News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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November 24, 2013

NCAA championships: Runners face muddy course, stiff winds as well as each other at Gibson course

TERRE HAUTE — More than 500 runners were prepared for a muddy course, but the NCAA’s elite also had to fight a wind chill in the teens Saturday at LaVern Gibson Championship Course.

Nothing was going to stop Oregon’s Edward Cheserek, who upset defending champion Kennedy Kithuka of Texas Tech or women’s champion Abbey D’Agostino, who adds her first NCAA title in cross country to her four national titles on the track.

This one will have a special place on the trophy case, she said. She had to fight hard to catching Kate Avery of Iona and Emma Bates of Boise State with less than two kilometers to go.

“This is my last cross country race running for Dartmouth, and I had to give it all I had,” said D’Agostino, the 2012 runner-up. “It’s incredible. I know I couldn’t have done it without my team here. That was the one missing piece when I’ve been here the last couple years. To have those girls on the line, there’s nothing to worry about.”

The men’s race also featured a dramatic comeback, but the favorite was ran down from behind.

Cheserek surged past Kithuka near the 8,000-meter mark of the 10,000-meter race and extended his lead to 20 meters with 400 meters remaining. Cheserek crossed the finish line in 29 minutes, 41.1 seconds to win going away by 18 seconds, also leading the Ducks to a fifth-place finish.

“I knew he was the defending champ, didn’t want to give him a chance to kick,” Cheserek said, adding that the mud was no problem. “It was no big deal for me.”

The previous best freshman finisher for the Ducks was three-time NCAA champion Steve Prefontaine, who was third in 1969. Cheserek, a native of Kenya and the 2013 Gatorade National Cross Country Runner of the Year coming out of high school in New Jersey, is the fourth Oregon individual champion overall and first since Galen Rupp won in Terre Haute in 2008.

Third-ranked Colorado claimed its fourth men’s NCAA cross country title — all since 2001 under coach Mark Wetmore — as the Buffaloes had 149 points to hold off No. 1 Northern Arizona (169). No. 2 Oklahoma State, winners of three of the past four NCAA titles, was a distant third with 230 points.

“I’ll admit, I thought it was a three-team race,” said Wetmore, whose team also won in soggy conditions in 2006 in Terre Haute. “We’re excited to run in those conditions, but we don’t have favorite conditions.”

Colorado was led by freshman Ben Saarel, the fourth different leader for the Buffaloes this season. Junior Blake Theroux was 23rd for the Buffaloes.

“It’s amazing living in the shadow of past national champions. I was talking to Jorge Torres [2002 NCAA champion] and I told him we’re just living the house that he built,” Theroux said.

On the women’s side, the top-ranked Providence women's cross country team lived up to its billing, claiming the NCAA title in the women's 6,000-meter race. The Friars won by 56 points over No. 2 Arizona with 141 points. No. 13 Butler had 200 points to finish third.

Big East champion Emily Sisson led the Friars with a  seventh-place finish, while senior Laura Nagel was 27th and sophomore Sarah Mary Collins 39th. Providence was runner-up in 2012 at Louisville.

“The women were brilliant,” Providence coach Ray Treacy said. “It was a difficult course with tough conditions. Sarah really pulled through at the half-way mark.”

John Mascari of Indiana State (see related story, page A1) was one of several Indiana products involved in the competition. Futsum Zienasellassie, a three-time IHSAA champion in Terre Haute for Indianapolis North Central, was the fourth across the finish line, leading Northern Arizona to its second-place finish. Zienasellassie, a sophomore, said he was just hoping to crack the top 15. He figures to be a top contender in 2014.

Indiana University was in the top 10 for the third time in the past four years for the best four-year run since the 1977-80 seasons. None of the Hoosiers were All-Americans, but Indiana defeated Big Ten rival Wisconsin by 20 points.

Purdue’s Matt McClintock was 37th for All-American honors.

Butler’s third-place finish was a huge step for the Bulldogs’ program under coach Matt Roe. Greencastle native Colleen Weatherford, a standout in the mile in high school, was Butler’s No. 7 runner Saturday. She never qualified for the state finals in cross country in high school, but Roe is hopeful she can develop in cross country in addition to excelling on the track.

“I thought we could be on the trophy stand,” Roe said. “I thought we could be anywhere from third to 10th. For the most part, everyone ran well or great. We’ll have five of our top seven back. It was a long journey to get to this place.”

The IU women finished in 26th place out of 31 teams. Terre Haute North graduate Chanli Mundy finished 246th with a time of 22:53. Mundy was one of three freshmen in the IU top 7.

Former IHSAA state champion Waverly Neer, an automatic individual qualifier, placed 219th for Columbia.

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