Written by Sam Ivanecky, additional contributions by Garrett Zatlin
Every year a handful of NCAA stars leave their respective universities and take their talents to the next level. Athletes often sign agents and shoe contracts in the weeks following the National Championships, but it becomes easy to forget these names after leaving their place atop the collegiate ranks.
The NCAA system produced a large number of top runners in 2018 and below, we break down what these distance stars have been up to since their departure from the collegiate system. It may be a nice refresher as we prepare for the incoming onslaught of sponsorship signings...
Part Two (women) coming tomorrow
Isaiah Harris (Nike)
Just last year, Harris was one of the biggest names in the country when it came to the 800 meters. As a junior, the Penn State standout won the 2018 NCAA title a year after competing at the World Championships where he finished 17th overall. Since turning pro and signing a contract with Nike, Harris has been largely absent from the track scene due to injury. Luckily, the former collegiate superstar is rapidly regaining fitness. After two early-season rust-busters in late May and early June, Harris ripped off a 1:46 at Princeton just two weeks ago.
The former Nittany Lion will be hard-pressed to qualify for the World Championship team this fall given the depth in the 800, but his ability to bounce back from injury has been encouraging so far. Keep an eye out for him in 2020.
Michael Saruni (Adidas)
In only his first year as a pro, the former UTEP star has made himself known as one of the best half-milers in the world. Saruni had a huge indoor showing at the Millrose Games this past winter when he beat Donovan Brazier in the 800 with a 1:43.98 - one of the fastest times in indoor history. However, the NCAA 800 meter record holder has been relatively quiet this summer...well, until today.
At the Monaco Diamond League meet, Saruni clocked another sub-1:44 time of 1:43.98 and secured a 4th place finish. He may be a bit inexperienced, but there is a good chance that we'll see Saruni battling for a potential podium spot at the World Championships later this year.
Brian Barraza (Adidas)
It took some time before Barraza eventually ended up signing with Adidas, but he seems to be holding up his end of the bargain with a handful of strong performances. The former Houston Cougar ran 7:49 for 3000 meters at the Millrose Games this past winter and has since followed that up with an 8:33 steeplechase season best at Payton Jordan. Don't overlook Barraza as he continues to develop into one of the better steeplechasers in the country.
Josh Kerr (Brooks)
The NCAA 1500 meter record holder has been off to a strong professional campaign as a member of the Brooks Beasts. He dabbled in a few road miles - including a win at the Duluth Mile in Minnesota - and recently posted a personal best in the 1500 of 3:33.60 at the Brooks PR Invitational.
Kerr is a British citizen and will likely be competing at their upcoming trials with hopes of earning a World Championships roster spot. However, he'll have to battle with veteran Chris O’Hare and rising star Charlie Grice who just ran 3:30 at Monaco. Even so, there's a good chance that we could see Kerr in Doha come September.
David Ribich (Brooks)
Kerr may have been the D1 NCAA 1500 record holder, but Ribich was an NCAA 1500 record holder in his own right (for Division Two). Before signing with Brooks, Ribich had run 3:58 for the mile during indoors and then 3:37 for 1500 meters during outdoors (in the same race as Kerr). The D2 icon has continued to maintain his top-tier fitness after running 3:37 for 1500 meters just a few weeks ago at the Brooks PR Invitational.
Amos Bartelsmeyer (Unsponsored)
If you’re having a hard time remembering who this man is, you’re not alone. During the winter months, distance running fans were beginning to ask who Bartelsmeyer even was after he blasted a 3:55 indoor mile. Bartelsmeyer was an All-American while at Georgetown, but never garnered the attention of big names like Kerr or Saruni.
Since graduating, Bartelsmeyer has trained under Andy Powell and has been on an absolute tear. He finished 6th at the European Indoor Championships in the 3000 meters and recently won the Yakima Mile out in Washington with a jaw-dropping 3:52. At the Brooks PR Invitational, he ran 3:36 for a new 1500 meter personal best. Bartelsmeyer is a German citizen and will face competition from Sam Parsons of Tinman Elite in the qualifying rounds for Worlds this outdoor season.
Side note: Get this man a sponsor! (and us too)
Justyn Knight (Reebok)
Knight was one of the best distance runners in recent NCAA history and not much has changed since he has turned pro. He currently competes for the Reebok Track Club which is coached by Chris Fox, Knight’s coach while at Syracuse.
Coming off a 9th place finish in a loaded two-mile at the Pre Classic, Knight will be vying for a spot on the Canadian roster at the World Championships. He has already achieved the standard when he became the second-fastest Canadian over 5000 meters after running 13:09 at the Golden Gala in Roma. Expect to see him again in Doha competing with the best talents around the globe.
Ben Flanagan (Reebok)
While it hasn’t been hard to keep track of Flanagan since he left Michigan, we’re still not certain where his mom is at.
