By Steve Holt, Sports Writer
For the second major meet in a row, the ACU men’s cross country team had a win in the bag, except for one missing detail-one of its top runners.
With No. 4 runner Jean-Marie Ndikumana sidelined after a minor surgery Thursday to remove a cyst from his Achilles tendon, ACU managed to place fourth among heavy Division I competition at the Chile Pepper Festival in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday. Arkansas was the team champion with 78 points, followed by Oklahoma with 130 points and Alabama with 154.
Three Wildcat runners finished in the top seven in a race that featured Arkansas, Oklahoma and Alabama, among other Division I teams. Junior Bernard Manirakiza was the top ACU runner once again, completing the 10-kilometer course in 29:39.50 for a third-place finish. Sophomore Martin O’Kello placed sixth in the race with a time of 30:03.76, followed by senior Arthemon Sindayigaya in seventh with a time of 30:04.34. Senior Nick Branen was 25th in the race, finishing in 30:42.59.
After Branen, ACU’s next finisher was senior Justin Thompson, who finished in 143rd with a time of 33:38.01. With a healthy Ndikumana, ACU would have scored under 50 points, well below Arkansas’ winning total of 78.
“We scored 41 points through four runners; 78 won it,” head coach Jon Murray said.
Points aside, Murray said the meet was good preparation for several important meets in the coming weeks.
“This one we ran 10,000 meters, looking at what nationals is going to be like,” Murray said. “I think it reflects well on what we’ll be doing in the future.”
The women’s team placed 24th of 37 teams, despite being without senior star Justine Nahimana. Sophomore Yuliya Stashkiv was the top runner for ACU, placing 26th in 21:45.65 on the six-kilometer course. Murray called her performance Saturday “average.”
“Her back had bothered her this last week; she hadn’t really worked out too much,” Murray said. “It was a tough racing situation.”
Sophomore Abbie Waters set a personal best for the distance Saturday, finishing 98th overall in 23:08.54. Waters said the performance was satisfying at this point in the season.
“It’s really exciting because everything is coming together just exactly how I want it to,” Waters said. “Coach Murray is building us up for the end of the season.”
She said the women’s team is in a good position entering the end-of-the-season meets.
“Coach Murray wasn’t going to let us go to Arkansas unless he was sure we would win conference, so I think we have a really good chance of doing that,” Waters said.
With Ndikumana likely returning to the men’s team for the postseason meets, the women’s team hopes to have the talent of true freshman standout Olha Kryvyak for its final meets. Kryvyak suffered a severe heat stroke in August and has been training to get back to her old form since then.
“We really need her,” Waters said. “But I’m scared for her too; I don’t want her to get injured again. I think she’ll only be able to help us a lot.”
The Lone Star Conference Championships for the men and women begin Saturday in Portales, N.M. The ACU men have won the last 12 conference titles, while the women have won the last two.