2015 NCAA Outdoor Men’s Mid-D/Steeple Preview: Cristian Soratos and Jordan Williamsz Lead A Wide-Open 1500; Anthony Rotich & Stanley Kebenei to Duel in Steeple; Will NCAA Champs Brandon McBride or Edward Kemboi Emerge In A Loaded Men’s 800?

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By LetsRun.com
June 8, 2015

The 2015 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships start on Wednesday in Eugene, Oregon, with the men’s competition taking place on Wednesday and Friday and the women’s on Thursday and Saturday. We break down the men’s mid-distance action for you below.

Other previews: Men’s Long distance.

Women’s Long distance (link will go live Monday afternoon).

Women’s Steeple/Mid-D (link will go live Tuesday).

Men’s 1500 (prelims Wednesday, 7:14 p.m. ET; final Friday, 7:45 p.m. ET): A New NCAA Champion Will Be Crowned In A Race That Promises To Be A Thriller

Entries (2014 finish in parentheses)

NameYearSchoolQualifying timePR
Chad NoelleJROklahoma State3:41.963:38.35
David ElliottJRBoise State3:42.123:41.61
Cristian SoratosSRMontana State3:42.603:39.68
Blake HaneyFROregon3:42.753:41.27
Peter Callahan (4)SRNew Mexico3:42.933:39.27
Zach PerkinsSRAir Force3:42.933:41.46
Izaic YorksJRWashington3:42.993:42.01
Daniel WinnSROregon3:43.113:39.76
Johnny GregorekSROregon3:43.173:42.72
Thomas Joyce (11)JRCalifornia3:43.233:39.43
Joe HardyFRWisconsin3:43.643:43.64
Ben SaarelSOColorado3:44.193:41.54
Robert DenaultJRVillanova3:44.963:40.78
Kyle GravesSRWake Forest3:45.013:42.89
Robert DomanicSOMississippi3:45.023:43.75
Cole WilliamsJRGeorgetown3:45.103:42.05
Jakub ZivecSRMaryland3:45.113:44.32
Rorey Hunter (9)SRIndiana3:45.193:40.36
Jordy Williamsz (5)JRVillanova3:45.233:36.74
Robby CreeseJRPenn State3:45.303:39.02
David TimlinSOIndiana State3:45.463:44.52
Graham CrawfordJRNC State3:45.513:40.67
Henry WynneSOVirginia3:45.523:41.19
Trevor GilleySOMississippi3:45.563:45.56

Returners from NCAA indoor mile final:
2. Cristian Soratos, Montana State 3:59.86
4. Johnny Gregorek, Oregon 4:04.30
5. Chad Noelle, Oklahoma State 4:04.36
6. Daniel Winn, Oregon 4:04.44

There may be no more wide-open race at NCAAs than the men’s 1500. Two-time defending champ Mac Fleet has graduated, and indoor mile champ Edward Cheserek has moved up in distance, leaving a large void in the 1500 meters. None of the 24 men entered has ever won an NCAA individual championship, so there’s plenty on the line, especially for the seniors in this race.

Soratos gave it all he had at NCAA indoors, but it wasn't enough to overcome Cheserek

Soratos gave it all he had at NCAA indoors, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Cheserek

Cristian Soratos was the man making noise during the indoor season, as he ran a 4:05.18 mile in his season-opener (which the NCAA converted down to 3:56 after factoring in altitude and the flat track) and then blasted a 3:55.27 mile at the Husky Classic in February. Soratos and his Sonic the Hedgehog socks couldn’t quite take down Cheserek at NCAAs, but his 53.36 400 split from 609 to 1009 broke the NCAA mile final wide-open, and he ended up a clear second ahead of defending champ Anthony Rotich of UTEP (LRC Recap: Cristian Soratos Goes For It But Edward Cheserek Runs 2:19 Last 1k To Win Men’s Mile at 2015 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships). Though his 3:39.65 sb (converted from altitude) only ranks him seventh on the NCAA list, he’s undefeated against collegiate competition in the 1500 this spring and took some nice scalps — including Lawi Lalang — by placing fourth in the top heat at Payton Jordan. There’s a lot to like about Soratos.

