Tritons begin double title defense

—Submitted photo Area IOWA CENTRAL cross country runners are (left to right): Cayden Taylor, Jason Halverson, Dalton Schaffer and Trevor Darling.

Dee Brown can’t predict the future for the Iowa Central cross country program, but the expectations of his runners as defending national champions won’t be any different than the years when the Tritons come up short.

“It sounds kind of simple, but we talk about our goals and traditions right when we first meet in early-August,” said Brown, who recently became the interim director of both cross country and track and field at ICCC after 14 years of national prominence. “We (discuss) what we’ve accomplished here through the years, and what we expect to achieve.

“We want to contend for and ultimately win nationals. That much is clear at this point, and the objective isn’t changing. It’s where we’re at as a program, regardless of who we have back or where we stand (early) in the season.”

The Triton women have captured six national titles in the last 11 years, taking gold under Brown’s direction in 2007, ’08, ’11, ’12, ’13 and last season. The men have clinched three championships — in 2014, ’15 and ’17 — with four more silvers since 2005.

Last fall was the first time Iowa Central had ever swept the men’s and women’s NJCAA crowns.

Both Triton squads participated in the Hawkeye Invitational at the University of Iowa last week, which marked the debut of interim head coach Nick Ekel. In their first live action with a full lineup, the Iowa Central men and women were both third, behind only Iowa State and the Hawks.

Captains Innocent Murwanashya (men) and Abeba Sullivan (women) both placed seventh in their respective races.

The men also return sophomores Ezekiel Kipchirchir and Jhordan Ccope, who finished in the Top-20 individually at nationals a year ago. Dalton Schaffer, a former Eagle Grove standout, is also on the roster as a captain, along with former Fort Dodge Dodgers Jason Halverson and Cayden Taylor.

“Innocent looked great (in Iowa City). He had a really strong summer,” Brown said. “He’s a captain, and he’s earned that spot, but we also have the leadership of a Dalton Schaffer, which is equally important. He may not be our fastest, but he works incredibly hard and is someone his teammates can look up to.

“We have Ezekiel and Jhordan back, but we’re bringing in a very strong freshman class as well. I think we’re deeper than we were (in 2017), and the chemistry is even better so far.”

Sullivan was joined by freshman Winrose Chesang and sophomore Marion Bartilol in the Top-15 at Iowa last week. Bartilol was fifth at nationals as a freshman, while Sullivan crossed in 17th.

“Abeba has really improved. She’s ready for the next level,” Brown said. “Marion had an outstanding freshman campaign. (Returning runner) Marta (Lukijaniuk) is also one of our captains and leaders. We have some talented freshmen filling the gaps.

“Nick does an outstanding job recruiting; he’s excellent face-to-face with these kids and their families. He knows and respects our system here well, so I don’t see many changes (with Ekel at the helm). We won’t skip a beat. I’m excited, because the staff works well together and is very supportive of each other.”

Brown’s focus also remains steadfast on both academic and community performance of his athletes, rather than just their times.

“It’s easy to brag about how fast you are or how many titles you’ve won,” Brown said. “But if you’re not getting the job done in the classroom and you don’t establish yourself as a good citizen on Fort Dodge, you’re not embracing the full (Iowa Central) experience.

“I want to brag about how smart the kids are and what good people they are — not just about their individual or team trophies. We want to reach out to the community and let them know what we’re doing in and around campus to make Iowa Central and Fort Dodge a better place.”

MEN’S ROSTER

Sophomores — Thomas Bryant, Jhordan Ccope, Jason Halverson, Ezekiel Kipchirchir, Abdul Mohamed, Innocent Murwanashyaka, Mel Obadiah, Dalton Schaffer, Cayden Taylor.

Freshmen — Noah Bundrock, Miguel Coca, Trevor Darling, Lars Elsbernd, Moise Habineza, David Hernandez, Ma’Rico Holland, Kear Kear, Alex Moore, Daniel Nordquist, Milos Pendic, Trevor Ramsdell, David Salazar, William Valentin, William Whalen, Awet Yohannes.

WOMEN’S ROSTER

Sophomores — Marion Bartilol, Marta Lukijaniuk, Abeba Sullivan.

Freshmen — Lilian Busienei, Winrose Chesang, Jade Ford, Stacey Fox, Mackenzie Gaherty, Janet Nyamboneka, Florance Uwajeneza.

SCHEDULE

Sept. 8 — at Luther College All-American in Decorah; 22 — Chile Pepper Festival in Fayetteville, Ark.; 29 — Roy Griak Invitational in Minneapolis.

Oct. 13 — Jim Drews (men) and Tori Neubauer (women) Invitational in Ettrick, Wis.; 26 — Region XI Championships in Davenport.

Nov. 10 — NJCAA Championships in Garden City, Kan.; 17 — NJCAA Half-Marathon Classic.

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