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Skylar Rolstad | | November 21, 2015

DII Cross Country Championships full of surprises

  Adams State pulled out a close finish to win the DII Women's Cross Country National Championship.

The NCAA Division II men’s and women’s cross country national championship concluded Saturday morning with several surprises. The sport’s powerhouse schools Adams State and Grand Valley State were usurped in the men’s competition by Colorado Mines, which took home the team title. Alfred Chelanga of Shorter University won the individual title in the men’s national championship.

Adams State claimed the team championship on the women’s side and Mary University’s Alexis Zeis barely edged defending national champion Kendra Foley of Grand Valley State to win.

Chelanga runs away with men’s title; Colorado Mines ends Adams State streak

Shorter freshman Alfred Chelanga, a native of Kenya, crossed the finish line, his arms outstretched, as he dominated the men’s 10k race and won the men’s national championship with a time of 29:24. Another Kenyan native, freshman Vincent Kiprop of Joplin’s Missouri Southern State, finished 9 seconds behind Chelanga in second place.

“It feels very good to be a national champion,” Chelanga said after his win. “I had planned it a long time ago when I began training for cross country.”

Chelanga said his expectation coming into the race was to win it. Having won the South Regional with a time of 32:01, Chelanga came into the national title race with a strategy to pull away from the pack at the seventh kilometer. As things turned out, Chelanga pulled away before the seventh kilometer and, after no competitors challenged him, he ran hard to finish the race.

“Today my motivation was [having] the whole team behind me,” Chelanga said. “I knew that I had to present them so well. My expectation first of all was to win, in every race I set my mind to win.”

At the top of the polls going into the national championship were Adams State and Grand Valley State. It was the first time two schools had been tied at the top of the USTFCCCA rankings, yet neither school claimed the trophy in Joplin. Instead, it was Colorado Mines that won the national title. The Orediggers won their first national championship in any sport with finishers at 11, 14, 15 and 23. Adams State finished second with 127 total points to Colorado Mines’ 100.

“It [means] so much,” Marty Adrie, a senior from Colorado Mines, said. “Our team will be remembered in Mines for a long time, it’s such an honor to be the first team in Mines to be able to accomplish this and it’s something we’ve been looking forward to for a long time.”

Adrie finished was the 11th finisher in the race, which was Mines’ highest-finishing runner. Adrie said his team didn’t know what to expect heading into the national championship. After finishing second in the South Central Regional race with almost double the score of the winner, Adams State, Adrie and his teammates weren’t positive on their chances of winning the national title.

However, Adrie said his team’s adjustments to training led to success on the national stage.

“We struggled at conference and regionals,” Adrie said. “We took some risks with training, upping the mileage [and] upping the intensity of workouts. We peaked perfectly.”

The closest Mines had come to a national championship in cross country previously happened on the very same course. The Orediggers finished runner-up in 2012; second to Adams State.

Zeis takes women’s title in close battle with defending champion; Adams State wins first women’s championship since 2009

On the women’s side, Adams State won its first title as a team since 2009, and a new champion in Alexis Zeis was crowned.

Zeis, a sophomore at the University of Mary from Bismarck, North Dakota, edged last year’s national champion Kendra Foley of Grand Valley State by only .3. Zeis’ time in the women’s 6k was 20:03.4 while Foley finished with a time of 20:03.7.

I knew she was somebody that would possibly go back to back [with titles,]” Zeis said after the race. “She’s a strong runner, too, so it was very nice having that ability where we both had to race for it at the end.”

Two things, Zeis said, led to her success on the course in Joplin. First, the race was nothing new. She won the Central Regional, held in Joplin, just two weeks ago. Her time of 20:08.31 in that Regional race was 5 seconds more than her championship-winning time.

“I’ve ran this course before and [I knew] where the mile markers were and a certain pace to run,” Zeis said. “It was a little colder than it was last time, but it was perfect conditions.”

The second factor motivating Zeis to victory was the presence of her teammates. Last year, she finished 21st as an individual qualifier in Louisville, Kentucky. But with Mary qualifying as a school this year, Zeis found the will to win.

“Having the team here was a lot more fun and I was a lot more motivated to come in,” Zeis said.

Behind Zeis in the race were the Grizzlies of Adams State, which had finishers at 10th, 11th, 13th, 20th, and 29th. Although Adams State had won six of the last seven titles on the men’s side, the Grizzlies ended a five-year run without a championship in the women’s competition by winning this year’s women’s national championship.

The Grizzlies had not won a title in the women’s competition since 2009, when they won seven in a row from 2003-2009.

“I think the last few years those girls have been feeling the pressure and so they were really hungry,” Adams State coach Damon Martin said. “I’m extremely proud as a coach to coach young ladies that stay focused. They were really tough and I’m proud of the way they ran today.”

With a total score of 83, Adams State freshman Noel Prandoni led the team with her 10th place finish. The next three finishers were juniors before senior Kelsey Corbin at 29th place. Much like Colorado Mines on the men’s side, Adams State won the title with depth of runners in the middle of the pack.

We had a tight pack and we had five six seven runners that we could put together to be close to the competition.

“We just felt like we had a really strong group,” Martin said. “Our depth is really good and so I challenged the kids. I didn’t know if we’d have anybody in the top ten but I just felt like our fifth wasn’t going to be much farther back than [our first.]”

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