NCAA Day 1 Recap: Terrific Field Action, Josh Kerr Is Thinking NCAA Record, & Florida’s Title Chances Take a Hit

June 6, 2018

EUGENE, Ore. — Day 1 of the 2018 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships is in the books, and it was a good one. The only track final of the day, the men’s 10,000, was a thriller, with Michigan’s Ben Flanagan running down Alabama’s Vincent Kiprop in the final meters. That race gets its own article here: LRC Upset City! Michigan’s Ben Flanagan Stuns Everyone to Win 10,000m Title

But a ton of other stuff went down, starting with the field events where Georgia’s Denzel Comenentia pulled off the hammer/shot put double, a massive 8.37m personal best from Ohio State’s Zack Bazile won the long jump (where the favored Grant Holloway failed to score), and a meet-record 5.83m clearance by South Dakota’s Chris Nilsen won the pole vault.

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There were also a few big casualties in the sprint prelims. In the 100, SEC champ Kendal Williams failed to advance to Friday’s final, while the #2 seed in the 400, Tennessee’s Nathan Strother (44.34 sb) will also be watching the final from the stands. In the distance events, all the big names got through to the finals; the most interesting thing that happened may have come after the races were over when defending champ Josh Kerr of New Mexico suggested that he may take a stab at his own collegiate record of 3:35.01 in the 1500 final.

Here are our biggest takeaways from the day’s action, followed by some of the best interviews we conducted in the mixed zone on Wednesday.

If you missed any of the action, full results can be found here.

Denzel Comenentia

Denzel Comenentia

1) Denzel Comenentia is leading the NCAA track meet by himself

Comenentia, the Georgia Bulldog via the Netherlands, won the hammer throw and then came back and won the shot put to become the third person ever to pull off the double.  (Cory Martin in 2008 and Jack Merchant in 1921 also pulled off the shot, hammer double h/t @UGAtrack). Perhaps more impressively than pulling off the double is that Comenentia is leading the NCAA track meet by himself after day 1 with 20 points.  That’s something Martin couldn’t say in 2008 (when the meet was held over 4 days). As for Merchant in 1921, we have no idea what was happening back then.

Comenentia afterwards said he wanted to win one event, but was ecstatic to win two.

2) Josh Kerr wants to do “something special” in Friday’s 1500 final

There’s very little that Kerr, a junior at New Mexico, has not done at the NCAA level. He’s won the last two indoor mile titles and last year’s outdoor 1500 record, and earlier this year he ran 3:35.01 to break a 37-year-old NCAA record. Though he didn’t say anything about it today, it’s very possible Kerr could turn professional after this meet, and he wants to do something special in Friday’s final, mentioning the collegiate record as one possibility.

“I never come here to just win championships,” Kerr said. “I’ve got three. You know, four, that’s one difference. How do I win them, that’s what I want. I beat arguably one of the best NCAA athletes there was in Edward Cheserek [at NCAA indoors in 2017]. I came back and did the outdoor a couple months later with the pressure on my shoulders. Indoor, I had a big setback with the DMR and I came back and did that. I just want to make my experiences even better and I want to make sure that every single has that little thing. I’m fit and I’m ready, so let’s try and do something special.”

We love that Kerr is willing to put a big goal out there, and it makes sense that he would want to do something special given how accomplished he already is. Kerr is absolutely the favorite, and we expect him to win. But favorites have lost here before, and Kerr’s words will serve as some extra motivation for a field already determined to dethrone him.

Kerr may want to do something special but Ole Miss’s Robert Domanic, who ran a 3:54 mile while redshirting last year, isn’t conceding anything as he knows he’s in the best shape of his life.

3) With modern technology, something needs to be done to account for the wind in the sprints.

Take a look at this.

Yes with a 3.2 m/s difference in wind readings, the two time qualifiers came from heat #3. That’s a shame.

The first heat of the men’s 100 prelims today was loaded. It featured:

9.93 man Cameron Burrell of Houston
2018 NCAA indoor 60 and 200 champ Elijah Hall of Houston
9.99 man and SEC 100/200 champ Kendal Williams

Williams didn’t run great – he was just 4th in 10.16 – and failed to move on. However, his 10.16 time converts to a 10.11 without any wind. That is a superior mark to the two guys in heat 3 who ran 10.05 with a 2.3 m/s tail-wind which converts to a 10.16 without any wind.

