Predictions & Previews: 2018 NCAA Indoor Championships

By: John Cusick & Garrett Zatlin


Ladies and gentlemen, the time we have all been waiting for has finally reached us. We gave you previews of all the distance events at the beginning of the year. Now, we have a special article where Garrett and I will banter back and forth about who we think will win these coveted events. We might even go back and check and see how many we got right.



800

Look, I’m not saying that everyone is racing for second place, but Michael Saruni of UTEP most likely will not be displaced as the top runner here. The sophomore has a three second lead (altitude conversion from 1:45) on the rest of the field. Despite his incredibly fast times, Saruni has a history of struggling in NCAA’s. He was DQ’d at last year’s indoor championship and was tripped up by his teammate in the 800 final during the spring.


After Saruni, what does that leave us with? Kansas’ Bryce Hoppel has the next fastest time with his 1:47.09 and has been on fire this season with multiple wins and a consistent drop in time.


After Hoppel, we still have 11 athletes who have dipped underneath the 1:48 barrier. The most notable names include Robert Heppenstall (Wake Forest), Devin Dixon (Texas A&M), Isaiah Harris (Penn State), Daniel Kuhn (Indiana), and Abraham Alvarado (Brigham Young University).


Saruni is not a lock to win the whole thing but the time he has posted is nothing short of phenomenal. In order to unseat him from the top, it’s going to take an elite performance resulting in a personal best for a number of athletes this indoor season.


As for the predictions from earlier in the year? Saruni, Heppenstall, Dixon, Harris, Crisp, Marshall, Kuhn, Alvarado, and Lambourne were all a part of that preview. Basically, we somewhat found a way to predict half the field without a single race being run. Who would have guessed?


John’s Predictions: (we’re taking shots in the dark at times here, by the way)

1. Michael Saruni (UTEP) (1:46.87)

2. Devin Dixon (Texas A&M)

3. Isaiah Harris (Penn State)

4. Abraham Alvarado (BYU)

5. Daniel Kuhn (Indiana)

6. Robert Heppenstall (Wake Forest)

7. Clay Lambourne (Utah State)

8. John Lewis (Clemson)


Ok, yes, Saruni is the overwhelming favorite. If he stays out of trouble, he should walk away with gold by a heavy margin. I will also agree that Bryce Hoppel is a big name to mention. He has yet to lose an open race this season and has the ability to double back (which bodes well for him in the prelims and finals). If this is a race for silver, then Hoppel is a personal favorite of mine.


I’ll also agree that guys like Harris and Heppenstall are favorites to get back on the podium. These guys are post-season stars with multiple clutch performances to secure All-American spots. In fact, with Harris’ resume, I think he could legitimately contend with Saruni. He has a 1:44 personal best, a World Championship qualification, and the experience of racing on the national stage. He would need a big seasonal best, but if anyone is going to have that “elite performance” that you mentioned, it’s going to be Harris.


The other names are strong options. Dixon is a good choice and Kuhn is one of the more underrated names in the field. Still, I’m not sure I going to opt out from my own choices.


Dylan Capwell is a name I’m watching. He has great experience after fighting for a national title in 2015. Granted, he may not be at the same level of fitness as he was back then, but he is remerging as an All-American contender. He ran 1:48 three times, dropped a 1:47 in the final meet of the season, and secured six different wins in open events. So…yeah…podium favorite.


There are a couple others that I think I could enter the All-American spots, but one of them has to be John Lewis. The Clemson junior ran 1:47.12 for a huge personal best and finish 2nd at ACC’s. He struggled to go under the 1:49 mark for the entire season but came it up big when it counted. I think he’ll ride that momentum into the finals of NCAA’s.


Garrett’s Predictions:

1. Michael Saruni (UTEP) (1:46.11)

2. Isaiah Harris (Penn State)

3. Bryce Hoppel (Kansas)

4. Robert Heppenstall (Wake Forest)

5. Devin Dixon (Texas A&M)

6. Daniel Kuhn (Indiana)

7. Dylan Capwell (Monmouth)

8. John Lewis (Clemson)


Mile

Much like Saruni, Josh Kerr should be the favorite to win this one. He has the raw speed to sit-and-kick for the win and the pure fitness to take it from the gun. He has the experience of winning multiple national titles and is one of the few to defeat Edward Cheserek.


Even though Kerr is one of the top names in the field, this Mile field has a lot of names that could pull off an upset.


I really like Kasey Knevelbaard this season, mainly because he has a kick that very few others can match. If the race becomes tactical, he could very easily compete with Kerr in the final 200.


Amos Bartelsmeyer is an interesting name. Although he has been up and down throughout the past few seasons, he’s begging to find his groove again with a 3:57 Mile and an anchor performance that qualified his relay for Nationals. He can handle most race scenarios which is something that I like in a field of dynamic talents.