As we mentioned, six collegians have run faster than him this season, four of which will be in the 1500 in Eugene. However, Robby Creese (#2 at 3:39.02) has been running poorly recently (he was dead-last in the Big 10 1500 final and barely made it to NCAAs as the final time qualifier in the East) so we are going to discount him and focus on the other three.

#1 Chad Noelle of Oklahoma State has reached another level in 2015. Indoors, the Oregon transfer PR’d in the 3,000 (7:56) and broke 4:00 in the mile for the first time before finishing fifth in his first NCAA individual final. Outdoors, he’s shaved almost two seconds off his 1500 PR (3:38.35) and was the only collegian to break 3:39 on the year after he ran the fastest time of the night at Payton Jordan. Both he and Soratos have the fast times and championship experience indicative of a future NCAA champ.

#4 Thomas Joyce of Cal (3:39.43) has also had a big 2015, as he has run 13:34 in the 5,000 and was the 1500 runner-up at Pac-12s, where he lost to Washington’s Izaic Yorks in a 3:46 race. And unlike Soratos and Noelle, he made the NCAA final last year, placing 11th.

Williamsz was the hero at Penn; can he get his first NCAA title in Eugene?

Williamsz was the hero at Penn; can he get his first NCAA title in Eugene?

The most dangerous man in the field may be Villanova’s Jordy Williamsz, whose 3:39.53 puts him in a tie for fifth on the NCAA list. Williamsz ran only the DMR at NCAA indoors, but he made the most of it, splitting a 3:55.46 — the fastest anchor leg of the night by over two seconds. Outdoors, he’s been a monster. He opened up with that 3:39.53 at Princeton on April 17 and followed it up the next week by pulling off the unthinkable, outkicking Cheserek in the final 200 to win the 4xmile for Villanova at the Penn Relays (he also ran a great 1:49.09 third leg in the 4×800 later that day, handing off in first place).

What makes Williamsz such a threat is that he has incredible 800 speed. After he beat Cheserek at Penn, he said he thinks of himself more as an 800 runner, and he demonstrated that at the World Relays, where he split a 1:45.28 on the 800 leg of the DMR for Australia. His 1:46.77 open 800 PR is very strong, and he also has by far the best 1500 PR in the field (3:36.74 from Swarthmore in 2012), though he hasn’t come close to that time in the last three years. Williamsz is dangerous enough in an honest race, but if NCAAs goes tactical, everyone else is in a lot of trouble.

There are several other guys who could threaten but haven’t run quite as fast this year. New Mexico’s sixth-year senior Peter Callahan is the top returner from last year (fourth), and though he won the third heat at Payton Jordan, he’s lost several times to collegiate competition this year, notably taking just third at the Mountain West Championships. The Oregon duo of Johnny Gregorek and Daniel Winn, who went 4-6 indoors, is dangerous and they’ll have the added benefit of racing in front of their home crowd. Neither of them won the Pac-12 title though (Gregorek was sick and didn’t race; Winn was sixth); that honor went to Washington’s Izaic Yorks, who is also a threat here considering he beat four guys in that race that qualified for NCAAs in the 1500. Air Force’s Zach Perkins is also worth mentioning. Two years ago, he entered this meet with a 3:44.38 pb and left it just .14 short of an NCAA title, taking second to Mac Fleet. Perkins was only second at his conference meet, though.

If you want a sleeper, Boise State’s David Elliott is your man. A 5k/10k type until this spring (he was the Mountain West cross country champ), his PR is relatively modest at 3:41.61. But he hasn’t lost a mile/1500 since January 2014 and took down Perkins and Callahan to win the Mountain West title. The last two years have seen some surprises in the 1500 (Perkins taking second in ’13; Loyola’s Sam Penzenstadler finishing third last year) and if someone is to continue that trend in 2015, it could be Elliott.

In terms of picking a winner, Soratos has done nothing this spring to lose the favorite tag he carried over from the indoor season. Yet as good as he is, we have a hard time envisioning him defeating Williamsz. Cheserek beat Soratos indoors, and Williamsz beat Cheserek at Penn. The dynamics of those races couldn’t have been more different, but considering Williamsz has run faster than Soratos this year, it won’t be easy for Soratos to drop Williamsz with a mid-race surge, as he did with most of the field at NCAA indoors. Plus it’s a 1500, not a mile, so it’s harder to drop someone mid-race.

