2016 NCAA Outdoor Men’s Mid-D/Steeple Preview: Clayton Murphy Vs. Izaic Yorks Vs. Henry Wynne In An Epic 1,500; 1:44 Men Brandon McBride & Shaquille Walker Battle In 800
June 6, 2016
The 2016 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’ll be previewing all the mid-d/distance events before the meet. Below you’ll find our previews of the men’s 800 (2014 champ Brandon McBride vs. 1:44 man Shaquille Walker) 1,500 (studs Clayton Murphy, Izaic Yorks and Henry Wynne do battle) and steeple (Mason Ferlic is favored to earn his first NCAA title).
Men’s 1,500 (prelims Wednesday, 7:46 p.m. ET; final Friday, 8:42 p.m. ET): In a Battle of Studs, Who Comes Out on Top?
Entries (2015 finish in parentheses)
|Izaic Yorks (13)||SR||Washington||3:37.74||3:37.74||2-time PAC-12 champ took down Henrik Ingebrigtsen & Evan Jager at Payton Jordan|
|Dillon Maggard||SO||Utah St.||3:43.37||3:43.37||3rd at Mountain West champs; didn’t make it out of prelims at NCAA indoors|
|Sam Prakel||SO||Oregon||3:40.11||3:40.11||4th at NCAA indoors|
|Clayton Murphy||JR||Akron||3:40.69||3:40.69||NCAA indoor 800 champ is undefeated outdoors — including 800 win over Boris Berian|
|Brannon Kidder||SR||Penn St.||3:38.82||3:40.11||One of the best in the NCAA over the past 4 years but this field is loaded|
|Andy Trouard||JR||N. Arizona||3:43.61||3:43.61||Big Sky champ has 3rd-slowest PR of anyone in the field.|
|Matthew Maton||FR||Oregon||3:39.97||3:39.97||Sub-4 HS miler has put it together outdoors; 2nd at PAC-12s behind Yorks|
|Matt Dorsey||JR||Air Force||3:43.65||3:43.65||Only 5th in 1,500 and 8th in 800 at Mountain West.|
|Josh Kerr||FR||New Mexico||3:42.09||3:42.09||Mountain West champ|
|Alex Rogers||FR||Texas||3:43.77||3:43.77||Big 12 3rd placer.|
|Robert Domanic||JR||Ole Miss||3:40.95||3:40.95||SEC runner-up.|
|James Gowans||JR||Cornell||3:42.47||3:42.47||Finalist indoors is first Cornell qualifier in 1,500 outdoors since Jimmy Wyner.|
|Chase Horrocks||JR||BYU||3:44.06||3:44.06||Slowest PR in the field.|
|Blake Nelson||SR||Washington||3:43.19||3:43.19||Ran 800 at PAC-12s and didn’t make the final.|
|Ben Malone||SO||Villanova||3:43.28||3:43.28||4th in Big East 800.|
|Craig Engels||JR||Ole Miss||3:38.82||3:38.82||SEC champ|
|David Timlin||JR||Ind. St.||3:42.22||3:44.38||Scored in 800, 1,500 and 5,000 at conference.|
|Henry Wynne||JR||Virginia||3:38.05||3:38.05||NCAA indoor champ is fit — ran 3:38 2x and is undefeated at 1,500 outdoors|
|Blake Haney (3)||SO||Oregon||3:40.09||3:40.46||3rd last year (top returner) and 2nd at NCAA indoors but didn’t make Pac-12 final|
|David Elliott (8)||SR||Boise St.||3:40.44||3:42.76||8th last year, 5th at NCAA indoors|
|Adam Palamar||JR||Syracuse||3:38.92||3:40.49||8th at NCAA indoors|
|Neil Gourley||JR||Va. Tech||3:41.14||3:42.70||ACC runner-up|
|Jordy Williamsz (5)||SR||Villanova||3:36.74||3:43.46||5th last year|
|James Randon||JR||Yale||3:40.15||3:40.15||Heps champ|
Returners from NCAA indoor mile final:
1. Henry Wynne, Virginia 4:06.63
2. Blake Haney, Oregon 4:06.75
4. Sam Prakel, Oregon 4:07.06
5. David Elliott, Boise St. 4:07.16
8. Adam Palamar, Syracuse 4:07.89
9. James Gowans, Cornell 4:08.14
Man, this is gonna be good. You’ve got the NCAA indoor mile champ, Henry Wynne of Virginia. The NCAA indoor 800 champ, Clayton Murphy of Akron, who has already beaten World Indoor 800 champ Boris Berian this spring. The NCAA leader, Izaic Yorks of Washington, who took down studs Evan Jager and Henrik Ingebrigtsen (5th at the ’12 Olympics) at Payton Jordan. The next great Oregon miler, Blake Haney, who is the top returner from 2015 and was the runner-up indoors. Villanova’s Jordy Williamsz, he of the 3:36 PR, going for his first NCAA title in his last collegiate race. Brannon Kidder of Penn State, five times an NCAA finalist but never a champion.
