2017 NCAA Indoor Men’s 800 Preview: Penn State’s Isaiah Harris Leads a Field in Which Nine Guys Have Broken 1:47 This Year

By LetsRun.com
March 7, 2017

The 2017 indoor track and field season culminates this weekend at the 2017 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships in College Station, Texas. We’ll be on-site in the Lone Star State starting Thursday, but before we get down there we’ve previewed the mid-d/distance events so that you can know what to watch for at the meet. Below you’ll find our look at the men’s 800, which is loaded once again.

*Schedule/start lists/broadcast information *Men’s team projections & analysis *Women’s team projections & analysis * All LRC coverage

TV/Streaming: The meet will be streamed live on Watch ESPN.

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Men’s 800 (prelims Friday 8:20 p.m. ET, final Saturday 6:30 p.m. ET)

Name Year School PB SB Comment
Emmanuel Korir FR UTEP 1:46.75 1:46.75 Kenyan superfrosh set 600 WR in Jan. (since broken)
Patrick Joseph JR Virginia Tech 1:46.23 1:46.23 PR’d by over a second to win loaded ACC Champs
Michael Saruni FR UTEP 1:46.90 1:46.90 Swept 800 and mile at CUSA Champs
Daniel Kuhn JR Indiana 1:46.42 1:46.42 Big 10 600 champ went out in prelims at NCAA outdoors
Drew Piazza SR Virginia Tech 1:46.42 1:46.42 UNH transfer was ACC runner-up
Joseph White JR Georgetown 1:46.44 1:46.44 Olympic Trials semifinalist but only 11th in mile at Big Easts
Isaiah Harris SO Penn State 1:46.24 1:46.65 Big 10 champ was 6th at Olympic Trials last year
Eliud Rutto SR Mid. Tenn. St. 1:46.70 1:46.70 2016 NCAA runner-up was 2nd to Saruni at CUSA
Robert Heppenstall SO Wake Forest 1:46.71 1:46.71 5th at World Juniors last year for Canada; 3rd at ACCs
Andres Arroyo SR Florida 1:46.20 1:47.18 Florida would love for Olympic semifinalist/SEC champ to score some points here
Avery Bartlett SO Georgia Tech 1:47.32 1:47.32 4th at ACCs
Carter Lilly JR Iowa 1:47.33 1:47.33 4th at Big 10s
Blair Henderson SR LSU 1:47.34 1:47.34 2nd at SECs
Abraham Alvarado SR BYU 1:47.46 1:47.46 Ran 1:46 and reached Olympic Trials semis last year for DII Cal State Stanislaus
Craig Engels SR Ole Miss 1:47.54 1:47.54 Looked set to dominate NCAA after taking 4th at Olympic Trials but broke his clavicle this winter
Ryan Manahan SR Ole Miss 1:47.34 1:47.76 5th at NCAA indoors in ’15

Every year, we rave about the men’s 800 talent in the NCAA, and somehow every year, the event gets deeper. 2017 could be the hardest final to make ever as nine men have broken 1:47 this year compared to seven in 2016. This year’s field isn’t quite as strong at the top as last year’s (which featured the eventual Olympic bronze medallist and a guy who would run 1:43 and set the NCAA record outdoors), but it’s still totally loaded. It contains the fourth- and sixth-placers from the 2016 Olympic Trials (Craig Engels and Isaiah Harris) plus a guy who earlier this year became the first man in history to break 1:15 in the 600 meters indoors (Emmanuel Korir). Studs left and right.

With so many fast guys in the field, it’s tough to pick a winner, but we’ll do our best to sort through them. At the start of 2017, Engels was the presumptive favorite after his ridiculous double at the Olympic Trials (4th in the 800 and 5th in the 1500). But Engels broke his clavicle snowboarding this winter, which meant that he didn’t finish a race until February 11 and only snuck into the field after securing a qualifier on the final weekend. He could well be the most talented guy in this field, and he deserves props for recovering quickly and getting back out there this season. But he lost too much ground early in the season for us to pick him.

Korir is another guy whom we were high on early in the season as he set a world best at 600 meters (1:14.97) in January and ran 1:46.75 on February 4 (the fastest time in the NCAA this year after converting from altitude). But Korir hasn’t raced since February 10 as he developed an ankle injury that cost him two and a half weeks of running. Korir will toe the line in College Station, but as Donavan Brazier showed last year, even the best guy in the field is going to struggle if he’s not 100% healthy. Even if Korir’s ankle isn’t bothering him anymore, the missed training is a setback that most of the other guys in the field haven’t had to deal with.