If they are going to bother to do wind readings, it only makes sense that they should use them to convert times for time qualification purposes. (Ski jumping in the Olympics factors in the wind). Williams wasn’t the only sub-10 guy to miss out on the final. Arkansas State’s Jaylen Bacon, who has a 9.97 pb, also didn’t advance after running 10.10 in heat #2 (+1.2 m/s wind). That converts to a 10.16 without any wind.

To his credit, Williams didn’t wallow in self-pity or complain about the wind. He said everyone runs in the same conditions (clearly not true) and came back with the #1 time on the day in the 200 (20.23).

While Williams didn’t get the result he wanted in the men’s 100, the men from the University of Houston certainly did. In addition to Burrell and Hall qualifying automatically out of heat #1, Houston’s Mario Burke ran 10.10 to win heat #2 and qualify for the final.

We interviewed all three below. Hall, who was only 7th at his conference meet in the 100, told us that sprint great and Houston assistant coach Carl Lewis told him nothing mattered except for this meet.

4) Ohio State’s Zack Bazile put together the greatest long jump series of his life

Bazile entered today’s long jump final with three career 8-meter jumps. Today, he bettered that mark four times in the same series — all wind-legal. The biggest of all was his 8.37 leap in round two (the longest jump by a collegian in four years), but his 8.17 in round 1 and 8.18 in round six were also farther than anything he had done in his life to this point (his PR coming in was 8.13).

Bazile, who now sits #6 on the 2018 world list (and #2 among Americans, behind only Jeff Henderson’s altitude-aided 8.44), said he’s been chasing 27 feet (8.23 meters) since his freshman year, and that everything managed to come together today. He also gave a shoutout to the crowd, admitting that “Hayward Field magic” may have played a role in his success.

5) The team competition is a lot more interesting now as Florida was awful in the long jump

Florida entered the meet heavily favored to win its third consecutive team title; Track & Field News had the Gators winning by 22 points. But in those projections, Florida was projected to get 16 points in the long jump from KeAndre Bates and Grant Holloway, who went 1-2 last year. But Holloway, who entered as the #2 seed, finished out of the points in ninth, while Bates could only manage two points in seventh. The Gators can still win the title on Friday, but they just lost a chunk of their margin for error.

6) Father/husband Chris Nilsen is putting up world-class marks in the PV, but he’s in no rush to go pro

South Dakota’s Nilsen cleared a meet-record 5.83 meters in the pole vault today, and that’s not even his best vault of the season — he went 5.86 back on May 5. The latter mark puts him #4 on the 2018 world list, but Nilsen has no designs on leaving South Dakota anytime soon.

“Right now I’m focusing on my college career and I’m trying to get through college first, especially now that I have a family to provide for,” Nilsen said.

That’s right. Nilsen, a 20-year-old sophomore, is married with a four-month-old son (his wife and son live in Kansas City, and Nilsen tries to visit on weekends when he is not competing) and said that between school, practice, and travel, he has essentially zero free time. It’s certainly not easy to balance all of that while being a world-class pole vaulter, but Nilsen seems to be doing just fine for himself.


Those were our main takeaways from today’s action, but we also recorded a bunch of interviews from the mixed zone. You can view them all here, but we’ve highlighted some of our favorite ones below by event.

Men’s 800

Quick Take: Michael Saruni took care of business today and is the heavy favorite in the final

Indoors, Saruni ran a poor race in his NCAA prelim and had to rely on a time qualifier before going on to win the final. Today, he went out in the middle of the pack but moved to the lead well before the bell and cruised home to win the heat with ease.

Saruni said that he feels as if he’s a “different runner” than last year — and not just because he’s over a second faster. One big difference is confidence as Saruni said that he has “1,000 percent” trust in his training.

Saruni is part of one of the best 800 groups in the world, as Emmanuel Korir won NCAAs last year and has won two DL 800s this year, while Jonah Koech also made the final today. So we asked: who wins the reps in practice?

Saruni wouldn’t give a straight answer, saying we’d have to wait until he and Korir race again, but that might not happen anytime soon.

“I don’t know [when we’ll race again],” Saruni said. “Right now, I’m focused on my school and track. Nothing else in mind.”

Michael Saruni didn’t have the quickest 800 time of the day, that honor went to Kansas’ Bryce Hoppel who broke 1:47 for the first time today

The sophomore Hoppel, who was 12th at the Big 12 meet and 8th indoors, ran 1:46.90 to win heat #2, an improvement over his 1:47.09 pb.

