By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Additions by LetsRun.com
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (23-Nov) — Oregon’s Edward Cheserek ran his first-ever NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships here today and produced a stunning results as he came back after getting dropped and won the 2013 men’s individual crown in convincing fashion, braving sub-freezing temperatures, strong winds, and a muddy course. In the process, he defeated Texas Tech senior Kennedy Kithuka, who was looking to end his collegiate career undefeated in cross country.
The men’s 10-K race went out conservatively, and defending champion Kennedy Kithuka of Texas Tech (Kenya) was at the front of a eight-man lead pack at 3000 meters (8:27.1). Cheserek was running second, joined by Arkansas’s Kemoy Campbell (Jamaica), North Carolina State’s Andrew Colley (USA), Harvard’s Maksim Korolev (USA), and others. Cheserek said he felt strong, but wanted to wait before pressing the pace because he was feeling the effects of the strong winds.
“I was trying to come around but the wind was coming towards me,” he said.
But Kithuka had other ideas. Between 3000 and 5000 meters, Kithuka upped the tempo and broke up the race. He dropped everybody except Cheserek who was right on his heels through the 5-K mark (14:35.0). Kithuka quickly began to get antsy, and decided to try to put the race away.
“We came like 14:32, 14:38; it was a slow pace for me,” Kithuka told Race Results Weekly. He continued: “It was too slow.”
Within a few meters, Kithuka opened up a big lead on Cheserek, and for a short time it looked like he would be earning his second consecutive title for the Red Raiders (he won two NAIA titles before that). But Cheserek remained patient and focused, and started to whittle away at Kithuka’s lead. By the 8000 meter mark (23:35.5) Kithuka’s gap had fallen to just two seconds, and Cheserek was smelling victory.
“I kept pushing it,” Cheserek said. “Then I finally decided that the wind was probably behind me, and I was just, like, I have to go.”
Kithuka gave no response, and Cheserek quickly pulled away to win by a very comfortable 18 seconds in 29:41.1. Kithuka held his second place position (29:59.1), while Harvard’s Maksim Korolev finished third (29:59.5).
Cheserek is one of only a handful of freshman to win these championships. Lawi Lalang (Arizona) was technically a freshman in cross country when he won in 2011, but had already competed in indoor track the same year. David Kimani (South Alabama) was a freshman when he won in 1999, but was 22 years-old. The last “true” freshman (18 or 19 years-old, and a first year student) to win was Bob Kennedy (Indiana) in 1988. Like Kennedy, Cheserek was also crowned USA high school champion the year before.
In the team competition, Mark Wetmore‘s Colorado Buffaloes won their third NCAA men’s team title under his tutelage. In a performance eerily similar of their last win in 2006 when they came from behind at 8000 to win in sloppy conditions in Terre Haute, the Buffs came from behind at 8k and beat #1-ranked Northern Arizona, 149 to 169. They were led by true freshman Ben Saarel who was 8th (7th team). They also had three other All-Americans (top 40) Morgan Pearson (17th, 15th team) and Blake Theroux (23rd, 19th team) and Pierce Murphy (39th, 30th team). Ammar Moussa closed out the scoring for them in 95th (78th team).
Defending champion Oklahoma State was third with 230 points.