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Triton men double up as champs

ICCC women take 2nd; Bungei, Brown honored honored

Photo by Paul DeCoursey The Iowa Central men and women pose with their NJCAA Half Marathon national championship and runner-up trophies, respectively, on Tuesday in Fort Dodge.

The Iowa Central men’s cross country team completed a fall double, securing the team title at the NJCAA Half Marathon Championships on Tuesday.

Just a few days removed from winning the NJCAA national cross country title, the Tritons scored 15 team points to best Cloud County and ICCAC foe North Iowa Area.

Kelvin Bungei, the reigning cross country national champion, finished second with Pur Biel sixth, Hunter Klimek seventh and Noah Friske 10th. Bungei finished in 1:07:47, just two minutes behind winner Awet Beraki of Cloud County.

Bungei was named the NJCAA cross country athlete of the year.

“What a race by our men’s team after the emotional high of winning the NJCAA Div. I Cross Country Championship on Saturday,” Iowa Central head coach Nick Ekel said. “It was apparent that our guys benefited from being familiar with the course, as they were able to manage their effort over the hills between miles six and ten to hold their positions and secure the national championship.

“It was exciting to see Pur Biel, Jordan Hustak and Levi Son set new half marathon personal records.”

After missing out on defending their national cross country title, the Triton women returned from quarantine with a bang. Eleonora Curtabbi won the individual race, and the team finished second overall by just a single point.

“We could not be more proud of our women’s team and how they competed after being quarantined for the past 14 days,” Ekel said. “During that time, they were able to train sparingly and had their normal routines disrupted. To be able to put together a national runner-up performance in a half marathon is nothing short of incredible and speaks to the talent, drive, and determination of these women.

“We are thankful they were able to end the 2020 cross country season on their terms.”

Curtabbi bested Cloud County’s Patricia Koma, finishing in 1:26:39 to 1:27.28. Rosalie Fish was fifth overall and Lilia Alvarez placed seventh.

“Eleonora Curtabbi deserves a ton of praise for her performance, as she set the pace from the gun and was able to pull away to win her first NJCAA national championship as an individual,” Ekel said. “She joins a list of phenomenal Iowa Central athletes to win the half marathon crown, and she will end her Triton career as one of our all-time great distance student-athletes.”

As a program, Iowa Central has 16 Top-10 finishes and eight team national titles with five individual crowns on the women’s side.

Dee Brown, Director of Cross Country at Iowa Central, was recognized as the NJCAA national coach of the year. He noted that the college as a whole did things “nobody else ever does” at nationals.

“It was stressful because I never wanted this to be just a race for these kids. I wanted to host a championship event that these athletes would remember,” Brown said. “Thanks to the many people that were involved. Our facilities crew did a great job with both events, always at our beck and call, and I couldn’t be more thankful. Rusty Farrington, one of our art faculty, faithfully painted the NJCAA logo on the course, which nobody else does.

“Our facilities crew carted our IC statues around for us all week. We had a championship-looking awards stand because of them with flags, pennants and banners everywhere. We had our marching band playing during the Div. I cross country races – nobody else does that.”

Brown also thanked his fellow coaches for “being involved in one way or another.”

“Our athletic department is tremendous,” he said. “We could not have pulled off such a successful half marathon without coaches Brent Nelson and Jake Mizel and the help of their rugby team. They carried us. Chad Graaf and Lori Branderhorst of Parks and Rec; Toby Beneke, Shan Beecher and Ryan Wearda of our facilities crew. The list goes on and on. Our Vice President, Angie Martin, and the business office took care of registration and packet pick up.

“We are lucky to have such a great Triton Family.”

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