Penn State’s Isaiah Harris hasn’t been racing as much this year, and he feels healthier and fitter than ever

Men’s 1500

Don’t sleep on Michigan State’s Justine Kiprotich

Last year, Kiprotich surprised everyone by beating out Craig Engels for second behind Kerr. But this year he hasn’t improved his 3:42 pb from last year and was only second at Big 10s (he won last year). Kiprotich isn’t worried about any of that though. He says that while he was sick during the middle of the season, he’s in a better spot than last year, and anything less than the victory will be a disappointment. Remember, last year Kiprotich ran 3:42 and finished second. He just ran an SB of 3:43 at regionals and appears to be peaking at the right time.

“Everyone else matures differently,” Kiprotich said.  theymight have theirs come earlier than mine. We never know. I could be a 3:36 guy. Maybe the matutriy is not there yet. The training has been going really well so I feel like I’m in sub-3:40 shape for sure.

Ole Miss’s Everett Smulders only ran 4:15 in HS but made it to NCAAs a true freshman

Men’s Steeple

Houston steepler Brian Barraza is a little fortunate to be in the final, but thinks he’s in the best shape of his life

Barraza has the fastest pb in the field at 8:32, but he had to rely on a time qualifier to the final. Barraza was on track to qualify as he was fourth midway down the homestretch (five make it automatically) but he tried to shut it down too early, not realizing that Texas’s John Rice and Syracuse’s Aidan Tooker were closing hard right behind him. He wound up finishing behind both of them (.03 behind Rice, .02 behind Tooker) and having to sweat it out as a time qualifier.

Barraza admitted that he made a mistake as he thought he was “free and clear” but is feeling good about his fitness, saying he’s in the shape of his life. If that’s the case, and Barraza is close to 8:30 shape, he’ll be in the mix for the win, but he’ll need to run smarter in the final. Houston, a podium contender in the team competition, will be relying on him to support their deep sprint corps with some points.

NCAA steeplechase leader Obsa Ali is just hoping to be an All-American on Friday, but he could become a lot more

Minnesota’s Obsa Ali has only been running the steeplechase for 13 months, but he’ll enter Friday’s NCAA final as the fastest qualifier, the collegiate leader, and one of the favorites to win the title. His progression has been impressive, as he finished second in Big 10s in just the second steeple of his life last year and had gone from 8:51 to 8:44 to 8:36 in his three pre-NCAA steeples in 2018.

Ali admits that he’s still learning as he goes — he has to keep improving over barriers and learn how to race in a pack — but as he showed today, he has a strong kick. Ali said he’s just shooting to finish as an All-American, but if he’s close with a lap to go, he’s a serious threat to win it all.

Syracuse steeplechaser Noah Affolder has found success after treating racing like pickup basketball

Though Ali has three years on him, Syracuse freshman Noah Affolder has more experience in the steeple as he ran 9:06 as a high school junior in New York in 2016 (most states don’t feature the steeple at states, but NY does). He looked good in winning heat 2 today in a five-second pb of 8:40 and will be joined in the final by teammate Aidan Tooker, who also ran 8:40 today.

Affolder holds himself to a high standard — he was disappointed not to make Syracuse’s NCAA squad in cross country, which is not easy for a true freshman — and said that he hit a rough patch in the winter as he found it hard to adjust to collegiate racing (not that he was running all that badly — he still clocked 4:02 in the mile). But Orange assistant coach Brien Bell advised Affolder to relax and try to think about racing like pickup basketball.

“You try really hard when you’re playing pickup basketball, but afterwards and before, just sweat it off and don’t worry about it,” Affolder said. “…It’s worked for me so far.”

Be a fan and talk about this crazy race on our world famous fan forum / messageboard:

*Official 2018 NCAAs Day 1 Discussion Thread
*What!? Some guy I’ve never heard of just won the ncaa 10k!!!
  The unheralded Ben Flanagan of Michigan via Canada is your NCAA champ.
Men’s 10k Thread – Men’s 10k is on!!! 29 point first 200. The first lap was 60.94 as the three Alabama Kenyans tried to break free but they have been caught.
**WHAT THE HECK happened to BYU? They had the last 3 finishers in the 10k.
*Josh Kerr says he may go for the collegiate record in the final
*Georgia’s 9.99 man Kendal Williams and Arkansas State’s 9.97 man Jaylen Bacon are OUT of NCAA men’s 100 after 1st round

More: Full Day 1 Recap:  LRC Day 1 Recap: Terrific Field Action As Denzel Comenentia Leads The Meet By Himself, Josh Kerr Is Thinking NCAA Record, & Florida’s Title Chances Take A Hit

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