Jokes aside, Flanagan, like Knight, joined the Reebok Boston Track Club and is also a Canadian citizen. Flanagan was the upset winner in the 10,000 meters at NCAA's in 2018, but has proven that his title victory was no fluke. He posted a personal best of 28:19 at Payton Jordan earlier this spring and won the Canadian National Championships a few weeks ago in the same event.
Flanagan has been a man of many distances since graduating, breaking the 4:00 barrier in the mile for the first time last year while also posting new personal bests in the 3000 meters and 5000 meters. The former Wolverine is showing us that he still has a ton of room to grow and thrive on the pro circuit.
Jacob Dumford (Under Armour)
Dumford was the star veteran on Notre Dame's squad as the Fighting Irish were going through a transition phase with Coach Carlson leading the men's group. Now he's part of District Track Club, a group now sponsored by Under Armour. Since joining the group, Dumford has made significant improvements, running a personal best of 3:39 for 1500 meters and 2:22 for 1000 meters.
Andy Trouard, Neil Gourley, Vincent Ciattei, & Drew Piazza (Nike Oregon Track Club)
While Flanagan was the biggest outdoor surprise in the NCAA in 2018, Trouard had one of the biggest upsets on the indoor oval when he took down both Grant Fisher and Justyn Knight over 3000 meters at the 2018 NCAA Indoor Championships. The NAU star has not raced since the NCAA Outdoor Championships in 2018 (where he was 4th in the 5k) which leads us to believe that he may have had some sort of injury. He was the only new male athlete to join Nike Oregon Track Club (OTC) Elite last spring, but has since been joined by the Virginia Tech trio of Gourley, Ciattei, and Piazza.
Neil Gourley has been lighting it up on the track, slowly becoming one of the better middle distance runners that the UK has to offer. After running 1:46 and 3:35 this summer, Gourley seems to be heading in right direction when it comes to his overall fitness. Meanwhile, Drew Piazza has put together a string of respectable 800 performances, including a pair of 1:46's since the end of May. Vincent Ciattei has been a bit on the quieter side, but is gaining some respectable momentum after running 3:40 for 1500 meters just a few days ago.
Sam Prakel (Adidas)
The former Oregon Duck may be one of the most underappreciated milers in the country right now and that's not an exaggeration. This past indoor season, he ran 2:19 for 1000 meters and then threw down a monster mile time of 3:50 at Boston University (the same race where Kejelcha broke the indoor mile world record).
Sean McGorty (Nike)
The former Stanford NCAA champion is continuing his career with Bowerman Track Club and so far, the results have been encouraging. McGorty ran 13:21 for 5000 meters at Boston University this past indoor season, but has since dropped down to the 1500 meter distance during outdoors. His marks of 3:39 and 3:38 from May might have been an effort to refine his speed as he gears towards the longer distances later this summer (but that's only speculation).
Tinman Elite (partial Adidas sponsorship)
One of the most popular training groups in the United States right now is Tinman Elite. The Boulder-based group which first started with Tyler Mueller, Drew Hunter, Connor Winter, and Reed Fischer has evolved into something so much more. Sam Parsons, the lovable underdog from NC State, has elevated his performances far beyond expectations with personal bests of 13:22 and 3:37.
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech alum Patrick Joseph (who was previously with District Track Club) has begun to find some serious momentum with a handful of wins and a recent sub-3:40 clocking (3:39) just a few days ago.
Portland alum Jeff Thies has also seen major improvements in the time that he has spent with the group. The NCAA 1500 All-American has greatly benefitted from moving up in distance. After running a pair of 13:44's, Thies went on to run 13:38 for 5000 meters just three days ago. Clearly, training at altitude is treating the former miler incredibly well.
Then there is Kyle Medina, the Chico State standout who dominated the D2 ranks with a total of eight All-American finishes across three seasons. He has yet to hit his steeplechase PR of 8:34 from last year, but he nearly matched his 5k personal best of 13:54 at the USATF Distance Carnival back in May with a time of 13:55.
Collectively, this blue-collar group of distance athletes is crafting one of the most powerful brands that the running community has to offer.
Jacob Thomson (Adidas)
The former Kentucky distance star has quietly put together a very strong resume in a handful of road races over the past year. However, it was his Payton Jordan 10k performance that really caught our attention with a time of 28:09. When you tack on his 3:57 mile and 13:34 5k from last summer, the Boston Athletic Association may have found one of the more promising young distance talents from the NCAA's 2018 graduating class.
Matthew Baxter (Hoka One One)
Another NAU graduate who has been relatively quiet is Matt Baxter from New Zealand. The former Lumberjack joined NAZ Elite (which is sponsored by Hoka One One) this past winter after graduating from Northern Arizona in December. Baxter has raced sparingly since turning professional - competing at the World XC Championships in Aarhus (46th) and then running a pair of 5k's in New Zealand (14:04) and Australia (14:08).