2023 NCAA M800/1500 Preview: 3 NCAA Champs Square Off in a Stacked 1500

The 2023 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships are upon us. The meet, which will be hosted by the University of Texas at Austin — just the second time in the last 10 years it has been held outside of Eugene — kicks off Wednesday and will run through Saturday, with men’s track finals (minus the 10k) on Friday and women’s track finals (minus the 1ok) on Saturday. It’s always one of the best meets of the year, and the 2023 edition promises to be no different.

The two biggest stars this year are both on the women’s side, and both are testing their limits by pursuing difficult doubles: Arkansas’ Britton Wilson in the 400 and 400 hurdles and NC State’s Katelyn Tuohy in the 1500 and 5000. We’ll preview the women’s events tomorrow but we’re kicking off our previews on the men’s side with a look at the 800 and 1500 meters below. Be sure to visit LetsRun throughout championship week as we’ll have myself and Robert Johnson on-site in Austin for analysis and athlete interviews.

*Schedule *Start lists

Men’s 800: Bizimana aims for sweep, Anderson looks for redemption

(Prelims Wednesday 9:14 p.m. ET, final Friday 10:14 p.m. ET. Times below are from regionals, regular season times here)

  1  Aidan McCarthy                SO Cal Poly            1:46.26 
  2  Sam Whitmarsh                 SO TX A&M              1:46.36 
  3  Abdullahi Hassan              JR Wisconsin           1:46.56 
  4  Crayton Carrozza              JR Texas               1:46.77 
  5  Christopher Conrad            SR Missouri            1:46.79 
  6  Matthew Erickson              SO Oregon              1:46.84 
  7  Sam Ellis                     SO Washington          1:47.00 
  8  A J Green                     JR Kansas              1:47.34 
  9  Kash Powell                   JR Long Beach St       1:47.47 
 10  Yusuf Bizimana                JR Texas               1:47.59 
 11  Mehdi Yanouri                 JR OK State            1:48.16 
 12  Jacob Rodin                   SR ND State            1:48.60 
 13  Nicholas Plant                FR VA Tech             1:49.21 
 14  Will Sumner                   FR Georgia             1:49.22 
 15  Navasky Anderson              SR Miss State          1:49.43 
 16  Tarees Rhoden                 JR Clemson             1:49.70 
 17  Sean Dolan                    JR Villanova           1:49.89 
 18  Tiarnan Crorken               SR Ole Miss            1:50.01 
 19  Ahmed Kadri                   SO E. Kentucky         1:50.16 
 20  Conor Murphy                  JR Virginia            1:50.23 
 21  Olivier Desmeules             JR Penn State          1:50.31 
 22  Baylor Franklin               SR Ole Miss            1:51.48 
 23  Dugion Blackman               SO Hampton             1:51.61 
 24  Handal Roban                  FR Penn State          1:51.67

So far, 2023 has been a bit of a down year in the men’s 800 at the collegiate level. Only one DI athlete, Yusuf Bizimana of Texas, broke 1:46 during the regular season, the fewest since 2013. In fact, the best NCAA 800 runner appears to actually be in Division II: Angelo State’s Oussama El Bouchayby, who has run faster than any DI athlete (1:45.31) and convincingly beat Bizimana, the NCAA indoor champ, at the Texas Relays in March (El Bouchayby is transferring to Alabama for next year). This year’s NCAA indoor final was also a bit underwhelming as the man who crossed the finish line first, Mississippi State’s Navasky Anderson, was DQ’d. The DQ was legit, but that’s not how anyone wants to see an NCAA title determined.

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All that said, championship 800-meter races are usually awesome, and while the times haven’t been crazy fast this season, there is still talent in this field. Georgia’s Will Sumner is the most tantalizing prospect. A high school phenom (his 1:46.53 last year put him #3 on the all-time US HS list), Sumner has been very impressive as a true freshman, winning the SEC titles indoors and out and splitting 44.76 on Georgia’s 4×400 at NCAA indoors. The knock on Sumner is that he was only 7th at NCAA indoors.

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Bizimana, the indoor champ, has stayed hot outdoors, winning the Big 12 title comfortably and winning his heat at regionals. As a Texas Longhorn, he’ll also get to compete in front of his home crowd, though he was beaten by Ole Miss’ Tiernan Crorken in Austin earlier this season at the Texas Relays.