The Top Guys From Indoors
Story lines abound, and it makes for the most exciting distance race of this year’s NCAA Championships. Let’s begin with Wynne, who is looking to become the first man since Leo Manzano in 2008 to win the NCAA indoor mile and outdoor 1,500 in the same year. Wynne hasn’t done anything to hurt his case outdoors. He’s won all three of his 1500’s this year, run the #2 and #3 times in the country (3:38.05 and 3:38.35) and finished first in both his prelims at the East preliminary meet.
The NCAA indoor champ who’s kept it rolling outdoors? Normally he’d be a heavy favorite. But this is not a normal year. First, consider the way in which Wynne won his indoor title, controlling the race from the front and holding off Haney by .12 in the home straight. That’s an approach that can bring great success indoors, but it’s harder to pull off outdoors, where the turns aren’t as tight, it’s often windy and there’s more room for everyone else to maneuver. Haney actually closed faster than Wynne (54.17 to 54.48) for the final 400 indoors. This isn’t a knock on Wynne (winning is winning) but merely an observation that Wynne didn’t win by all that much against a field that was a lot weaker than the one he’ll face in Eugene.
We know Haney has big-time wheels (he was .16 from winning NCAAs last year as a true freshman) but his outdoor season has been rough. He finished over four seconds back of Yorks (5th overall) at the Pepsi Invitational on April 9, was smoked by Yorks again at Payton Jordan (3:37.74 to 3:40.46) and didn’t even make the final at PAC-12s, finishing 5th in his heat. The one silver lining is that Oregon’s runners are always focused on NCAAs and are often willing to sacrifice some poor results during the regular season for a hard peak in June. Haney has actually run faster than he did during the spring of 2015 and was only 4th at PAC-12s last year before taking 3rd at NCAAs.
Haney’s championship record (3rd and 2nd in 2 NCAA appearances) is exceptional, so we’re not counting him out, but he may not even be one of the top three 1500 guys on his team. Edward Cheserek is a stud (but he’s in the 5k/10k here) and both Sam Prakel (4th at NCAA indoors, 3rd PAC-12s) and Matthew Maton (2nd to Yorks at PAC-12s) are really, really good. Maton, who broke 4:00 last year as a high schooler in the mile, has had some ups and downs this year (he ran just 4:17 in his first collegiate mile), but he’s coming around at the right time, running a PR of 3:39.97 to take second to Yorks at PAC-12s. Maton’s got tremendous upside and it wouldn’t be a total shock to see him follow in Haney’s footsteps and place in the top three at NCAAs as a true frosh.
The New Additions
Washington’s Izaic Yorks has had a terrific senior year. Indoors, he ran 3:53.89 for the mile — the fastest time ever by an American collegian — put up a spirited fight against Cheserek and Oregon to lead the Huskies to 2nd in the DMR and came back the next day to take 4th in the 3,000. Outdoors, he laid the smackdown on Prakel and Haney at the Pepsi Invite on April 9, beat the pros to win the top heat at Payton Jordan in an NCAA-leading 3:37.74 and won the PAC-12 1,500. Like Wynne, he’s only improved on a strong indoor campaign and is a serious contender for the title.