I’m also a fan of the trio’s that Virginia Tech and Oregon are fielding. The Virginia Tech men yield incredible range and experience with all three athletes having PR’s under 4 minutes AND 1:48. As for Oregon, they have a history of thriving when multiple teammates are in the same field. They work extremely well together in big meets like Nationals and I don’t think that will change this year.


Finally, I have to give some love to Carlos Villareal. This guy has made tremendous progress this season dropping back-to-back-to-back personal bests in the Mile. That is HUGE momentum heading into the biggest meet of year and I’m not ready to doubt him quite yet. He has been able to maintain strong finishing speed while also improving his general mid-race strength. Don’t sleep on Villareal.


Garrett’s Predictions:

1. Josh Kerr (New Mexico) (3:58.02)

2. Sam Prakel (Oregon)

3. Kasey Knevelbaard (Southern Utah)

4. Neil Gourley (Virginia Tech)

5. Amos Bartelsmeyer (Georgetown)

6. Carlos Villareal (Arizona)

7. Mick Stanovsek (Oregon)

8. Vincent Ciattei (Virginia Tech)


I agree with you about Kerr. It seems like he’s almost a lock given the fact that he is one of the few to beat Cheserek. I think it’s safe to say that Kerr is the favorite. While I do think he will win this race, a few names strike my fancy.


Carlos Villarreal is a name I love during this race. You mentioned his back-to-back-to-back PR’s and he’s come on to the national scene very nicely. He’s bumped up from the 800 and it has paid dividends. I highly expect him to be active in this race and see if he can snatch a win.


I love what I saw from Sam Prakel at the Husky Invite as he took down a loaded field and helped multiple people under 4:00. He can push from the get go and I think compete with the likes of Kerr when it comes to pure fitness. He’s going to be one of the contenders when it comes to the final 300 meters.


Jonah Koech has the next fastest time behind Kerr. Koech seems to be forgotten because of Saruni and Emmanuel Korir, but he’s just as big of a threat as those two are. He has the clear strength to get after it from the gun and is always up for a challenge. He’s going to give the field everything he’s got, and it might just be enough to give UTEP two national champions.


Another name I like is Cole Rockhold. He went to conference and gave Kerr a fight until he pulled away with a two second win. He’s usually thought of as a 3000-meter run in my mind, but he has stepped down in distance and been very successful. I think that string of success will continue heading into the biggest race of the year. Plus, he probably has the most experience in facing Kerr and that’s pretty big.


The last guy to get in was Sean Tobin. I think Tobin has a huge advantage because it seems like he’s been in almost every event at the national level. He knows how to race, and I bet he’s going to put himself in a position to take home a personal title. We know he has the speed as he’s run the 1200 and the 1600 leg of the DMR.


Johns’s Predictions:

1. Josh Kerr (New Mexico) (4:04.87)

2. Sam Prakel (Oregon)

3. Jonah Koech (UTEP)

4. Sean Tobin (Ole Miss)

5. Carlos Villarreal (Arizona)

6. Patrick Joseph (Virginia Tech)

7. Kasey Knevelbard (Southern Utah)

8. Reed Brown (Oregon)


3000

Man, I absolutely the love the field that is entered for this 3000 meter race. You’ve got heavyweights throughout this entire race!


Justyn Knight is still on fire since he won cross country. He tops the performance list with his 7:45.86 and is more than three seconds ahead of 2nd place. I’ve been riding the Knight wave since last year and I’m not going to stop now.


That doesn’t mean the field won’t give him everything they’ve got. I think Grant Fisher and Andy Trouard will be shoe-in’s for All-American status. We saw them both race at Iowa State when Trouard came from behind to kick Fisher down, but both possess the wheels to keep up with Knight should it come down to that.

Dillon Maggard is a name to watch throughout this. He gave everything he had as the anchor when Utah State made a run at New Mexico in the DMR. Maggard should be extremely fit and he’s going to showcase it on the biggest stage.


Colby Gilbert took down another loaded field at his home track. I’m hesitant to add Gilbert to the list when his success during championship season is rather underwhelming, but he is also one of the few to take down Cheserek. I think Gilbert contends for the title this year and shows us what he’s really made of.


The last name I want to talk about is Jonathan Davis. He’s a redshirt freshman from Illinois, but he had the 2nd fastest Mile time and the 6th fastest 3000 time coming into Nationals. Plus, he already has national experience from last outdoor season. He’s quietly built upon his success from cross country and it’s really translated to the track.


