BY: The Messenger
GARDEN CITY, Kan. — The top-ranked Iowa Central women's cross country squad repeated as NJCAA national champions on Saturday, dominating the field to secure its seventh title in the last 12 seasons.
The Tritons repeated as gold medalists by accruing just 45 team points. El Paso (Tex.) Community College was a distant second with 70.
Freshman Lilian Busienei (3rd, 18:55.4) and sophomore Marion Bartilol (4th, 19:09.1) both placed in the Top-6 individually to pace first-year head coach Nick Ekel's rotation. Busienei and Bartilol secured All-American status, as did freshman Florance Uwajeneza (6th, 19:11.2) and sophomore Abeba Sullivan (13th, 19:37.0).
"The women really ran well and ran for each other," Ekel said. "They came into this meet as the favorite and performed up to their billing.
"It's pretty special to have four All-Americans. I'm very proud of their effort and how they handled (the pressures of) being the team to beat."
The Iowa Central men had to settle for second place, leaving the program just short of the first repeat sweep in NJCAA history. The Tritons (118 points) placed just behind Central Arizona (100) at the top.
"Our men had a good day, but Central Arizona was better," Ekel said. "We knew they had to go above and beyond to beat us, and they did.
"Our guys did well, but it didn't quite work out. We just kind of ran out of real estate."
Sophomore Ezekiel Kipchirchir was third overall for the Tritons in 25:37.0. Classmate Innocent Murwanashyaka placed 14th in 26:33.2.
Freshman Milos Pendic (24th, 26:55.8), freshman Awet Yohannes (34th, 27:19.9) and sophomore Jhordan Ccope (44th, 27:31.9) were all in the Top-50 as well.
"Coach (Dee) Brown (now director of both the cross country and track programs) has done such an amazing job of creating the right kind of culture here," Ekel said. "He maps out the things that need to be done in order to be successful, and the kids know that if they do the work, it will ultimately (produce) in the results we're all looking for.
"Our tradition is to be in the picture (nationally) year in and year out by (November). There are benchmarks to be reached, and if (the runners) do that, they have a really good shot to be in contention (for championships). But it's not just about execution; it's about being a family. These kids truly care about each other."
The Iowa Central women have also secured championships in 2007, '08, '11, '12, '13 and '17. The men have now placed second five times since 2005, with titles in 2014, '15 and '17.