LOUISVILLE, Ky. — There wasn’t going to be any type of repeat of a year ago. The Oklahoma State University men’s cross country team made sure of that as they returned as the kings of cross country by rolling away with the NCAA Division I National Championship Saturday.
“It’s a heck of a lot better,” OSU coach Dave Smith said. “It’s just one place better, but it’s an eternity in feeling. I was really proud of the way the guys responded to the step back we experienced last year.”
The victory for the Cowboys — made even more impressive considering they lost their top three runners from last year’s runner-up squad — is the fourth championship for the program and third in the last four years.
“I think it shows that is program and this team is more than any one guy or even one group of guys,” Smith said. “... It’s a real team effort. I think we’ve got not just seven guys that ran today, but 17 to 19 guys that are committed to winning championships.”
OSU senior Girma Mecheso diverted from the game plan — much to Smith’s chagrin — running out ahead of his teammates and began running with the leaders around the 1-mile mark. Fortunately for the Cowboys, the move didn’t hurt — quite possibly doing them more good than harm — as he managed to come away with a fifth-place finish in his final collegiate race.
“Girma I guess was feeling good today and gambled and ran with the rest of the big dogs up front and ran a heck of a race,” Smith said. “I was leery until about 400 meters to go. I kept thinking that it could be a big mistake. In fact, at one point I felt beyond leery — my emotions were much higher than that. But it worked out.”
Oklahoma State had three other runners finish in the top 25 of the race — to earn All-American honors — with Tom Farrell taking ninth (29:26.3), Shadrack Kipchirchir coming in 18th (29:43.0) and Joseph Manilafasha squeaking in with a 24th-place time of 29:48.8.
“Our top five guys all had their best personal finishes ever at this national championship. That wasn’t an accident,” Smith said. “It’s rare that I team accomplishes something like, probably no other team had that today. But we did and that’s why we won the championship.”
Shane Moskowitz had a solid finish as OSU’s fifth runner to help clinch the team title by more than 60 points over defending champion Wisconsin. Moskowitz clocked a time of 30:22.6 to finish in 53rd place — just four team spots behind Wisconsin’s fourth runner and 44 spots ahead of their fifth.
“Shane did a great job. He’s come a long, long ways from where he was his freshman year and last year,” Smith said. “... I challenged him and Kirubel Erassa (OSU’s sixth runner, who also finished ahead of Wisconsin’s fifth runner) in the last year. I told those two guys that if we’re going to win a national championship, they were going to have to come through. And I think they both responded really well to that challenge.”
The men’s individual title also came to the Big 12 Conference, with Texas Tech’s Kennedy Kithuka, a two-time NAIA national champion, winning the race with a course-record 28:31.3 — seven seconds ahead of the second-place runner.
The Oklahoma State women’s team finished better than last year, but still missed the top 15 finish that coach Smith was hoping for. Monika Juodeskaite led the Cowgirls with a 41st-place finish to lead the team to a 26th-place team finish. Nataljia Piliusina finished 50th for the Cowgirls as the only other OSU women’s runner to finish in the top 100.