Brannon Kidder has opted for the 800 at the last two NCAA Championships, taking 2nd outdoors last year and 7th indoors this year. He’s entered the 1,500 in his final NCAAs, but he’s essentially jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire as both events are loaded. With 1:45.58 speed, Kidder can certainly close, and he’ll have a shot here, especially if the race goes slow. He’s in good shape, too: he beat Josh Thompson, David Elliott and 3:53 miler Sean McGorty over 1,500 at Stanford on April 22, helped Penn State to two wheels at the Penn Relays (DMR and 4 x 800) and even beat teammate/1:46 man Isaiah Harris (the Big 10 indoor/outdoor champ) over 800 on April 9. The case against Kidder: he’s an outstanding runner, but, as has been the case throughout his career, there are a couple guys just a little bit better.
Villanova’s Jordy Williamsz is the #2 returner from last year and didn’t run an individual event indoors, opting to compete in solely the DMR. Despite his gaudy PRs (1:46.77/3:36.74), Williamsz hasn’t done anything amazing this spring (his only outdoor races came at the Australian Champs — yes, you can get an NCAA qualifier there — where he was 10th in the 1,500 and didn’t make it out of the prelims in the 800). Williamsz has name recognition but probably won’t take the title in Eugene.
All the guys we’ve mentioned so far are fabulous runners and it wouldn’t shock us to see any of them win this race. But with all due respect to the rest of the field, we’re not betting against Clayton Murphy. The Akron junior is a prodigy. Last year, as a 20-year-old true sophomore, he ran 1:45.59, won Pan Ams, got 2nd at NACACs and made the semifinals at Worlds. Indoors, he defeated one of the most loaded 800 fields ever at NCAAs and he’s gone undefeated so far outdoors. That includes a 1:46.71 800 win in poor conditions at Drake, a race in which he beat Boris Berian. Berian’s last race before Drake? Winning World Indoors. His next race after Drake? Winning the Diamond League 800 at the Pre Classic. Oh yeah, and Erik Sowinski, the bronze medalist at World Indoors, was in that race at Drake too. Clayton Murphy is good.
So, you might be asking, if Murphy is such a stud at 800 meters, why isn’t he running it at NCAAs? That’s a good question. He wouldn’t be a lock for the win there (2014 NCAA champ Brandon McBride has run 1:44.63 this year), but we don’t think Murphy is dodging anyone because the 1,500 is also stacked. Rather, he said a year ago that he planned to move up to the 1,500 this year (ironically, in the video above, Kidder says how he planned to stick with the 800).
The evidence so far shows Murphy’s best event to be the 800 (and he confirmed to Dave Hunter he’ll run the 800 at the Olympic Trials), but that’s because he’s never really been challenged over 1,500 (his PR is 3:40.69 from last year). He’s undefeated at the distance over the past two years, including commanding heat victories in the East prelims that saw him close in 54.86 in a 3:42 race and 54.36 in a 3:43 race. And given his ridiculous range (he has split sub-46 on the 4 x 400 and has run a 30:43 XC 10k), he should do just fine in the 1,500, especially once you factor in his mile PR is 3:57.11 (in a solo effort on February 6), third-best in this field behind Yorks and Haney.
We imagine Murphy is doing the 1,500 to give himself a little strength work before the Olympic Trials and also give an opportunity to see how he stacks up right now in what ultimately may be his best event. Plus, the metric mile is one of the marquee events in track and field. A win in the 1,500 at NCAAs will probably increase the large sum it’s going to take for some shoe company to sign Murphy in the coming weeks. We think there is little chance Murphy returns to Akron next year. It’s an Olympic year and the money is very high in Olympic years. He is the only collegiate mid-d runner who has a real good shot to be in Rio for the USA.
LRC Prediction: Murphy has the speed to win a slow race, the strength to kick well off an honest pace and as much big-race experience as you can get as a college junior. The guy with the best shot to take down Murphy is Yorks, who has shown the ability to run fast from the front. If he can manage a 3:36/3:37-low, he may have a shot to drop Murphy and the rest of the field. But that’s incredibly difficult to do without a rabbit. Murphy gets his first outdoor title.
We are VERY high on Murphy and think he might make the US Olympic team in either the 800 or 1,500.
