NCCA Cross Country Championships Stunner!

Sam Chelanga wins the NCAA Championship in course record time. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Huge surprises occurred in the men’s women’s team races and in the women’s individual race.

Written by: Sean McKeon

It was a picture-perfect day Monday in Terre Haute, Ind. for the 2009 NCAA Cross Country Championships. What was not so perfect was the picture painted by race previews, my own included, as to how the races would play out. Each race saw its fair share of unanticipated drama, along with fantastic competition, proving the wisdom of the old adage, “That’s why they run the races”.

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The men’s race was all about the dominance of Liberty’s Sam Chelanga. Chelanga was expecting a long battle with Stanford’s Chris Derrick, but instead had only the course record to challenge him. Although he held back over the first 1k, Chelanga quickly established a lead that grew by the second. The young Kenyan held a sizeable advantage over Derrick, Northern Arizona’s David McNeil and Barnabas Kirui of Mississippi through 5k, passing the mark in 14:09, and leading by nearly 30 seconds. Chelanga continued to pull away from the field and cruised to the victory in a new course record time of 28:41. It was sweet for Chelanga, as he shattered by 22 seconds the mark set last year by Galen Rupp, when Chelanga settled for second. McNeil was able to hold off Derrick and nab an impressive second place with Derrick taking the final podium spot in third.

In the team battle, the story line was supposed to be Stanford versus Oklahoma State, but that was not what the day delivered. Oklahoma State ran a dominating race, placing three in the top 15 and running away with the championship. Stanford seemed to simply fold under the pressure, leaving the podium spots open for some slight surprises. The Oregon men ran an impressive race to take the runner-up trophy, having been led by Sophomore Luke Puskedra’s 21st-place finish. Rounding out the podium was Alabama, led by Tyson David in 22nd place. Stanford, after coming into the meet the strong favorites, finished an astounding 227 points behind Oklahoma State, in 10th place.

Angela Bizzarri kicking to her NCAA title. Photo: PhotoRun.net

The women’s race was set to be the defining collegiate moment for 2008 Olympian Jenny Barringer of Colorado, but a complete collapse, both literally and figuratively, would leave her without a collegiate cross country title on her resume. Barringer set the strong early pace, passing 1k in just over 3:00, but trailed closely by Florida State’s Susan Kuijken. Just after 2k Barringer visibly dropped her shoulders, looking as though she had been punched in the gut, and immediately fell back from Kuijken. Later, cameras caught Barringer falling to the ground, looking as though she may not finish. But just as suddenly she sprang back and finished the race with the surrounding women, finishing in a devastating XX place.

Kuijken held a strong lead through 4k but began to fade due to the early pace set by Barringer. She found herself with Angela Bizzarri of Illinois and Kendra Schaff of Washinton to fight for the national title in the closing kilometer. Kuijken hoped to avenge her runner-up placing from 2008, but a fantastic final 400m by Bizzarri helped the Illinois senior earn her first NCAA cross country title. Kuijken had little remaining in the final stretch and found herself crossing the line in third, as the sophomore Schaff took the runner-up title.

As for what happened to Barringer, it is hard to say. It was a very bizarre sight to say the least. In a post-race interview Barringer said, “I didn’t feel so good about halfway in to it and every time I tried to push it I had to stop.” She still seemed disoriented after the race and it only leaves us to wonder what could have been.

On the team side it was the Villanova Wildcats that took home the national championship, upending the defending champion, and #1 ranked, Washington Huskies. The Wildcats were led by 6th-place finisher Amanda Marino and 13th-place finisher Sheila Reid. Florida Sate snuck in for the runner-up position, led by Kuijken’s third-place effort. The Huskies settled for a disappointing third-place finish, after coming into the meet the overwhelming favorites. Although Schaff ran well to finish second the always consistent Huskies had an off day, much like the Cardinal men, leaving them with plenty of questions to be answered.

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