The fastest man in the field by personal best is Jamaican Navasky Anderson, who ran 1:45.02 to finish 2nd in last year’s NCAA final. It’s slightly concerning he didn’t run SECs outdoors, but only slightly — he didn’t run SECs indoors, either, and still ran great at NCAA indoors.

In terms of talent/potential, Anderson, Sumner, and Bizimana are something of a “Big Three” but there are a few other guys worth monitoring:

  • Abdullahi Hassan, Wisconsin: Hassan was a top high school prospect in Canada, running 46.83 and 1:47.59 the summer after his junior year in 2019 before his senior year was wiped out due to COVID. He didn’t make it out of the heats at NCAAs in 2021 or 2022, but he’s flashed his potential this year, particularly on relays, where he helped Wisconsin to the DMR title at Penn where his 1:47.13 split was 2+ seconds better than every other 800 leg.
  • Tarees Rhoden, Clemson: Rhoden was 4th indoors and has some of the best speed in the field — he was the ACC 400m champ, running 45.60.
  • Sam Ellis, Washington: Ellis was 3rd in the 1500 last year, so it’s curious that he’s running the 800 this year (though Washington already has two NCAA champions among its 1500 crew). He won the Pac-12 title in this event, though, and his mile strength could help with the rounds.
  • Aidan McCarthy, Cal Poly: First-year Cal Poly coach Ryan Vanhoy was known for his mid-d prowess at Ole Miss, and he’s found immediate success out west with McCarthy, who took almost a full second off his pb to run 1:46.26 — the fastest time of anyone at regionals.

Who wins the m 800?

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JG prediction: Recent history says it’s a coin flip as to whether Bizimana can pull off the indoor/outdoor sweep: five of the last 10 NCAA indoor champs went on to win outdoors. Bizimana hasn’t done much wrong outdoors, but I’m drawn towards Anderson, whose 1:45.02 runner-up finish at NCAAs last year is the single best 800 race by anyone in this field. If he can do that again in Austin, he’s going to win.

Sumner gives off some of the same vibes as Donavan Brazier in 2016 — a prep star who had a strong debut season in the SEC before exploding at NCAAs. It’s not fair to expect Sumner to break out to the degree Brazier did at NCAAs that year, running a collegiate record of 1:43.55 in the final, but it does feel as if he is on the verge of a breakthrough race.

At NCAAs, though, a few years’ experience can make a big difference. The last two winners of this event were 24 years old (USC’s Isaiah Jewett in 2021, Texas Tech’s Moad Zahafi in 2022) and between the 19-year-old Sumner and the 23-year-old Anderson, I’m going with the veteran. Anderson FTW.

Men’s 1500: This is going to be fun

(Prelims Wednesday 7:46 p.m. ET, final Friday 9:12 p.m. ET. Times below are from regionals, regular season times here)

  1  Nathan Green                  SO Washington          3:38.13 
  2  Fouad Messaoudi               SO OK State            3:38.75 
  3  Adam Spencer                  SO Wisconsin           3:38.90 
  4  Isaac Basten                  JR Drake               3:39.42 
  5  Cathal Doyle                  SR Portland            3:39.66 
  6  Alex Stitt                    SO OK State            3:40.62 
  7  Christopher Middleton-Pearson JR OK State            3:40.88 
  8  Liam Murphy                   SO Villanova           3:48.35 
  9  Ezekiel Rop                   JR IA State            3:49.07 
 10  Mael Gouyette                 SR Iona                3:49.27 
 11  Finn Walsh                    SO Pittsburgh          3:49.34 
 12  Ethan Strand                  FR North Carolina      3:49.40 
 13  Sean Donoghue                 SO Villanova           3:49.50 
 14  Evan Dorenkamp                JR Penn State          3:49.50 
 15  Joe Waskom                    JR Washington          3:49.54 
 16  Matthew Payamps               JR Georgetown          3:49.56 
 17  Luke Houser                   JR Washington          3:49.60 
 18  Colin Sahlman                 FR No. Arizona         3:50.01 
 19  Garrett MacQuiddy             JR California          3:50.08 
 20  Nick Foster                   SR Michigan            3:53.77 
 21  Anass Essayi                  SO South Carolina      3:53.83 
 22  Jesse Hunt                    SR North Carolina      3:53.91 
 23  Gavin Gaynor                  SR NC State            3:53.95 
 24  John Petruno                  SR Mich State          3:54.12

