By Steve Holt, Sports Writer
Not even a poorly marked course and an injured runner could stop the ACU men from picking up their 15th straight Lone Star Conference Cross Country Championship, which took place Saturday at the Prairie West Golf Course in Weatherford, Okla. Senior Lucky Hadebe, who has run as ACU’s fourth runner all season, dropped out of Saturday’s conference meet with Achilles tendon pain, and with less than a mile to go in the race, and a pack of three Wildcat runners leading the race took a wrong turn, adding about 1,000 meters to the 8,000-meter race.
“Everything went pretty much as planned, except in the men’s race, we had a few curve balls thrown at us,” said head coach Derek Hood, whose men’s team is ranked No. 2 in the nation behind Adams State College (Colo.).
The leaders found the course again and held on for the win, however, as ACU placed all five runners in the top-20, for a team score of 28. The women’s team claimed its fifth conference title as well, scoring 43 team points.
East Central placed second in the men’s race with 47 points, followed by Angelo State (68), Eastern New Mexico (90) and Texas A&M-Commerce (101). On the women’s side, West Texas A&M was the runner up with 66 points, followed by Angelo State (88), Central Oklahoma (102) and East Central (171).
Sophomore Nicodemus Naimadu and senior Trina Cox were the Lone Star Conference individual champions for the university, both earning all-conference honors in the process. Naimadu covered the 8,000-meter course in 26 minutes, 25.6 seconds, while Cox finished the 6,000-meter women’s race in 21:31.8. Wildcat freshmen standouts Serge Gasore and Philip Birgen were second and third, respectively, in the men’s race, earning all-conference honors for the first time. Defending men’s champion Martin O’Kello finished 7th in Saturday’s race with a time of 26:49.5, while freshman Alberic Nkunrunziza was 15th in 27:41.8.
On the women’s side, Cox led a 1-2-3 finish for ACU. Sophomore Olha Kryv’yak placed second in the race with a time of 21:59.4, followed by senior Adeh Mwamba in third with a time of 22:14. All three runners earned all-conference honors. Rounding out the top five for the Wildcat women were freshman Mary Mwangi, who placed 17th in 24:22.8, and senior Abbie Waters in 20th (24:36.8), who led a pack of ACU runners who finished 20-21-22.
“Obviously I was really pleased that ACU continued their winning streak – the women winning their fifth in a row, and the men their 15th in a row,” Hood said. “To take first-through-third in both races was pretty exciting.”
The Wildcat men won the 2004 Lone Star Conference meet with a perfect score of 15. The 2005 Wildcats have been hampered slightly by injuries and unrealistic expectations, specifically relating to the expected performance of freshman Burundian Alberic Nkurunziza. Nkurunziza has finished lower than expected at nearly every meet this season, but Hood points to his previous experience as to why his start has been slow.
“Alberic has never run cross country, so maybe the expectations were a little too high,” Hood said. “For having no cross country experience, he’s done all right.”
With the South Central Region Championships taking place Nov. 5 in Abilene, Hood’s men and women will need to be injury-free and running their best. Despite being ranked No. 1 in the South Central Region, the men’s team’s chances for the title will suffer if Hadebe is out or hurting, and if O’Kello runs a sub-par race.
“It’s the national meet we’ve been pointing to since we began training, so if we squeak by at the regional meet, I’ll be OK with that,” Hood said. “We’re expecting to win the regional title. Martin will step it up for us, and Alberic will step it up.”
The women, ranked No. 1 in the region and No. 16 in the nation, will need strong races from Mwangi, Waters and Stanford at the region meet. Hood said Mwangi’s quality performances, as well as freshman Vanessa Whittle, have been a pleasant surprise, as both girls had never run cross country before this season.
“Mary’s training is coming around better than expected,” Hood said. “Same thing with Vanessa. To have these two girls come into the program and make a contribution late in the season is a great bonus.”
The South Central Region Meet will be Nov. 5 at Sherrod Park in Abilene. Two weeks after the region meet, Evansville, Ind., will play host to the NCAA Division II Cross Country National Championships.