TERRE HAUTE —
Overnight rain dampened the LaVern Gibson Championship Course, but defending NCAA men’s cross country champion Kennedy Kithuka of Texas Tech had no second thoughts about his plan for the Pre-Nationals on Saturday.
The Red Raider runner was hunting down the 8,000-meter course record of 22 minutes, 51 seconds owned by former NCAA champion Sam Chelanga.
Kithuka separated from the field — only UTEP’s Anthony Rotich staying relatively close — by 100 meters or more in the first two miles. He knew he was on mark for the record but couldn’t quite get it.
“I missed by one second,” Kithuka said. “It was disappointing. When I came around by the starting line, when I was going to finish, I was trying to kick it in and I slid a little bit [on the wet course]. It was a good run. Good conditions, good experience.”
Kithuka remains confident he’ll repeat as NCAA champion in five weeks.
“There is no worries for me. I trust my training,” the senior Kenya native said. “When nationals come, I’ll be ready.”
Colorado’s runners also look prepared to help coach Mark Wetmore contend for his fourth team championship since 2001. Morgan Pearson and Ben Saarel placed seventh and ninth for the Buffaloes as Colorado, ranked No. 2 in the nation, took first place by 23 points over No. 4 Oregon. Top-ranked Oklahoma State, with five of its top seven not racing, still took seventh.
“Just about what I expected,” Wetmore said. “Maybe overall, my guys and everybody else, a little faster. With the rain overnight, I would have thought it might be sticky and slow. That’s my only surprise. We finished where we expected.”
Boise State’s Emma Bates, third in the NCAA’s 10,000 meters on the track last spring, won the women’s race in dramatic fashion. Bates came from third place in the final 50 meters to steal a victory in the women’s Blue 6K race, notching a time of 20:09.09. Florida State’s Hannah Walker led Stanford’s Aisling Cuffe halfway down the final straightaway.
“I saw her with about 800 [meters] to go and told her don’t give up on it, it’ll come back to ya,” Boise State coach Corey Ihmels said. “She’s a terrific runner, so it’s nice for her to have an outcome like this. But it’s midway through the year; we’ve got a lot of season left.”
No. 5 Georgetown knocked off No. 2 Florida State to win the women’s Blue Race, while No. 20 Butler ran to an impressive third-place finish.
The Hoyas and Bulldogs took similar approaches to having a productive day Saturday.
“One of the teams we talked about today was ‘hey, if I can’t be great for my team today, then we can be solid, we can be good.’ And we didn’t have a lot of great performances, but we had a lot of solid performances,” Georgetown coach Michael Smith said.
Butler coach Matt Roe watched his leader Katie Clark take 10th place, while Mara Olson took 23rd for the Bulldogs. Butler put five runners in the top 75 to edge sixth-ranked Oregon and No. 16 Virginia.
“We just want to get a little bit better every week and really be solid when we race,” Roe said. “Our mantra for this weekend was ‘solid is the new spectacular.’ We feel like we executed that.”
Georgetown’s five scoring runners ranged from 14th to 32d in the field of 340 total runners. While Florida State had Walker and Colleen Quigley in fifth and sixth place respectively, the Seminoles’ other three scorers were behind the Hoyas’ top five.
“That’s how you win meets,” Smith said. “We’re excited moving forward. It’s a big day for us. It’s fun for them. They can get confident. They’ve worked hard all season and this is a chance to have some fun and compete.”
The Men’s Blue and Women’s Blue races included teams ranked in the top 15 in their respective region.
They were followed by Men’s White and Women’s White races for other teams wanting to gain experience on the NCAA Championship Course.
Ohio University took first in the Men’s White race, won by Paul Chelimo of UNC-Greensoboro in 24:13.25. California’s Kelsey Santisteban won the Women’s White race to lead the Golden Bears to the team win.