Cheserek, D’Agostino Win NCAA Cross Country Championships

Edward Cheserek (457) and Kemoy Campbell (33) follow Kennedy Kithuka (632) near the 4-kilometer mark at the 2013 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships. Photo: David Monti | Race Results Weekly

Colorado men, Providence women take the team titles. 

(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Oregon freshman Edward Cheserek ran his first-ever NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships on Saturday, while Dartmouth senior Abbey D’Agostino ran her last. But both student-athletes won their first individual titles at these 75-year-old championships in convincing fashion, braving sub-freezing temperatures, strong winds, and a muddy course. In the team competition, the University of Colorado and Providence College clinched the men’s and women’s team titles, respectively.

Cheserek Reels In Kithuka

The men’s 10K race went out conservatively, and defending champion Kennedy Kithuka of Texas Tech was at the front of a eight-man lead pack at 3000 meters (8:27.1). Cheserek was running second, joined by Arkansas’s Kemoy Campbell, North Carolina State’s Andrew Colley, Harvard’s Maksim Korolev, and others. Cheserek said he felt strong, but wanted to wait before pressing the pace because he was feeling the effects of the strong winds.

“I was trying to come around but the wind was coming towards me,” he said.

But Kithuka had other ideas. Between 3,000 and 5,000 meters, Kithuka upped the tempo and broke up the race. He dropped everybody except Cheserek who was right on his heels through the 5K mark (14:35.0). Kithuka quickly began to get antsy, and decided to try to put the race away.

“We came like 14:32, 14:38; it was a slow pace for me,” Kithuka told Race Results Weekly. “It was too slow.”

Within a few meters, Kithuka opened up a big lead on Cheserek, and for a short time it looked like he would be earning his second consecutive title for the Red Raiders. But Cheserek remained patient and focused, and started to whittle away at Kithuka’s lead. By the 8,000 meter mark (23:35.5) Kithuka’s gap had fallen to just two seconds, and Cheserek was smelling victory.

“I kept pushing it,” Cheserek said. “Then I finally decided that the wind was probably behind me, and I was just, like, I have to go.”

Kithuka gave no response, and Cheserek quickly pulled away to win by a very comfortable 18 seconds in 29:41.1. Kithuka held his second place position (29:59.1), while Harvard’s Maksim Korolev finished third (29:59.5).

Cheserek was one of only a handful of freshmen to win these championships. Lawi Lalang (Arizona) was a freshman in cross country when he won in 2011, but had already competed in indoor track the same year. David Kimani (South Alabama) was a freshman when he won in 1999, but was 22 years old. The last “true” freshman (18 or 19 years-old, and a first year student) to win was Bob Kennedy (Indiana) in 1988. Like Kennedy, Cheserek was also crowned the U.S. high school champion the year before.

In the team competition, Colorado only put one man in the top-10 (freshman Ben Saarel), but won the points title nonetheless over No. 1-ranked Northern Arizona, 149 to 169. Defending champion Oklahoma State was third with 230 points.

D’Agostino Runs Smart Race

In the women’s 6K contest, Iona College’s Kate Avery — who has won two international track medals for her native Great Britain — launched to the lead right from the gun. Wearing a bright yellow top and a black headband, she had a three-second lead over the main group which included Kentucky’s Cally Macumber, Providence’s Sarah Collins, Butler’s Katie Clark, Boise State’s Emma Bates, Dartmouth’s D’Agostino and Florida State’s Colleen Quigley. Avery said she hadn’t planned to take the lead so early.

“It just turned out that way,” she told reporters after the race, saying that the pack was running just a little slow for her taste.

Surprisingly, Avery held that three-second lead through 4,000 meters 13:07.2, but D’Agostino said she wasn’t worried. Her face and legs greased with olive oil to protect her skin from the cold, she moved gently to the front of the chase pack, then picked up her pace to catch Avery.

“We had talked about that, and we knew that sometimes that’s happened before, (like) when I was a sophomore here,” D’Agostino said. “We just kind of eased our way up and we knew the gap was closing. The pace didn’t feel out of control to me. I knew there was 2K to do it, and it just had to be gradual.”

Within minutes, D’Agostino — who had finished second at these championships last year by less than a second — passed Avery and was quickly running alone. Striding smoothly through the muddy grass, she held her form to finish in 20:00.3, much to the delight of her coach, two-time U.S. Olympian Mark Coogan, and her parents. D’Agostino said her victory was particularly sweet because she got to share it with her Dartmouth team who finished 16th.

“It’s incredible,” said D’Agostino, who has also won five NCAA track titles in her career. “I know that I couldn’t have done it without my team here, because that was like the one missing piece when I was here the last couple of years. We were talking about it last night. To have these girls with me on the line was like… there’s nothing to worry about. You know your family is here.”

Behind D’Agostino, both Emma Bates and Stanford’s Aisling Cuffe were taking full advantage of their sprint speed to advance their positions. Bates blew by Avery to take second (20:03.9), Avery got third (20:05.4), and Cuffe finished fourth (20:09.3). Bates, who told Race Results Weekly yesterday that she sometimes had trouble believing in her own abilities, was thrilled with her runner-up finish.

“I could see the finish line and I just wanted to pump as hard as I could for as long as I could and get there,” Bates explained. “It was really tough.”

Avery said she hoped to be selected for the British Team for the European Cross Country Championships next month in Belgrade.

“If they pick me,” she said.

Ray Treacy’s Providence Lady Friars were led by senior Emily Sisson (7th place), and won easily with 141 points to Arizona’s 197. Defending champions Oregon — who lost Jordan Hasay to graduation — finished 14th.

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