By Steve Holt, Sports Writer
Make it four straight for the ACU men’s cross country team.
The Wildcat men claimed their fourth consecutive Division II South Central Region Championship on Saturday in Joplin, Mo., advancing to the national championships with a perfect score of 15 points by placing ACU runners in the top five positions. The women’s team placed fourth and will not compete for a national title, but three Wildcat women will compete individually on Nov. 20.
But the story of the day was the men’s team, led by region champion Nicodemus Naimadu, who covered the 10,000-meter course in 29:58.4. Defending region champion Bernard Manirakiza placed second in 30:52.0, followed by Martin O’Kello (31:02.9), Laurent Ngirakamaro (31:10.9), and Lucky Hadebe (31:42.8). ACU’s top six runners earned all-region honors for their performances Saturday.
Head coach Jon Murray said Naimadu has been a bright spot out of many on the young Wildcat men’s team.
“I saw him run in Kenya, so I knew he was going to be good,” he said. “I’ve always had high hopes for him.”
Central Missouri State and Missouri Southern State also qualified from the men’s race, placing second and third, respectively.
The ACU men are ranked No. 3 in the nation behind top-ranked Western State (Colo.) and No. 2 Adams State (Colo.), but will need to close the time gap between the first and fifth runners to contend with the Mountaineers and Grizzlies at nationals.
Naimadu, Manirakiza and O’Kello have shared leadership responsibilities this season. Manirakiza, who placed fourth at the 2003 Division II National Championships, began the season as the No. 1 runner for the Wildcats, before a minor knee injury kept him out of two mid-season meets. O’Kello was the Lone Star Conference individual champion in Manirakiza’s absence, displaying his capability to be a front-runner. Naimadu, a freshman who has run behind both O’Kello and Manirakiza all season, showed his gradual improvement Saturday, winning a region title in dominant form.
“I think that’s a positive thing, instead of everyone fitting into their 1,2,3,4,5 runner slots,” Murray said. “We don’t have any injuries, and everyone’s running really well.”
ACU junior Adeh Mwamba led a pack of three Wildcat women who placed in the top four and earned all-region honors, but the next finishers were 36th and 49th, dropping the team to a fourth-place finish overall.
Mwamba has been the Wildcats’ No. 1 runner in every meet this season, claiming her first conference and regional titles along the way. She completed the 6,000-meter race Saturday in 21:34.8, followed by Central Missouri State’s Kristin Anderson. Trina Cox placed third in 21:53.4, followed by Olha Kryv’yak, who crossed the line fourth in 22:05.5.
“That was a close race. It came down to a few seconds, and they didn’t get it,” Murray said. “We were just a little short. I was real proud of how the girls competed.”
Central Missouri State and Truman State, which finished first and second, respectively will represent the region at the national meet.
The national meet will be Nov. 20 in Evansville, Ind., and Murray said it’s shaping up to be a close battle.