By Steve Holt, Sports Writer
To win big meets, everyone has to be healthy.
The men’s cross country team learned this lesson in a big way at the Cowboy Jamboree in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, finishing fifth at a meet the Wildcats won in 2000. ACU was without one of its top runners, senior Jean-Marie Ndukimana, who has been hampered lately with an Achilles tendon injury.
The Wildcat men finished with 186 points, behind Georgia (85), Arkansas (94), Kansas (117) and Oklahoma State (143). Junior Bernard Manirakiza was the top ACU finisher, placing third in the eight-kilometer race in 24:10. Head coach Jon Murray said that score would have been more than cut in half had Ndukimana been healthy.
“It just showed our weakness of not having five complete close runners, so that kind of hurt our score a lot,” Murray said. “I felt like, as a group, we could probably win that whole meet relatively easily. But that’s just how it goes, and Jean-Marie’s coming back from his injury, so things will be better here real shortly.”
Murray added that fifth runner Justin Thompson individually accounted for 133 points, and adding Ndukimana at around 30th place in the race would have won the race for ACU.
After Manirakiza, junior Martin O’Kello finished fifth (24:27), senior Arthemon Sindayigaya placed 10th (24:35), senior Nick Branen placed 36th (25:22), and Thompson placed 133rd in 27:30. Freshman Seth Patterson was 144th for the Wildcats.
“The quality of competition was fine, the race was fast, excellent course,” Murray said.
ACU’s women placed 12th at the meet, an improvement on their 14th-place finish a year ago. Sophomore Yuliya Stashkiv placed 11th overall and was the No. 1 ACU runner, covering the 6,000-meter course in 21:41. Senior Justine Nahimana was 43rd (22:49), followed by sophomore Abbie Waters in 70th (23:37), freshman Crystal Berndt in 90th (24:42), and senior Jody Pelletier in 97th (24:54). Sophomore Mollye Stanford and senior Jill Singleton placed 104th and 116th for the Wildcats, respectively.
Murray said Stashkiv ran an average race compared to her third-place finish at the Texas A&M Invitational on Sept. 20.
“She got beat by several girls whom she beat at Texas A&M,” Murray said. “She started out really fast, and so she struggled a little in the end.”
Both teams will compete again Oct. 18 at the Chile Pepper Festival in Fayetteville, Ark. Murray said that with the hopeful return of Ndukimana to the top-5 of the men’s team, ACU has a shot at defeating host team Arkansas.
“This team’s pretty experienced; they’ve been around these meets for several years,” Murray said. “They know what it is to beat Arkansas at their own meet. They’re aware that Arkansas is not as strong, and that we can just get in there, run a good effort, and should be able to do very well.”