation for Corcoran to step up his game and take down his old teammate now rival.