By Steve Holt, Sports Writer
The men’s and women’s cross country teams will run against their fastest competition so far this season on Saturday, competing in the Oklahoma State University Cowboy Jamboree in Stillwater, Okla.
The men’s team is ranked fifth in the national poll this week, but it will see its match this weekend against a field of Division I powerhouses, including No. 16 Arkansas, OSU and Kansas, among other teams.
“It’ll be one of the best meets in the South and Midwest,” head coach Jon Murray said.
The Wildcat men placed fifth at last year’s Jamboree, propelled by a second-place finish from Bernard Manirakiza and a fifth-place finish from Martin O’Kello. The ACU duo will look to dominate the competition this year but will have to outrun some speedy individuals to do so.
Murray said he expects last year’s runner-up to be running toward the front again this year.
“I think Bernard is in the best shape I’ve seen him in since he’s been there,” he said.
Arkansas has one of the top runners in the nation in transfer Josephat Boit. Boit finished 15th at last year’s Jamboree, competing for Cowley College, but he won the 8,000-meter Missouri Southern Stampede last Saturday in 23:54.82, wearing Razorback red for the first time.
Arkansas always has several others who place high to keep the team scores low at the big meets, but ACU’s depth got a kick-start with the late addition of a freshman runner from Kenya, Laurent Ngirakamaro. Ngirakamaro rounds out a top five that includes Manirakiza, O’Kello, transfer Lucky Hadebe, and freshman Nicodemus Naimadu. Freshman Vincent Morogah also is vying for a spot in the top five ACU runners.
Having arrived less than a month ago, Naimadu and Ngirakamaro have yet to compete for ACU, and Murray said the OSU Jamboree will be the first test for the two African runners.
“It’s going to be a good one to see where these new people fall into place. They’ve been working out very well,” he said. “These new guys have got to get adjusted to being in school, and in the U.S., and working out with the team. They just improve each time we work out together.”
On the women’s side, junior Adeh Mwamba is running well for ACU and should be a frontrunner Saturday. She’ll likely feel pressure from teammate Olha Kryv’yak, however, who has competed well in the first two meets. Depth continues to be a problem for the ACU women, however, as the times drop off significantly after No. 3 runner Trina Cox.
“There will be a lot of good teams,” Murray said. “We’ll have a good idea where we stand in the region.”