John’s Predictions:

1. Justyn Knight (Syracuse) (8:03.56)

2. Grant Fisher (Stanford)

3. Colby Gilbert (Washington)

4. Dillon Maggard (Utah State)

5. Jonathan Davis (Illinois)

6. Andy Trouard (Northern Arizona)

7. Mike Tate (Southern Utah)

8. Cole Rockhold (Colorado State)


I agree, this field is absolutely loaded with some of the best names in the nation. The long distance all-stars of Justyn Knight and Grant Fisher are the headlines of the field, but they will be pushed quite a bit.


I’m a big fan of Andy Trouard in this race. He handled his 3K race at Iowa State so incredibly well. He had so much poise and out-kicked one of the best finishers in the nation (Fisher) to take the win. He also threw down a really solid triple at the BIG Sky Championships just a couple of weekends ago. That makes me feel a little more comfortable about doubling back from the 5000. If anyone is going to beat Knight, it might be Trouard.


I’m not going to question the legitimacy of Gilbert’s talent, but he hasn’t always been the most consistent. He’s been very up-and-down during championship races and I’m not sure I’m ready to give him an All-American spot just yet.


I like the Jonathan Davis and Cole Rockhold picks. However, I’ll admit that I have concerns about Rockhold’s ability to double and Davis’ youth. Still, these are strong, consistent performers. They bring a lot of excitement to this field and should be great x-factors in this race. I’m not convinced that both of them well end up on the podium, but they are names to watch.


Right now, I’m very big on Oliver Hoare (Wisconsin). The Badger has been absolutely killing it with some big-time performances and two wins at BIG 10’s (over Jonathan Davis). He is super dangerous and is definitely a name you need to watch out for.


The same goes for Cameron Griffith (Arkansas). This has been his breakout season with monster performances that have contended with some of the best in the nation. His combination of speed and endurance should give him an edge in this field.


Finally, I really like the experience that Ben Saarel (Colorado) brings into this field. After struggling to finish up the Mile/3000 double at last year’s championship, he has opted to go all-in on the 3000. He’s a savy veteran who knows how to handle high-level fields such as this. I expect him to make a podium appearance.


Garrett’s Predictions:

1. Andy Trouard (Northern Arizona) (8:06.34)

2. Justyn Knight (Syracuse)

3. Grant Fisher (Stanford)

4. Dillon Maggard (Utah State)

5. Oliver Hoare (Wisconsin)

6. Cameron Griffith (Arkansas)

7. Ben Saarel (Colorado)

8. Jonathan Davis (Illinois)


5000

Although the entries may be similar to the 3000, our picks for the podium differ quite a bit.


Justyn Knight is the favorite and understandably so. He has been on fire all year and even though he doesn’t have the top time in the nation, he’ll still be able to handle anything that comes his way.


The top time, however, belongs to Southern Utah’s Mike Tate who blasted a huge 13:37 at the Husky Classic a few weeks ago. He went out there looking to make a statement and did just that. If he is willing to push the pace, he’ll be able to eliminate a few kickers from this field and make it a race solely about fitness. I think that guarantees him a podium spot.


Mike Tate isn’t the only Mountain region runner that I’m favoring in this race. Andy Trouard (NAU), Rory Linkletter (BYU), and Grant Fischer (Colorado State) look like legitimate threats this year. They’ve shown that they can handle practically any race scenario and I’m not going to sleep on them in this field. Whether the pace is fast or slow, expect this trio to close hard and secure a top eight finish.


I’m also under the impression that this race will be fast which should bode well for the SEC men. The Alabama men have quietly put together strong performance after strong performance. They continue to prove me wrong and at this point I can’t pick against them.


However, if I’m picking the Alabama men, that also means I’m choosing Jacob Thomson as well. Not only is he one of the more veteran and experienced distance runners in this field, but he has also ramped up his fitness this season. With personal bests of 4:01, 7:53, and 13:41 all during this winter, I can’t help but think that this is Thomson’s time to reappear on the podium.


Garrett’s Predictions:

1. Justyn Knight (Syracuse) (13:52.99)

2. Andy Trouard (Northern Arizona)

3. Rory Linkletter (BYU)

4. Mike Tate (Southern Utah)

5. Jacob Thomson (Kentucky)

6. Vincent Kiprop (Alabama)

7. Grant Fischer (Colorado State)

8. Gilbert Kigen (Alabama)


This field is also a field that I really enjoy and can’t wait to watch race each other.

You mentioned the men from Alabama, and the name I really like is Vincent Kiprop. My guess is that he will use the same strategy he used last year when he took off from the gun and dropped two of the better D2 athletes in that field. However, I don’t think he will be dropping anyone in this race. In order for him and Kigen to have a chance at winning, they’ll have to push the pace.


I also really like all the BYU men. I think Rory Linkletter has one of the best chances to claim the title. He had a horrible end to his cross country season and I believe that that has fueled him to come out even stronger during track season. His teammates Connor McMillan and Daniel Carney are very quietly having great seasons. Carney PR’d by 20 seconds this indoor season while McMillan PR’d twice this season and won the MPSF conference title this year.


