Penn State Junior and former Lewiston High School standout Isaiah Harris tucks into the middle of the pack before passing Erik Martinsson of UT-Arlington and Indiana’s Daniel Kuhn during the first lap of the mens 800 meter semifinal heat at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon Wednesday night. He won his heat with a time of 146.99 to advance to Friday night’s finals in the NCAA Division 1 Track and Field Championships. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

EUGENE, Oregon — Lewiston High School graduate Isaiah Harris won his preliminary heat in the 800-meter run at Hayward Field at the NCAA championships Wednesday night, qualifying third overall with a time of 1 minute, 46.99 seconds.

Harris, a junior at Penn State and the Big Ten champion in the 800, took the lead at about 600 meters and defeated Mississippi State’s Marco Arop, who had edged him out for the victory at the NCAA East Regional.

“It’s always good to treat every prelim like it’s a final,” Harris said. “When the final comes around, you’ll be tired, but everyone is tired.”

Kansas freshman Bryce Hoppel won the second heat and qualified first in 1:46.90, and UTEP sophomore Michael Saruni qualified second in 1:46.98, which won the first heat. They will race for the NCAA title on Friday night.

Harris finished second in the 800 last year when Saruni tripped over his own teammate, which launched Harris into second place. He came into this NCAA championships — the last at Hayward Field, which will be demolished after the meet — riding a wave of momentum.

Harris became the first Nittany Lion to win the Men’s Track Athlete of the Big Ten Championship, where he posted a season-best time of 1:45.31, to earn his sixth Big Ten championship, indoor and outdoor combined.

This year’s NCAA championship brings a new chapter in the rivalry between Harris and Saruni.

Harris has finished second in the past two NCAA championships. He benefitted from Saruni’s fall to earn second in the 2017 outdoors, but finished second behind the UTEP runner at the 2018 indoors this past March.

The two are the top two contenders, though Saruni has been much less consistent in his times than Harris, who tends to post times in the 1:45 region. Saruni also failed to win the Conference USA title this season, whereas Harris won the Big Ten title with a season-best run.

Both favorites said they feel more confident heading into the final than they did last year.

“Quite a lot has changed, both mentally and physically,” Saruni said. “I’m more relaxed, more confident and more prepared.”

Harris believes he’s in the best shape he can be in to win the title after racing less during the regular season.

“I’m feeling good, really healthy,” he said. “Last year I raced a lot, and I got a little banged up with some small injuries. This year we pushed it back. I feel really good, and no little injuries.”

He said he thinks he is capable of beating Saruni.

“I think Friday is gonna be a lot of fun because I’m ready to win and I’m sure he’s ready to win,” Harris said. “I always say anyone can be beat.”

Saruni, who watched a replay of last year’s final and his fall for the first time Tuesday night, would not divulge his race strategy but said he will have his eye on Harris.

“I know he’s a strong competitor, great stamina,” Saruni said. “He doesn’t quit anything, so it’s going to be a really good show for the fans.”

Penn State Junior and former Lewiston High School standout Isaiah Harris explodes out of the start of the third mens 800 meter semifinal heat at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon Wednesday night. He won his heat with a time of 146.99 to advance to Friday night’s finals in the NCAA Division 1 Track and Field Championships. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Penn State Junior and former Lewiston High School standout Isaiah Harris tucks into the middle of the pack before passing Erik Martinsson of UT-Arlington during the first lap of the mens 800 meter semifinal heat at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon Wednesday night. He won his heat with a time of 146.99 to advance to Friday night’s finals in the NCAA Division 1 Track and Field Championships. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Penn State Junior and former Lewiston High School standout Isaiah Harris crosses the finish line ahead of Mississippi State’s Marco Arop during his 800 meter semifinal heat at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon Wednesday night. He won his heat with a time of 146.99 to advance to Friday night’s finals in the NCAA Division 1 Track and Field Championships. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Isaiah Harris looks up at the giant screen to see his time after winnning his heat and advancing to the finals of the D1 Track and Field Championship race in Eugene, Oregon Wednesday night. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)

Penn State Junior and former Lewiston High School standout Isaiah Harris explodes out of the start of the third mens 800 meter semifinal heat at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon Wednesday night. He won his heat with a time of 146.99 to advance to Friday night’s finals in the NCAA Division 1 Track and Field Championships. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)


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