By Steve Holt, Opinion Editor
The ACU women’s cross country team’s season ended Saturday when it failed to qualify for nationals at the South Central Region Championship in Warrens-burg, Mo. But two women from the team, which placed third Saturday, will represent ACU individually at the Division II Na-tional Championship for pla-cing in the top ten.
Junior Justine Nahimana placed fourth in the six-kilometer race with a time of 23:00, and Angie Waters continued a fine senior season by placing fifth in 23:06. The bid to the cross country nationals is Waters’ first, while Nahimana finished 10th at the 2000 championship meet to earn all-America honors.
“It’s exciting and I’m looking forward to it,” Waters said of nationals. “Though I’ve never run a meet without my team and I wish they would be there.”
The men’s team rolled to its third consecutive region title in perfect fashion, advancing to its fifth straight national meet. Wildcat runners filled the top five spots to earn ACU a pristine 15 points. Senior Alfred Rugema won his second career region title, covering the 10-kilometer course in 31:05.70. So-phomore Ber-nard Manirakiza bettered his fourth place finish of a year ago by placing second in 31:13.80, with defending champion John Kemboi taking third in 31:46. Junior Arthemon Sindayigaya was fourth in 31:59, and freshman Martin O’Kello finished fifth in 31:59. Juniors Jean-Marie Ndikumana and Nick Branen placed seventh and ninth, respectively, with times of 32:25.60 and 32:34.60. All seven Wildcat runners earned all-region honors.
Head coach Jon Murray said the ACU women’s teams have gradually improved over the years, but they had an unfortunate day Saturday.
“The women just fell a little short,” Murray said. “I’m proud of what these girls have done this season though. The seniors have really led this team, and I’m proud of them.”
Waters said ‘disappointed’ did not describe the feelings of the women after falling just short at region.
“We weren’t disappointed,” Waters said. “We have im-proved so much. We were looking back at times and places from our freshman year, and it’s amazing how far we’ve come.”
Rugema said the men’s team went into the region meet expecting a victory.
“We expected [a win] even before we ran at region,” Rugema said. “This is just another stop before nationals. We wanted to see where we are before nationals.”
The meet champion said the men stayed together through three miles, after which they began to spread out.
“We used a strategy we thought could be effective at nationals,” Rugema said. “At nationals it could be a fast race, so we were trying to see how we could handle the pressure if the race goes out fast.”
ACU has been ranked second nationally all season, behind a talented Western State team. The Mountaineers have taken four of the last seven Division II national titles, and are the favorites on paper to add to that this season. This season, however, ACU has arguably the best cross country team in its history, and will look to spoil Western’s dominance Nov. 23 in Ashland, Ohio.
Rugema said the key to an ACU victory will be solid races from the top to the seventh runner, with little gap between the third and fourth runners.
“What has happened the last three years is that we have dominated them in the front, but they have dominated us in the back,” said Rugema, the 2000 national champion. “If we close the gap, we can beat them.”
Murray said this team is very focused on the task at hand–winning nationals.
“The guys are very serious,” Murray said. “They know the job they have to do. It’s just going to be all or nothing on the day of nationals.
Rugema acknowledges that the opportunity to claim its first ever national title is a definite possibility.
“It could happen in two weeks,” he said.