Your Mike Tate pick, however, is a very good one too. Tate has the wheels to compete with the likes of Knight and Trouard. The Southern Utah athletes have been productive as long as I can remember. The Thunderbirds are always ready to roll with the punches so I’ll be interested to see what they (Tate & Knevelbaard) can do towards the front. I could certainly see Tate running away from the others at the end here.


Jack Bruce and Tanner Anderson are the last two names I think that are going to surprise some people. Bruce has a 13:38 PR in the 5k and has gone 2:25 for 1000 meters. He has the speed and combined with his strength (sub-30 10k). I think Bruce will make a push for at least a podium spot. Anderson is just a sophomore, but he is a part of that Oregon group that always seems to come through when it matters most during championship season. He’ll have a great day and surprise some people.


John’s Predictions:

1. Justyn Knight (Syracuse) (14:02.93)

2. Rory Linkletter (BYU)

3. Vincent Kiprop (Alabama)

4. Connor McMillan (BYU)

5. Jack Bruce (BYU)

6. Tanner Anderson (Oregon)

7. Daniel Carney (BYU)

8. Mike Tate (Southern Utah)


Distance Medley Relay

Every single one of these teams is under the 9:30 mark. That’s right where it seems to be every year. New Mexico and Utah State dropped the number one and two times in the country at their conference meet and unseated Stanford from the top spot (thanks to altitude conversions).


Going into this meet it feels like New Mexico is the top dog just because of Kerr, right? Their 1200 leg in Ian Crowe-Wright keeps them in contention and with Kerr’s track record (no pun intended) it feels as if they are even the slightest bit close to the leaders. If they aren’t already in the lead, then Kerr will somehow come out on top.


Utah State fields a team that includes Lambourne and Maggard, both perennial athletes on the national stage. They gave New Mexico their best effort and still came up short. Does running with Stanford and Oregon give them more of a chance to come out on top?


Stanford will surely bring their A game despite Brandon McGorty having a poor showing at conference. They’ll most likely hand off to Fisher to finish off the race and just like Kerr, Fisher is someone that seemingly can make up any deficit if found behind the leaders.


The team that I really like, and you mentioned their athletes earlier, is Virginia Tech. All three of these guys have sub 1:48 and sub 4:00 marks. That’s huge in this race. There’s not real weakness at any given point. I expect Virginia Tech to make the biggest splash in this race and come out as either the champion, or at worst, top three.


These are so hard to predict though. With team titles at hand as well, some schools may alter their lineups to better their chances in other events on Saturday.


John’s Predictions:

1. Virginia Tech (9:32.45)

2. New Mexico

3. Stanford

4. Utah State

5. Oregon

6. Indiana

7. Wisconsin

8. Ole Miss


Right off the bat, I’d have to agree with the Virginia Tech pick. They lack weaknesses and are all-around the best team in the field. They are definitely a lock for the podium, but do they have enough elite-firepower to win it all? They might, but it will be tough…


Virginia Tech may have the best all-around relay, but Oregon may be the safest pick. With Sam Prakel (supposedly) on the anchor and another sub-4 miler on the 1200, it would be hard to dismiss the potential of this squad. I really like what they bring to the table.


Josh Kerr does put New Mexico in the team title conversation, but I’m not ready to say that the rest of their squad can put them into the top pack. Crowe-Wright is a talented miler, but can he contend with the 1200 legs that Oregon and Virginia Tech will field? What about Sean McGorty? It will be interesting to see how he handles that lead-off group.


Ole Miss, much like Virginia Tech is a great team at nearly every leg of their relay. Sean Tobin is a veteran and should be able to put them in a competitive spot. The same goes for Indiana who may have the most underrated 1200 leg in the entire field. Don’t sleep on what Teddy Browning could do in this field.


I’m also putting Wisconsin into the same category as Ole Miss and Indiana. They have a really solid all-around team that should be top contenders, especially when you consider that he split 3:54 earlier in the season. Joe Hardy may be more of a long distance guy (with a focus on the 5000 meters), but he’s held up well in the lead-off position.


How about Georgetown? They may not have the star-studded lineup that other programs have, but they have a top-tier, experienced miler in Amos Bartelsmeyer that can put this team back in the podium hunt. I like them to be top eight, mainly because of their anchor.


The last team we have is the Stanford Cardinal. They have the best 1200/Mile duo in the NCAA and that might be enough to win it all. Their 800 leg is a minor weakness, but that shouldn’t be the decisive factor in this race.


Garrett’s Predictions:

1. Stanford (9:29.13)

2. Virginia Tech

3. Oregon

4. New Mexico

5. Indiana

6. Wisconsin

7. Ole Miss

8. Georgetown