Saruni (LF) and Koech (RT)

Flyin’ Miners Saruni, Koech Prepare for NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships

It’s a well-documented moment in the movies – and in sports lore – where the apprentice has the opportunity to surpass the mentor on the biggest stage.  For a UTEP runner and his coach, that moment and stage is the 2018 NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Indoor Track and Field Championships.

UTEP sophomore Michael Saruni currently holds the nation’s fastest time in the men’s 800-meter with a time of one minute and 44.89 seconds, which he set at the Texas Tech Classic on Jan. 27.

Saruni’s time is the second-fastest 800 time in NCAA history, just five hundredths of a second behind his mentor and coach, Paul Ereng (Virginia). The UTEP associate head track and field coach set the record in 1989 with a time of 1:44.84.

However, for Saruni and Ereng, beating records isn’t the priority going into the NCAA Indoor Championships.

“Records aside, I want him to win the race,” Ereng said. “If the record comes, let it come, but the win is the biggest thing for us, that is our goal.”

Saruni is one of two Miners headed to College Station, Texas for the NCAA Championships. Junior Jonah Koech returns to the big race as he ranks second in the nation for his 3:55.81 time in the mile.

The pair of Kenya natives have experience with this championship as they both qualified last season. Although they have familiarity with the competition, Saruni and Koech go to College Station with the mentality that numbers and records don’t determine the winner.

“This is a championship, nobody knows about the championship, It’s never been known,” Koech said. “A lot of things happen in championships, but I believe in myself and I am going to run my game.”

Saruni is aware of the accomplishments he has made but says that the only thing that goes through his mind during each race is to just keep going.

“I go race after every race, and I run each race like it is the finals,” Saruni said.

As far as strategy for the big race, Saruni says it all depends on how his body is feeling on the day of, but he doesn’t plan to run with the pack.

“I don’t like to run in a pack because that happened to me last year and I got tripped twice in nationals,” Saruni said. “I’ll try to run from either the front or the back but it depends on how my body talks to me that day.”

Entering the championships, Saruni is the top-seeded runner in the 800 with his 1:44.89 finish, nearly three seconds ahead the second seed runner Bryce Hoppel (1:47.09) from Kansas.

Coach Ereng believes that Saruni’s experience in the championships last season will help his performance this time around.

“He knows the competition so he doesn’t go there with a blank slate, and he knows how to execute a race much better than last year,” Ereng said.

Koech and Saruni enter the championships after a successful finish at the Conference USA Championships. Koech took first place in the mile with a time of 4:10.03, and Saruni finished the 800 with a gold medal for his time of 1:52.05.

Saruni, only a sophomore, has already garnered several accolades and accomplishments under his belt. He was recently named to The Bowerman Preseason Watch List. The recognition is regarded as the most prestigious collegiate track and field honor, and is made up of the top-10 track and field athletes in the nation.

“At least I have the guy who is number one, and number two in their respective events,” Ereng said. We just want to make sure we go there and compete and take things seriously.”

The NCAA Indoor Championships will be held on March 9 and 10, and are hosted by Texas A&M in College Station, Texas.

Author: Stephanie Shields, Special to the El Paso Herald-Post