One of the great things about a championship 1500 is you never quite know what you’re going to get. That doesn’t really apply anymore in global finals — with Timothy Cheruiyot and Jakob Ingebrigtsen around, you know it’s going to be fast — but it still does at the NCAA level. The last seven winning times in the 1500/mile are all over the place: 3:54, 3:36, 3:43, 3:44, 3:41, 3:35, 3:45. At the NCAA Championships, you have to be ready for anything.

That is especially true in 2023, where the 1500 is as wide-open as it’s been in years. How often do you get three NCAA champions lining up for the same event at NCAAs? That’s what we’ve got with Oklahoma State’s Fouad Messaoudi (2023 3k champ) and the Washington duo of Joe Waskom (2022 1500 champ) and Luke Houser (2023 mile champ). And the crazy thing is, it’s possible none of those guys wins the title on Friday. You can make a case for at least eight guys to win this race. Let’s run through each of them.

Fouad Messaoudi, Oklahoma State (3:35.16 pb)

Messaoudi had the best kick in the country at NCAA indoors, dusting everyone on the final lap of the 1200 leg in the DMR (he handed off with a 2-second lead) before coming back to win the 3k the next night with a 26.77 last lap at the end of a 7:48 race at 4,959 feet of elevation (that’s really good). He’s been impressive outdoors, running an NCAA-leading 3:35.16 at Bryan Clay (#6 all-time NCAA) and running 3:36 to win Big 12s.

But it’s a little different kicking against 3k guys as opposed to pure milers. At the Penn Relays, Messaoudi was in great position on the final turn in the 4 x mile (2nd on the leader’s shoulder) but got dusted and wound up 6th. The leader-to-leader split on that anchor leg was just 4:10. If NCAAs goes slow, will he be able to hang?

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Joe Waskom, Washington (3:35.86 pb)

Normally you wouldn’t pick a guy who just finished 11th at Pac-12s to win the national title (to be fair he’d already run the steeple the day before and lost a shoe). But then again, you also wouldn’t pick a guy with a 3:40 pb who had moved over from the steeple midway through the season — and that was what Joe Waskom did before winning NCAAs last year, beating Ole Miss’s Mario Garcia Romo who’d go on to get 4th at Worlds (just .30 behind a medal).

One thing Waskom did have going into last year’s meet was momentum as he had won the Pac-12 title a few weeks earlier. In 2023, Waskom has had some huge races (3:51 mile indoors, 3:35 at Bryan Clay outdoors) and some stinkers (Pac-12s). Indoors, he was 4th at NCAAs but may have been higher had he not run the 1200 leg of the DMR the night before. Whether Waskom can repeat — no one has done it in this event since Oregon’s Mac Fleet in 2013 and 2014 — depends on which version shows up in Austin.

Luke Houser, Washington (3:37.51 pb)

It’s kind of wild that Houser won the mile at NCAA indoors. Consider: Houser has run five 1500/mile races in 2023. Indoor NCAAs was the only race in which Houser finished in the top four, let alone won. Of the other four, Houser was beaten by at least one Husky teammate in three of them — and in the fourth, he was the only UW runner in the race. And yet, you can’t just ignore the NCAA mile champion. Houser won his indoor title not just by fitness, but by his tactics, getting to the front with 600 to go and controlling the race masterfully over the final three laps. And he was 5th in last year’s outdoor final, making him the #2 returner behind Waskom. He’s a championship runner. That being said, he was only 7th at Pac 12s.

Nathan Green, Washington (3:37.46 pb)

Based on outdoor form, Green is the Washington athlete with the best shot at winning NCAAs. Green dealt with a nerve impingement earlier this spring which meant he didn’t race until Pac-12s, but when he returned, he was sensational, winning the 1500 in 3:42 with a 51.90 last lap. That is NCAA title-winning speed — by comparison, Waskom won NCAAs last year by closing in 53.26 to win in a 3:45 race.

