By Daniel Johnson, Sports Editor
Even without three-time national champion Nicodemus Naimadu, head cross country coach Derek Hood expects his teams to defend their dominance of the Lone Star Conference Championship meet on Saturday.
“I think we’ve got more depth and talent than any other team in the program, so I’m real confident,” Hood said.
Both the men, who have won 16 straight LSC titles and the women, who have won six straight LSC titles, will defend their streaks tournament at Eddie Moore Park in Commerce.
Naimadu, who is the two time LSC defending champion, will sit out the meet to rest so he could be in full form for the NCAA Division II South Central Region meet on Nov. 3 and the NCAA Division II national championship on Nov. 17.
“That’s the thing, we’ve got the depth on the men’s team to let Nic sit this out so he can be primed and ready in nationals,” said head coach Derek Hood.
Hood said ACU’s top runners Julius Nyango, Serge Gasore, Philip Birgen and Amos Sang along with senior Eric Brown, who is running in Naimadu’s spot, have more than enough talent to sweep the tournament.
“Believe me, I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think we had the depth to defend our titles,” Hood said.
Hood’s confidence is well founded; the men have not lost an LSC championship since 1990, and the men hold the top times for every race distance, including the 8,000 meters the LSC championship will be.
“It’s not cockiness, it’s just being proud of the program and the tradition of winning that we have,” Hood said.
On the women’s side, defending LSC individual champion sophomore Loice Cheboi will lead an ACU women’s squad that has not lost at the conference meet since 1999.
And Hood expects the women’s seventh-straight LSC title to be an easy victory as well.
“I think once again we’ve got more depth and talent than any other program in the conference, so I’m real confident. Unless our girls really just have a terrible race they should be in a position where they can win,” Hood said.
Cheboi, who was named LSC female runner of the week, just ran a conference best time of 21:47.6 in the 6,000 meter Arkansas Chile Pepper Festival, the same distance Cheboi will run in Commerce.
“[Cheboi] kinda had some health issues early in the season but got that straightened out, so I think people are gonna be really surprised in how she continues to run,” Hood said.
Hood is also expecting junior Mary Mwangi to continue her success in Commerce. Mwangi, who wasn’t a distance runner before coming to ACU, holds the top times two of the four distances in the LSC.
“Every single competition she continues to impress me because when she arrived here at ACU she was starting from square one,” Hood said of Mwangi. “She has really worked hard to be a solid No. 2 in our program.”