By Steve Holt, Sports Writer
Head cross country coach Jon Murray said he didn’t need senior Bernard Manirakiza Saturday.
Funny, considering Manirakiza is the No. 1 ACU runner, a top contender for an individual national title, and the Wildcats were competing for their 14th straight Lone Star Conference Championship.
But the Friday night decision to sideline Manirakiza, who has suffered with knee pain for a little over a week, didn’t stop the Wildcats from claiming another conference title. And they did it with a perfect 15 points, claiming the top five finishing positions in the race.
“I don’t think it could have gotten much better,” Murray said of the conference meet, which ACU has dominated since it began.
Junior Martin O’Kello crossed the line as the LSC individual champion, having covered the 8,000-meter course in 24:14.27. The win was the first of O’Kello’s ACU career, and Murray said he believes the Ugandan will be a force in coming post-season meets.
“He hurt his calf muscle at the Oklahoma State [Jamboree],” Murray said. “He looked great, very comfortable [on Saturday]. It’s good to see him back in it.”
ACU freshmen Nicodemus Naimadu and Laurent Ngirakamaro placed second and third, respectively. Naimadu, who ran with O’Kello much of the race but was out-sprinted at the finish line, completed the race in 24:16.50. Ngirakamaro was third in 24:49.61. Transfer junior Lucky Hadebe placed fourth for ACU in 25:10.47, and freshman Vincent Morogah placed fifth in 25:27.55.
East Central placed second with 60 points, followed by Angelo State and Texas A&M-Kingsville.
The women’s team claimed its fourth straight LSC title Saturday.
ACU junior Adeh Mwamba took top honors in the women’s race in dominant fashion, winning the 6,000-meter race by over a minute in 21:51.85. Texas A&M-Kingsville’s Veronica Rodriguez was the runner-up in the race, followed by Wildcat runners Olha Kryv’yak and Trina Cox. Kryv’yak finished the race in 23:12.04 and Cox finished in 23:22.42.
Freshman Denise Morgan was the fourth Wildcat finisher, placing 12th in 24:52.92, while Mollye Stanford placed 16th in 25:01.43, rounding out the top five.
“Our fourth and fifth runners ran better than they had, and compared to other meets, did very well,” Murray said. “They showed a lot of progress there. It helped make the score as low as it was.”
Five men and three women earned all-conference honors for finishing in the top-10 at the meet.
Both Wildcat teams will compete in the South Central Region Championships in Joplin, Mo., on Nov. 6, and Murray said Manirakiza will compete and be a contender in the meet. With Manirakiza back at the front for ACU, the time gap between the first and fifth runners would have been under a minute at the LSC meet, putting them in contention the rest of the season.
“If we can do that in a 10K, that will put us right in the middle of things,” Murray said about the region meet, from which the top two teams will advance to the NCAA Division II National Championships Nov. 20 in Evansville, Ill.