Williamsz has the best PR, the best kick and has been unbeatable outdoors. That makes him the favorite on paper in what should ben exciting race.

LRC Prediction: 1. Williamsz 2. Soratos 3. Noelle

Men’s 800 (prelims Wednesday, 8:54 p.m. ET; final Friday, 8:50 p.m. ET): The Reigning NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Champs Will Battle In The Strongest NCAA Field in Years

Entries (2014 finish in parentheses)

NameYearSchoolQualifying timePR
Brandon McBride (1)JRMississippi State1:45.971:45.35
Edward KemboiSRIowa State1:46.231:46.05
Craig EngelsSOMississippi1:47.161:46.13
Clayton MurphySOAkron1:47.161:47.06
Dylan CapwellSOMonmouth1:47.201:46.70
Jesse GarnJRBinghamton1:47.211:47.03
Brandon HazouriJRSamford1:47.281:47.28
Shaquille WalkerSOBYU1:47.301:45.78
Charles GrethenSRGeorgia1:47.301:47.22
Andres ArroyoSOFlorida1:47.331:46.49
Brannon KidderJRPenn State1:47.381:45.58
Joseph WhiteFRGeorgetown1:47.401:47.40
Ryan Schnulle (2)JRFlorida1:47.601:46.29
Holland SherrerJRMississippi1:47.741:47.47
Jesse JorgensenSRWashington State1:48.071:46.49
Robert FordFRUSC1:48.121:48.12
Collins KibetSOArizona1:48.141:46.87
Josh HernandezSRTexas A&M1:48.141:47.97
Chris Low (7)SRLong Beach State1:48.281:47.52
Goaner DengJRMinnesota1:48.641:48.64
Simon GreinerJRTulsa1:48.781:48.78
Harry FisherSRWyoming1:48.781:48.76
Nick HartleJRUCLA1:48.791:47.68
Brandon MooreSOBaylor1:48.881:48.53

Returners from NCAA indoor final:
1. Edward Kemboi, Iowa State 1:46.05
2. Dylan Capwell, Monmouth 1:46.70
3. Clayton Murphy, Akron 1:47.06
4. Brandon McBride, Mississippi State 1:47.16
7. Ryan Schnulle, Florida 1:50.93

Like the men’s 1500, the men’s 800 at NCAAs has the potential to be a terrific race. In addition to returning the top four finishers from NCAA indoors, four men have broken 1:46 heading into NCAAs, the most in recent history. As we pointed out in our 800 preview indoors, the men’s 800 is one of the deepest events in the NCAA right now.

Sub-1:46s prior to NCAA championships
2015: 4
2014: 2
2013: 0
2012: 2
2011: 3
2010: 0

Though one of those sub-1:46 men didn’t make it through to NCAAs (Alabama’s Alex Amankwah), the others — Penn State’s Brannon Kidder, BYU’s Shaquille Walker and defending champion Brandon McBride of Mississippi State — will all be on the line in Eugene. Each has a compelling case as to why they could be champion.

Kidder was only third at the Florida Relays in his outdoor opener on April 3 but has come on strong, running the fastest time in the country this year at Payton Jordan (1:45.58) in a race in which he defeated both Walker and NCAA indoor champ Edward Kemboi. He also took home a comfortable victory at the Big 10 Championships.

Walker, who has run 46.00 for 400 this year, ran 1:49.39 as a freshman to win the U.S. junior title but didn’t race at all in 2013 or 2014 while serving a Mormon mission to England. Now that he’s back stateside, the 21-year-old Walker has improved rapidly, running 1:47.44 and going undefeated until NCAAs indoors before getting down to 1:45.78 at the Sun Angel Classic on April 11. He and McBride are the only runners to have broken 1:46 multiple times this year, and though Walker didn’t make the final at NCAA indoors, he’s improved a lot since then and has the potential for more growth.

McBride prevailed in a tight race last year; can he become the first man to repeat outdoors since Andrew Wheating in 2009-10?

McBride (far right) prevailed in a tight race last year; can he become the first man to repeat outdoors since Andrew Wheating in 2009-10?