Anass Essayi, South Carolina (3:34.58 pb)

Essayi, a 2021 Olympian for Morocco, has been dropping fast times since arriving in the NCAA last year, but that has yet to translate to championship success. Last year at NCAAs, he strained his hamstring in his prelim and wound up dropping out. This year, Essayi ran the second-fastest mile in NCAA history (3:50.46) but was only 3rd at NCAA Indoors. Does he have the racing chops to succeed if NCAAs turns tactical?

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Liam Murphy, Villanova (3:39.42 pb)

Murphy has never even made it to NCAAs before, let alone won a national title. But if you don’t think he can win, why not ask the six guys he mowed down in the final 200 to win the Penn Relays 4 x mile for Villanova, a group that includes NCAA champs Luke Houser and Fouad Messaoudi? That race showed Murphy can kick with anyone, though it’s TBD how he responds to a fast race. And one has to wonder whether the superpowers Villanova athletes receive from the track gods at Franklin Field every spring will travel with Murphy to Texas.

Adam Spencer, Wisconsin (3:37.40 pb)

If Murphy is a potential winner, Spencer has to be as well as he had a virtually identical weekend at Penn — Murphy anchored Villanova to 2nd in the DMR, 1st in the 4 x mile, while Spencer anchored Wisconsin to 1st in the DMR, 2nd in the 4 x mile. Spencer also has impressive 800 speed, as he ran 1:46.84 to finish 2nd at Big 10s.

Isaac Basten, Drake (3:36.99 pb)

Basten was just .03 from an NCAA title indoors, a race he said afterwards will haunt him for the rest of his life. Well, maybe not if he wins this one. Basten is the most experienced guy in the field, with four NCAA finals under his belt (12th outdoors in ’21, 5th indoors and 10th outdoors in ’22, 2nd indoors in ’23) and he will have to use every ounce of his savvy to defeat a field of this caliber.

Honorable mention: Colin Sahlman, NAU (3:38.30 pb)

Sahlman is a longshot to win in Austin, but the fact that he made it to NCAAs as a true freshman is a success story. In a vacuum, it’s not that crazy — Sahlman was the third-fastest miler in prep history (3:56.24) — but he had a slightly rocky start to his collegiate career as he 151st at NCAA XC and was only 5th in the mile at the Big Sky champs indoors.

It can take a few months for an athlete coming from sea level to get used to training in Flagstaff (elevation: 7,000 feet), and this spring, it appears Sahlman’s adjustment period is over. He has run pbs in the 800 (1:46.99), 1500 (3:38.30), and 5000 (13:42.98) and now he’s heading to NCAAs in the 1500. No true freshman has won this event since Oklahoma State’s German Fernandez in 2009, and there’s little chance of Sahlman doing that against such a strong field. He’s done well just to make it to Austin, and if he can make the final, that will be the cherry on top of a strong rookie outdoor season.

Who wins the m 1500?

Your vote has been counted. Thank you!

JG prediction: Compared to other sports, track & field does not have a lot of strategy. Sprints? Try to run as fast as you can. Long distance? The fittest runner almost always wins. The 800 and 1500 have always been the events where strategy could have the biggest impact. Great tactics and positioning aren’t always enough to overcome superior fitness, but it happens enough to make things interesting. I love rewatching a race and seeing how the winning move came together (and where the losers may have missed an opportunity).

On the world stage, the new fast-paced style of 1500 running has somewhat marginalized strategy, but it’s alive and well at the college level, whether at the NCAA championships or the Penn Relays. That’s why I’m so excited for this race. Grab a bunch of great runners, throw them on the track together, and give them 1500 meters to figure it out. It’s chaotic and wonderful.

Oh, you want to know who’s going to win? Depending on the way the race goes, all of the men above could have a shot. Liam Murphy’s kick to win the 4 x mile at Penn was one of the best things I’ve seen this season, but each of these guys have had their own moment.

If I have to pick one guy, I’m going with Nathan Green of Washington. I know I just said I love the strategy and chaos of the 1500, but the fact is if you can close in 51 seconds in a 3:42 race, not many runners are going to be able to beat you. If Green can replicate that sort of performance at NCAAs, I just don’t see how he loses.

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