By Steve Holt, Sports Writer
Once again Thursday, Nicodemus Naimadu demonstrated why he is one of the best collegiate distance runners in America, regardless of division.
The Narok, Kenya, native set a new school record in the 5,000-meter run, placing ninth in a stacked field of past and future Olympians at the Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut, Calif. Naimadu crossed the finish line as the fourth collegian with a time of 13:34.98, bettering former Wildcat star Alfred Rugema’s previous school record of 13:38.66.
Naimadu, an eight-time national champion in cross country and track and field, had a previous personal best time of 13:39.37, set in 2005. Better training and world-class competition seemed to be all the sophomore needed to lower that time, however.
Ironically, head coach Don Hood said Naimadu reported not feeling 100 percent before the race.
“You could tell he didn’t feel his best, and he didn’t look as smooth or as confident as he normally does,” Hood said. “But he just flat ran tough and held on and held on and held on. To feel bad and still run a school record – that’s impressive.”
Naimadu was not the only distance runner to shine at the prestigious Mt. SAC meet. Junior Trina Cox placed second in the women’s Olympic Development University/Open 5,000-meter run with a personal best and automatic qualifying time of 16:32.35. Another qualifier was senior Olha Kryv’yak, who won the university/open 1,500-meter run with a provisional time of 4:30.17.
Kryv’yak said she felt better Thursday than she has all season, and feels confident about what the future holds for her and for the Wildcat women.
“This weekend I felt good for the first time this season,” Kryv’yak said. “Right now I am practicing a lot more, and I am in a good mood to go forward.”
Kryv’yak has not yet run the 3,000 meters this season, an event in which she finished second at the 2005 outdoor national meet. Kryv’yak will attempt to qualify in the event at the Lone Star Conference meet Friday and Saturday.
Two more distance runners posted provisional qualifying times in the 10,000 meters. Freshman Serge Gasore placed third in the event with a time of 29:53.23, followed by teammate Philip Birgen in seventh place with a time of 30:15.85.
The only other qualifier at Mt. SAC was Marvin Bien-Aime, who placed second with a strong provisional time of 21.19 in the 200-meter dash. An added bonus was that the junior defeated Otis Harris, a 2004 silver medalist in the 200 meters and gold medalist in the 4×400-meter relay.
“That tripped me out, man,” Bien-Aime said about racing the Olympian. “On the curve, I pulled away from him quick. When I saw that I was ahead of him at the straight, I started to tighten up because I wasn’t thinking about the race, I was thinking about being ahead of [Harris]. I lost a split second and it was a fight all the way to the finish.”
North Texas Spring Classic
Several athletes also competed in the North Texas Spring Classic in Denton, with just one athlete posting a new qualifying time and two more posting improved times.
Freshman Mary Mwangi was the only new qualifier for the Wildcats, finishing eighth in the 800-meter run with a provisional time of 2:17.31. ACU junior Denise Morgan, who has already qualified provisionally and holds the top time in the nation, finished fourth in the event with a time of 2:12.03, while sophomore Venessa Whittle placed seventh with an improved provisional time of 2:11.5.
Junior Keva Wilkins improved her nation-leading provisional time to 54.04 in the 400-meter dash, winning the event.
Several more athletes competed in Denton, but were unable to post new or improved qualifying marks or times.
Their next chance to do so will be at the Lone Star Conference Championships, to take place Friday and Saturday in Stephenville.
Kryv’yak said team unity and encouragement will be more important than ever going into the final meets of the season and eventually the NCAA Division II National Championships, which will take place May 25-27 in Emporia, Kan.
“I feel like we have a really strong team,” she said. “If everybody concentrated and was not afraid to give their best in the race, we can do well.”
Bien-Aime said the men’s team is taking things one meet at a time, beginning with this weekend’s conference meet.
“I feel like we have a lot of depth on the team,” the sprinter said. “We can have more than two guys in each event as far as the sprints are concerned. As far as distance, they always handle their business.”
The ACU women have qualified 14 athletes in 14 individual events, plus both the 4×100- and 4×400-meter relays. To date, the men have qualified 11 athletes in nine individual events, plus both relays.