Oklahoma State Men, Villanova Women Take D-I Championships

11/23/2009 - 17:28

00_ncaa-09-c-xc-div2-logo_0.gifTERRE HAUTE, Ind.—Samuel Chelanga’s last visit here was a wakeup call.

Running in the Indiana State Pre-Nationals in October at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center, the Liberty University junior finished second, exposing a lack of preparation.

A month later, he returned. And was he ready.

Chelanga destroyed the 10K course record Monday in the NCAA Division I Men’s Cross Country Championships, clocking 28 minutes, 41 seconds. Forget the Pre-Nationals, forget the 2008 record of 29:03 set by champion Galen Rupp of Oregon.

This time, Chelanga left nothing to chance.

“I’ve been doing a lot of endurance speedwork,” the Kenyan said. “The Pre-Nationals was my checkpoint, that really woke me up that things were not going the right way.”

At the NCAAs, under progressively warming skies that allowed runners to shed gloves and sleeves during the race, Chelanga made a move for the front early and never lost it. He had nearly a 100-meter lead past the 3K mark, and the trio of David McNeill (Northern Arizona), Chris Derrick (Stanford) and Barnabas Kirui (Mississippi) that eventually broke away could only settle for second, third and fourth, respectively.

Chelanga’s margin of victory was 25 seconds.

“He had a 42-second lead and won by 25. When you’re that far out, it’s hard to try,” said Liberty distance coach Josh McDougal, the 2007 champion for the Flames. “He definitely savored it a little bit, coming up the homestretch.”

And why not?

“I knew he was ready, I knew he had that fight in his heart after Pre-Nationals,” McDougal added. “We wanted him to be a little more patient than he was, a little more conservative, but Sam’s just incredibly talented, easily the most talented guy I’ve ever met. When he was going out (quickly), I could tell he had the look in his eyes that he wasn’t going to come back, no matter what.”

Claiming a first NCAA team championship for the first time since 1954 was Oklahoma State, surviving a tight battle with Oregon, 127-143. Alabama was third (173 points) and Northern Arizona was fourth (190).
The Cowboys were ranked second in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association poll coming into the event, a “bit of an unknown” team according to Jason Dunn, coach of top-ranked Stanford.

On Monday, Stanford was the unknown. The Cardinal only placed two runners in the top 50 overall. Oklahoma State placed four in the top 30, led by ninth-overall finisher Ryan Vail, to atone for an eighth-place effort from the 2008 Championships in which much more was expected from OSU.

“I expected it last year and got slapped around,” coach Dave Smith said. “We hoped for it this year, we wanted it, but I don’t think I necessarily expected it.”

The Cowboys’ scored runners included three sophomores and two seniors. Sophomore Colby Lowe was the second OSU runner across the line in 10th place overall in 29:43, two seconds behind Vail, the runner Smith told his entire team to key off of.

“I said, don’t think for 8K, just follow Ryan. He’ll do the thinking for you, he’s your quarterback, he will get you to where you need to be. Then, if you can beat him, beat him, but for 8K you run with Ryan and do not pass him,” Smith said. “That takes pressure off guys, especially young guys, they’re wondering ‘where do I need to be, what do I need to think?’ All they have to do is relax and run.”

Oregon made a strong push for a third consecutive title, led by sophomore Luke Puskedra (21st overall, 30:02) and four more runners in the top 61 overall. It wasn’t quite enough to keep pace, but it didn’t go unnoticed throughout the rolling hills of the LaVern Gibson course.

“Oregon is just scary as hell all the time,” Smith said. “You’re looking at Stanford, thinking ‘OK, we’ve got them,’ then ‘wait a minute, these guys in yellow and green look pretty damn good right now too.’ Like an idiot, we overlooked them and didn’t think about them going into the race, all of a sudden there they are with 2K to go and it’s a real race.”

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