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Tritons go for historic repeat

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Ezekiel Kipchirchir of Iowa Central crosses the finish line during last year's NJCAA national meet at Lakeside.

GARDEN CITY, Kan. — The Iowa Central cross country teams will look to score another championship double here Saturday at the NJCAA Div. I Cross Country Championships.

The women’s race is set to start at noon with the men to begin at 1 p.m. here at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course. An awards ceremony will take place at 2:30 p.m.

On the men’s side, Iowa Central has claimed three titles in the past four years. They are also coming off a sixth consecutive Region XI title.

“In my 15 years, only Cowley has pulled off a double victory,” Iowa Central’s Dee Brown said. “If we can pull off a double repeat, that could be historic.”

Ezekiel Kipchirchir won the individual championship at regionals, with Awet Yohannes placing third, Milos Pendic fourth and Innocent Murwanashyaka fifth.

“Our past month, the men have been running very strong with an interchangeable lineup of five runners,” Brown said. “Not many schools can boast that any of five different guys could be their No. 1.”

Kipchirchir will be looking to improve upon his runner-up national showing last year, as he placed just four seconds behind winner Eric Fitzpatrick of Southern Idaho.

Pushing the Tritons will be second-ranked Central Arizona, which won its ninth regional championship in a row. They were also champions in 2016, keeping Iowa Central from claiming four consecutive crowns.

El Paso, Hutchinson and Southern Idaho round out the Top-5.

“Central Arizona is a big-meet team and always brings their ‘A’ game to nationals,” Brown said. “We are looking forward to an exciting battle with them, and anyone else that wants to push for the title.”

The Iowa Central women received all 10 first place votes in the latest ranking and have four national titles in the past seven years and six over the last 11.

At regionals, the Tritons recorded a perfect score of 15, placing all five runners in the Top-5. Abeba Sullivan was the regional champion with Lilian Busienei, Horance Uwajeneza, Winrose Chesang, Marion Bartilol and Marta Lukijaniuk all following her across the line.

Adva Cohen, who is now competing for New Mexico, won a national cross country title last fall for the Tritons, with Bartilol placing fifth overall. Bartilol is the highest returning finisher back.

“I expect Abeba and Winrose to lead the team again as they have done all year,” Brown said. “They are poised to repeat.”

Both Kipchirchir and Sullivan were named the USTFCCCA Midwest Region Athletes of the Year at a banquet the night before nationals, with Brown earning coach of the year honors.

El Paso, winners of its regional and the 2014 national champions, are second with Cowley, Southern Idaho and Central Arizona also looking the chase the Tritons down.

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