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Men’s 800 (prelims Wednesday, 9:14 p.m. ET; final Friday, 9:47 p.m. ET): Expect a Really, Really Fast One
Entries (2015 finish in parentheses)
|Brandon McBride (6)||SR||Miss. St.||1:44.63||1:44.63||’14 champ has fastest NCAA time in 20 years|
|Isaiah Harris||FR||Penn St.||1:46.05||1:46.05||Big 10 indoor/outdoor champ as true frosh|
|Donavan Brazier||FR||Texas A&M||1:45.93||1:46.19||Frosh phenom appears to be healthy again; 3rd at SECs|
|Chris Sanders||JR||La Salle||1:46.65||1:46.65||A10 champ has PR’d by almost 2 secs this spring|
|Robert Heppenstall||FR||Wake Forest||1:46.92||1:46.92||Another frosh stud. ACC indoor/outdoor champ was 5th at NCAA indoors|
|Joseph White||SO||Georgetown||1:46.67||1:46.67||Big East champ didn’t make it out of prelims at NCAA indoors|
|Holland Sherrer||SR||Ole Miss||1:47.13||1:47.13||How good is the SEC? Sherrer didn’t even make SEC final|
|Sampson Laari||JR||Mid. Tenn. St.||1:47.15||1:47.15||From Ghana, was 3rd at Conf. USA.|
|Eliud Rutto||JR||Mid. Tenn. St.||1:45.37||1:45.59||NCAA runner-up indoors but only made it through prelims on time|
|Jesse Garn (4)||SR||Binghamton||1:47.03||1:47.11||4th last year (top returner) but final time qualifier from East in ’16|
|Shaquille Walker (5)||JR||BYU||1:44.99||1:44.99||5th last year, 3rd indoors. Only he and McBride have broken 1:45 in their careers|
|Hector Hernandez||SR||Texas A&M||1:46.15||1:46.15||4th indoors; 2nd SECs|
|Austin Mudd||SR||Wisconsin||1:47.52||1:47.52||3rd at Big 10s.|
|Nick Hartle||SR||UCLA||1:46.73||1:46.73||5th at Pac 12s, has good range as 113th at NCAA xc in 2014.|
|Mitch Hechsel||JR||Minnesota||1:48.30||1:48.30||Didn’t make final at Big 10s.|
|Daniel Kuhn||SO||Indiana||1:46.69||1:46.69||Big 10 indoor 600 champ and outdoor 800 runner-up.|
|Patrick Joseph||JR||Va. Tech||1:47.29||1:47.29||ACC runner-up.|
|Christian Harrison||SR||Georgia||1:46.69||1:46.69||4th at SECs.|
|Carter Lilly||SO||Iowa||1:47.32||1:47.32||4th at Big 10s.|
|Robert Uhr||JR||Texas||1:48.61||1:48.61||6th at Big 12s.|
|Clay Lambourne||SO||Utah St.||1:48.66||1:48.66||Mountain West champ|
|Brian Bell||FR||Houston||1:47.58||1:47.58||AAC champ|
|Ryan Thomas||SR||Arkansas||1:47.62||1:47.62||5th at SECs|
|Jonah Koech||FR||UTEP||1:46.8h||1:46.8h||Kenyan frosh was 6th in NCAA indoor mile|
Returners from NCAA indoor final:
2. Eliud Rutto, Middle Tennessee St. 1:46.81
3. Shaquille Walker, BYU 1:47.50
4. Hector Hernandez, Texas A&M 1:47.55
5. Robert Heppenstall, Wake Forest 1:49.06
The NCAA 800 lost some star power this year outdoors because NCAA indoor champ Clayton Murphy of Akron as well as Penn State’s Brannon Kidder, who was the top returner from a year ago) opted for the 1,500. But there’s still ridiculous depth, tons of young talent and another athlete has stepped in to fill the void at the top: Mississippi State’s Brandon McBride. McBride dominated the NCAA two years ago, sweeping the indoor and outdoor titles, but took a step back in 2015, finishing 4th at NCAA indoors and 6th at NCAA outdoors. Now, after not running an individual event indoors at NCAAs, he’s back and the 21-year-old Canadian is in the form of his life.
