Tritons chasing gold on the trail

Tritons place third at Hawkeye Invitational

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The Iowa Central cross country program has positioned itself as a yearly contender at the NJCAA Div. I Championships. 

And this season is no different.

Both the Triton men and women will be chasing hardware this Saturday when they compete at the University of New Mexico North Golf Course here. Action begins at noon with the men's race, as the women are set for 1 p.m. (Iowa time on both).

Last year, Iowa Central earned silver in the men's team race, adding a string of six consecutive first or second place finishes. Overall, they have placed first or second eight times since 2004. 

Ezekiel Kipchirchir was third a season ago, making him the 10th Triton to place the Top-3. 

Both Milos Pendic and Awet Yohannes earned Cross Country Coaches Association All-American status last year. Pendic was 24th at nationals and Yohannes 34th. 

Coming into the meet, Cloud County holds the No. 1 spot in the rankings with Iowa Central second, El Paso third, Central Arizona fourth and Southern Idaho fifth. 

Cloud County was sixth at nationals a year ago and features top runner Dais Malebana. They have just six runners on the roster. El Paso boasts three runners back from the Top-10 a year ago when they finished third, while Central Arizona is unbeaten against fellow junior college programs this year. 

The Vaqueros have four national titles and three runner-up finishes in the past seven years. 

The individual race is sure to be just as close of a battle as Yohannes, defending champion Andrew Kibet of Hutchinson, Colby's Wesley Banguira, Gideon Cheplak of El Paso, James Kapel from Central Arizona, Dillan Haviland from Lansing and Geoffrey Bwalley of Monroe are looking to cross home first. 

Meanwhile, the Triton women are looking to score a third consecutive national title after winning gold in 2017 and '18. Iowa Central also had a three-peat between 2011-13. 

Overall, the Triton women have won seven national titles and finished in the Top-5 each of the past 12 years. 

Two returning NJCAA All-Americans lead the way this season in Lilian Busienei and Florance Uwajeneza. Busienei was third a season ago and Uwajeneza finished sixth. 

Winrose Chesang was a Cross Country Coaches Association All-American after crossing home in 19th. 

The Tritons are No. 1 coming into the meet followed by Central Arizona, South Plains, Southern Idaho and Monroe. 

Only one other program has ever won three consecutive titles, as Ricks reeled off seven in a row from 1995-2001. Iowa Central would also break a tie for the most national titles with Ricks with a victory.

Central Arizona has six runner-up finishes since they took home the trophy in 2009, with South Plains featuring defending race runner-up Gladys Jemaiyo. Southern Idaho has two Top-3 finishes at nationals over the past two seasons, with Monroe searching for its first-ever Top-10 nationals finish. 

Along with silver medalist Jemaiyo and bronze winner Busienei, the individual champion is back in the field. El Paso's Everlyn Kemboi will be pushed by those two and New Mexico's Flomena Aseko, along with Chesang, Iowa Western's Faith Linga Chepengat and Monroe's Sharon Chumo.