McBride should probably be the favorite. The defending champion, he has the fastest pb in the field and looked terrific in his qualifying heat at regionals, running 1:45.97. McBride admitted after finishing fourth at NCAA indoors that his focus was always on the outdoor season, and though he’s hoping to time his peak for later in the summer at Worlds, he’s already much further along than he was indoors. It’s a little unsettling that McBride couldn’t even win his conference meet, but the SEC is ridiculously loaded at 800 — 1:46.64 was only good for fourth place (McBride was second in 1:46.43). Last year, Ryan Schnulle, Patrick Rono and Keffri Neal finished third, fourth and eighth at SECs yet wound up second, third and fourth at NCAAs, so it’s definitely possible for McBride to move up, especially considering the man who beat him at SECs — LSU’s Julian Parker — didn’t make it to NCAAs (something may have been wrong as he only ran 2:00.41 and was dead-last in his heat at regionals).

Of course, we shouldn’t discount indoor champ Kemboi either. He’s tied for sixth on the NCAA list this year at 1:46.17, but he’s only tried for a fast time once this season as his only other 800s were at Big 12s (he won easily, running 1:48.42 in the final) and regionals. Kemboi didn’t lose an 800 indoors and was in a class of his own at NCAA indoors, running 1:46.05 in the final, the fastest time at the NCAA meet since 2001. But he also lost to both Kidder and Walker at Payton Jordan and didn’t even make the final at NCAAs last year outdoors. If the Kemboi from NCAA indoors resurfaces, he will be very difficult to beat. If not, he’s vulnerable to the men already mentioned.

Three other runners to watch for who haven’t run as fast outdoors:

  • Ryan Schnulle, Florida (1:46.89 sb). Schnulle was only fifth at SECs, but he’s shown a knack for running well at NCAAs, placing second last year. He’s made the last three NCAA finals (’14 indoor, ’14 outdoor, ’15 indoor); McBride is the only other runner to do that.
  • Dylan Capwell, Monmouth (1:47.20 sb). Capwell finished a surprising second indoors but is only 15th on the NCAA list as he hasn’t raced in any major meets and competes in a weak conference (he won the MAAC Championship 800 by 2.76 seconds). Undefeated at 800 this spring, he’s a threat at NCAAs.
  • Clayton Murphy, Akron (1:47.16 sb). Murphy beat McBride to finish third indoors but McBride turned the tables on him at Mt. SAC, running 1:46.28 to Murphy’s 1:47.98 (Murphy also lost to Arizona’s Collins Kibet in that race). Murphy did run a season-best at regionals, but he again was overshadowed by McBride, who ran 1:45.97 to win their heat.

LRC prediction: 1. McBride 2. Kidder 3. Kemboi

Men’s 3,000 Steeplechase (prelims Wednesday, 7:38 p.m. ET; final Friday 7:57 p.m. ET): Studs Stanley Kebenei and Anthony Rotich Will Battle

NameYearSchoolQualifying timePR
Zak SeddonJRFlorida State8:34.848:34.42
Mason Ferlic (4)JRMichigan8:35.458:35.45
Jackson NeffSROhio State8:36.888:36.88
Ole Hesselbjerg (3)SREastern Kentucky8:36.948:33.22
Mark ParrishSRFlorida8:37.648:37.64
Darren FahySOGeorgetown8:38.078:38.07
Edwin Kibichiy (11)SOLouisville8:39.448:33.78
Kyle King (12)JRVirginia8:39.728:39.72
Tripp HurtSRFurman8:41.638:41.63
John Prizzi (8)SRNew Hampshire8:42.248:42.20
Ryan GilSOGeorgetown8:42.468:42.46
Anthony Rotich (1)SRUTEP8:42.908:21.19
Stuart RobertsonSOVirginia Tech8:43.198:42.73
Mike HardySRWeber State8:43.998:41.44
Dylan LafondJRIllinois8:44.058:44.05
Tanguy Pepiot (6)SROregon8:44.638:33.42
Brandon Doughty (5)JROklahoma8:47.308:41.65
Meron SimonJRWashington8:48.198:48.19
Emil BlombergSRUT-Arlington8:48.608:36.98
Steve FlintSRBYU8:49.218:46.19
Stanley Kebenei (2)SRArkansas8:49.578:23.93
Connor WinterJRColorado8:49.888:48.93
Trac NorrisJRUtah Valley8:50.498:50.49
Bryce MillerSOUMKC8:50.518:50.51

Unlike the two other races in this preview, there men’s steeplechase is a two-man race. UTEP’s Anthony Rotich and Arkansas’ Stanley Kebenei went 1-2 in 2014 and they’re the only men in the field to have broken 8:30 (Rotich’s PR is 8:21.19 from NCAAs in 2013; Kebenei ran 8:23.93 at Payton Jordan this year). Barring a major upset, one of those two will be your champion on Friday.