The biggest change for McBride this year has been an emphasis on strength work. Before 2016, McBride, who ran 45.89 at age 19, was very much a 400/800 type; he had never competed in a race longer than 800 meters. He punted on the 800 indoors, running a 1k/mile double (2:23.60/4:11.96) at the Armory Track Invitational in February and opting only for the 4 x 400 at NCAAs. Outdoors, he made rapid progress in the 1,500 early in the season, going 3:46.19 on March 25 before slicing another 4+ seconds off a week later to run 3:41.92. In late April, he switched to the 800 and the results have been nothing short of spectacular: a 1:46.14 opener, followed by a 1:44.63 on April 30, the fastest in the NCAA in 20 years and #3 all-time.
McBride won the SEC, the nation’s toughest conference in the men’s 800, handily, and simply cruised through the East prelims, running 1:44.89 in his quarterfinal. Some might look at that performance and say he went too hard; we say it’s a sign of dominance. In a field of stars, McBride shines brightest.
That’s not to say McBride’s unbeatable. As good as he is, we probably would have picked Clayton Murphy to beat him here if Murphy entered the 800. And Shaquille Walker, who on April 9 became the first collegian to run sub-1:45 in four years, is really good too. Remember, Walker was 6th at USAs last year, won the World University Games and finished 3rd indoors despite throwing up multiple times prior to the race due to the flu. With 400 speed comparable to McBride’s (46.00, 45.31 split on BYU’s 4 x 400 at the West prelims), he’s certainly a threat here.
There’s only one other guy we think has a chance to win: Middle Tennessee State’s Eliud Rutto. Rutto put a real scare into Murphy at NCAA indoors, taking second, and his only 800 defeat since then came to two-time U.S. champ Duane Solomon at Mt. SAC in a race where Rutto ran 1:45.59. However, it’s worth noting that Rutto only made it to NCAAs on time (though he was just .04 from winning his quarterfinal at the East prelims).
There are several other studs entered here but the top guys are simply too good for them to have a chance. True freshman Donavan Brazier, who set the world on fire with his 1:45.93 indoors in January before dropping out of his prelim at NCAAs due to back problems, has run 1:46.19 outdoors and will likely win an NCAA title before his career is over but now is not his time. Both he and teammate Hector Hernandez lost to McBride at SECs. Fellow superfrosh Isaiah Harris from Penn State, has run even faster than Brazier outdoors (1:46.05 in April) but that’s still over a second slower than McBride and Walker and he’s lost three times already to collegiate competition this year. UTEP freshman Jonah Koech ran a 1:46.8 hand-timed in Kenya last year but hasn’t bettered that mark in the U.S. (he ran 1:46.84 in April). That being said, Koech is a big time talent who won his heat at the Regional. He’s our “upset” pick if you looking to go out on a limb. Jesse Garn, last year’s top returner in fourth, has battled injuries and only made it to nationals on time.
LRC Prediction: This should be a great race between two speed demons in McBride and Walker. Both like to run from the front, which makes the start incredibly important: whichever one of them can reach the 200-meter mark first will have the advantage and will be able to control the race. We’ll go with McBride FTW, given his championship pedigree and faster times, but Walker will give him a run for his money.
One word of caution: in an 800 between two front-runners, athletes must walk a fine line between getting out fast but not too fast. McBride and Walker will have to remember that there are other guys in the race; if they both go out in 22.x fighting each other for the lead, they would become vulnerable to a blowup, opening the door for someone like Rutto to steal the win.