Harris after setting the meet record at Big 10s last year as a freshman Harris after setting the meet record at Big 10s last year as a freshman

When we asked Korir’s coach, 1988 Olympic champ Paul Ereng, about one guy from another school to watch, he pointed us toward Penn State sophomore Isaiah Harris. We agree that Harris is the real deal. Undertrained as a high schooler in Maine, Harris has developed quickly into the next great Penn State middle distance runner. And as good as Brazier was in 2016, it was Harris, not Brazier, who advanced to the final of the Olympic Trials, taking sixth as a true freshman. Harris did lose his first race of the year back on January 14, a 1000 to Georgetown’s Joseph White, but since then he’s been incredible. His 1:14.96 600 on January 28 was faster than Korir’s and would have been a new world indoor best had Cas Loxsom not also surpassed the old mark in the same race. Harris then destroyed the field at Big 10s, winning the 800 by a full second in 1:47.23. He also produced an epic anchor leg in Penn State’s 4×400 to propel the Nittany Lions to the win in victory in school- and meet-record time. Harris is as talented is Korir/Engels with the added bonus that he’s healthy. And after running NCAAs indoors and outdoors last year plus the Olympic Trials, he’s experienced. He is the man to beat.

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But realistically, any of the nine men in the field who have broken 1:47 have at least an outside chance at victory. Virginia Tech’s Patrick Joseph had the most impressive run at his conference meet; he shed more than a second off his outdoor PR to run an NCAA-leading 1:46.23 and in the process take down a stacked field — finishers 2, 3 and 4 are all running NCAAs as well. Michael Saruni, like Korir, is another first-year UTEP runner from Kenya who has flourished in El Paso, going from 1:48.9 as a recruit to 1:46.90 and a pair of Conference USA titles in the 800 and mile.

He’s still very raw, however, and while Ereng believes he has superior endurance to Korir, racing against a bunch of guys at his level in a major meet is a lot for a rookie to handle.

“He has a huge natural array of ability,” Ereng said. “He has speed, he has strength, endurance. But we are dealing with a freshman…I would think their level (Saruni’s and Korir’s) is very, very close when it comes to racing. I think Emmanuel has more experience compared to Michael. Michael has come here and improved very quickly. We were surprised he was able to win the 800 and mile in the CUSA.”

Joseph White is another guy who has a real chance at the win, as he won a fast 800 at Iowa State on February 11. Like ACCs, that race contained three NCAA qualifiers, and he’s also the only collegian to beat Harris this year. But he was only 11th in the mile final at Big Easts. We don’t know whether that was due to a fluke like a fall or injury, but if White is in top form, he’s going to be tough to beat.

Three more guys we need to mention:

  • Daniel Kuhn, Indiana: He’s undefeated this year aside from a 400 back on January 7 and has so far specialized in the 600, where he ran a PR of 1:15.23 at Big 10s. He’s clearly very good but his lack of big-race experience puts him behind Harris for now.
  • Eliud Rutto, Middle Tennessee State: It seems like Rutto has been around forever: he made his first NCAA final all the way back in 2013, taking seventh in the 800 outdoors. He’s made three more since then, with his best result a surprise second-place finish last year behind Clayton Murphy indoors. As the top returner, he could easily win the thing, but he could just as easily miss the final. He’s also lost to White (at Iowa State) and Saruni (at CUSAs, twice) in recent weeks.
  • Andres Arroyo, Florida: Arroyo doesn’t just have the pressure of NCAAs; he’ll be counted on to score points for the favored Florida men as they try to fend off Edward Cheserek Oregon for the team title. Arroyo is a super talent — he ran 1:47 in high school, won SECs this year and advanced to the Olympic semifinals for Puerto Rico in Rio. But he also got spanked by White at Iowa State and his track record at NCAAs isn’t great. He’s made five trips to NCAAs but advanced to the final just once — the 2015 outdoor meet, where he finished last.

LRC prediction: In a stacked race, Harris has the best blend of talent and experience and he’s our pick for the win. But if you were to offer us Harris or the field, we’d definitely take the field. Whoever wins, Saturday’s final should be one of the best races of the meet.

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