Rotich has won the last two titles and though his season best of 8:39.70 is only seventh in the NCAA, he has yet to be tested in any of his races. He has run fast at other distances, setting a PR of 13:31 at 5,000 and running a 3:59 mile, and prior to winning his heat at regionals, he swept the 1500, 5,000 and steeple at the Conference USA Championships. No one has won three straight NCAA steeple titles since Arkansas’ Dan Lincoln from 2001 to 2003, but Rotich looks as if he has a strong chance to do it this year.

Kebenei has never beaten Rotich on the track. Can he turn the tables at NCAAs?

Kebenei has never beaten Rotich on the track. Can he turn the tables at NCAAs?

Rotich remains the favorite as he owns Kebenei on the track — he’s 7-0 across all distances and 3-0 in the steeple. This is Kebenei’s last, best shot at an NCAA title. Kebenei finished third in 2013 and second last year — hanging with Rotich until the final barrier, where Kebenei fell — and he’s had a better regular season yet in 2015. In 2013, his best regular-season steeple was 8:40.23 at SECs (he ran 8:36.09 at regionals and 8:24.45 at nationals); in 2014, his best regular-season steeple was 8:40.12 (he ran 8:35.27 at NCAAs). This year, he ran 8:31.86 at Mt. SAC and then PR’d two weeks later at Stanford, running 8:23.93.

So Kebenei, an American citizen who finished 8th at the U.S. Cross Country Championships in February, missing Team USA by one spot, appears to be in the best shape of his life. And considering that he’s only running the steeple at NCAAs — last year he also ran the 5,000, which meant he wasn’t fully fresh for the steeple (the 5,000 final was the day before).

The fact that he isn’t in the 5000 should help him in the steeple but the reason why he’s not in the 5000 does make us a little nervous as explained by arkansasonline.com:

“Kebenei had planned to run the 5,000 meters, but was scratched because of a sore calf.

“Kemoy and Stanley are nursing some injuries, but they’re great competitors,” [Arkansas coach Chris] Bucknam said. “Now they need to rest and recover and mend a little bit.”

We’ll still give Rotich the edge given his track record and the fact that he hasn’t gone all-out this year outdoors in the steeple (he was a respectable third in the NCAA mile indoors) but Kebenei is on the same level and a win by him wouldn’t constitute a surprise at all. If he wins, he’ll be just the second American winner in six years in the men’s steeple (Donn Cabral in 2012).

It would be a shock to see anyone else win, but this remains a strong field as the top six men from last year’s final all return. Ole Hesselbjerg, of Eastern Kentucky and Denmark, is the next-best returner (third last year) and has the second-fastest time in the country this year at 8:33.22, .56 ahead of Louisville’s Edwin Kibichiy (11th last year). Michigan’s Mason Ferlic, who was 13th at NCAA XC and fourth in the steeple last year, is also a threat after PR’ing at regionals with an 8:35.45. If you’re looking for a non-finalist from last year to break through, Florida State’s Zak Seddon led all qualifiers from regionals with an 8:34.84. Seddon, a Brit, ran 8:34 at age 18 and was the European junior champ in 2013.

Oregon’s Tanguy Pepiot has the third-best PR of anyone in the field at 8:33.24 but he ran that before he ever stepped foot on the Oregon campus and has regressed since then (the same could be said of Oregon 800 runner Niki Franzmair ,who showed up at Oregon this year with a 1:46.58 pb but didn’t make it to the meet).

LRC prediction: 1. Rotich 2. Kebenei 3. Hesselbjerg

Discuss the meet in our fan forum: Official 2015 NCAA Outdoor T&F Live Discussion Thread.

 


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