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Men’s 3,000 Steeplechase (prelims Wednesday, 8:02 p.m. ET; final Friday, 8:54 p.m. ET): Ferlic Favored For First Title
Entries (2015 finish in parentheses)
|Mason Ferlic (12)||SR||Michigan||8:28.77||8:28.77||NCAA leader by almost 5 secs will be favored to close out career with NCAA title #1|
|Jakob Abrahamsen||SO||E. Kentucky||8:34.04||8:34.04||21-year-old Dane ran a huge pb at Regional.|
|Jordan Mann||SR||Providence||8:38.28||8:38.28||Brown grad has taken off in 5th year with crosstown Friars|
|MJ Erb||JR||Ole Miss||8:39.11||8:39.11||Syracuse transfer was 3rd at SECs.|
|Edwin Kibichiy (9)||JR||Louisville||8:33.78||8:34.46||ACC champ was 9th last year|
|Benard Keter||JR||Texas Tech||8:39.92||8:39.92||Big 12 champ|
|Darren Fahy (11)||JR||Georgetown||8:35.25||8:40.12||Big East champ was 11th last year|
|Scott Carpenter||SO||Georgetown||8:40.14||8:40.14||Dreams do become reality, only a 9:25 2-miler in HS.|
|Willy Fink||JR||E. Michigan||8:40.60||8:40.60||MAC champ in 5k and steeple|
|Zak Seddon (8)||SR||Fla. St.||8:33.09||8:33.09||#2 time in NCAA but 2nd at ACCs|
|Troy Reeder||SO||Furman||8:41.94||8:41.94||Improved from 8:52 last year.|
|Elmar Engholm||SR||New Mexico||8:40.03||8:40.03||Mountain west champ has run 4:00 in mile.|
|Brandon Allen||JR||Iona||8:42.83||8:42.83||5th at IC4as in steeple.|
|Caleb Hoover||SR||N. Arizona||8:34.23||8:34.23||7th in ’14|
|Dylan Blankenbaker||JR||Oklahoma||8:41.24||8:41.24||Big 12 runner-up.|
|Bryce Miller||JR||UMKC||8:38.59||8:38.59||WAC champ in 5000 and steeple.|
|Bailey Roth||FR||Arizona||8:45.96||8:45.96||Broke 35-yr-old US HS steeple mark before college.|
|Aaron Nelson||SR||Washington||8:39.58||8:39.58||Pac-12 champ|
|Aaron Fletcher||SR||BYU||8:39.10||8:39.10||81st at NCAA xc.|
|Will Gray||SR||Virginia||8:45.82||8:45.82||5th at ACCs.|
|Adam Peterman||SO||Colorado||8:43.19||8:43.19||3rd at Pac 12s.|
|Andrew Gardner||SO||Washington||8:44.47||8:44.47||4th at Pac 12s.|
|Frankline Tonui||JR||Arkansas||8:39.82||8:39.82||SEC champ|
|CJ Albertson||JR||Ariz. St.||8:45.43||8:45.43||5th at Pac 12s.|
This will be Mason Ferlic‘s fourth straight trip to NCAAs in the steeplechase and the Michigan senior is favored to close out his collegiate career with his first title. UTEP’s Anthony Rotich, one of the NCAA’s all-time greats in the steeple, has owned the event in recent years, claiming three straight crowns from 2013 to 2015. But he’s gone now, along with the rest of the top seven from last year’s NCAA final, leaving Ferlic, Florida State’s Zak Seddon, Louisville’s Edwin Kibichiy and Georgetown’s Darren Fahy as the only returners from a year ago.
Ferlic, who was 4th in 2014 as a sophomore but 12th last year after a disastrous head-first fall into the water pit, announced himself as the favorite with his 8:28.77 (an NCAA leader by almost 5 seconds) at Payton Jordan and solidified it with a 15-second victory at Big 10s and the fastest qualifying time at the East prelims. Ferlic has also run 1,500 and 5,000 PRs this spring (3:44.67/13:37.56) and appears to be in much better shape than the rest of the NCAA. It may be in his interest to foist a fast pace upon the pack given that he has the best PR in the field in both the steeple and the 5,000 by a significant margin.
Ferlic’s biggest competition is Kibichiy, Seddon and Northern Arizona’s Caleb Hoover, who have a rock-paper-scissors situation going on. On April 1, Seddon beat Hoover at Stanford; a month later, Hoover beat Kibichiy at Stanford, while Kibichiy completed the cycle by beating Seddon at ACCs on May 14. Kibichiy’s PRs (3:45/8:33/13:47) are in the same ballpark but clearly inferior to Ferlic’s; Seddon (3:42/8:33) is faster over 1,500 but has never raced a 5,000 while Hoover (3:50/8:34/13:58) lags well behind.
LRC Prediction: All four of the guys we listed have a shot at the win, but 2016 has been the year of Ferlic and we expect that to continue in Eugene.
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Talk about the meet in our world famous fan forum / message board: MB: Official 2016 NCAA Men’s Outdoor Track and Field Discussion Thread.