Tech cross country makes strong 2018 debut at Golden Eagle Invitational

Tech cross country makes strong 2018 debut at Golden Eagle Invitational

By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – "Whose house is this!?"

"TECH'S!"

"Whose house is this!?"

"TECH'S!"

"Whose house is this!?"

"TECH'S!"

So went the chant led by coach Wayne Angel prior to the men's four-mile cross country race on Saturday morning at the Putnam County Sports Complex.

The idea, obviously, was that both the TTU men's and women's cross country teams were coming into the race intending to defend their home turf, and when the results came out, that's exactly what they had done.

"It was great to win the women's race and we were very close with the men – that was a heartbreaker," said Angel. "However, this is just a rust buster. I was very proud of both teams as they packed it up and they ran as a unit. They communicated and did what they were supposed to do.

The women's five-kilometer race opened the day's festivities at 8:30 a.m. and featured three teams: Tech, Western Kentucky and Division II Lane College.

Purity Sanga, Tennessee Tech's standout freshman in 2017, continued her momentum into her sophomore season debut, winning the race and dominating the rest of the field.

Sanga came across in 17-minutes, 50.5 seconds, which was nearly 1:40 better than the runner-up, Tech teammate Janet Kwambai.

Sanga's time is the eighth-best in program history, and marks the fourth instance in her career that she has finished a 5K in less than 18 minutes.

"Purity was amazing," Angel said. "She's going to be very special this year. I was very happy with what she did today and I have high hopes for her as the season goes along."

Kwambai, a freshman from Iten, Kenya, impressed in her first collegiate race, clocking a time of 19:10.3, which also made the list of the top women's times in school history at No. 56.

Another freshman, Sharon Chepkemboi of Kapsabet, Kenya finished third in the race with a time of 20:12.2, giving Tech a 1-2-3 finish.

Vivien Chesire, a third freshman, made it four of the top five finishers for the Golden Eagles, running the course in 22:22.7 to come in fifth overall.

Angel was thrilled with what he saw from his female newcomers.

"On this course? Absolutely," said Angel when asked if he was impressed by his youngsters' times. "Very happy with what they did today. We still have some work to do and some tweaks to make before we go to Vanderbilt, but we want to be rolling by the time we get to Louisville, so I am happy with today's effort."

Sophomore Courtney McGowan and freshman Sarah Pearson were eighth and ninth, with times of 23:59.7 and 24:39.4, respectively.

Ashley Daniel came in 12th to round out the Tech runners, posting a time of 26:30.4.

Tech dominated the final women's standings with a team score of 19 points. Western Kentucky was second with 38 and Lane was third with 75.

The Tech men's team faced off with The Ohio State University, Western Kentucky and Lane College, and provided its own batch of highlights.

Sammy Kipkirui, a 2017 transfer from Western Kentucky, gave TTU the individual champion for both of the day's races, pacing the field with a four-mile time of 20:16.4.

He and Sanga both received plaques as the Outstanding Performers of the Meet for their respective races.

"Sammy was outstanding for the men's team," said Angel. "Very pleased with him. The thing about this group of men is that you won't know who's going to win from week to week, so that's good. Those guys make up a really good pack."

After two OSU runners took second and third, Sigei Benard was the next Tech man over the line, placing fourth with a time of 20:34.9.

Two more Buckeyes came in fifth and sixth, followed by a trio of Golden Eagles: Brannon Cheplak (seventh, 21:05.3), Ababu Mohamed (ninth, 21:08.0) and newcomer Gabriel Kiprono, a transfer from the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley (21:14.6). The Golden Eagle Invitational was also the first-ever collegiate meet for Kiprono.

A fifth Ohio State runner came in 10th, which gave the Buckeyes the team victory with 26 points, edging Tech's total of 29 by a thin margin.

Western Kentucky finished third in the team portion with 75 points, while Lane was fourth with 100.

"I'm really happy that we won a trophy on one of the sides," Angel said. "I was hoping we could win it on the other, but I'm very pleased with what everybody did. I think it was a great showing at home for all of our athletes.

Tech cross country will be in action again next Saturday when it makes the short trip west to Nashville for the Vanderbilt Commodore Classic. The men's eight-kilometer race will be first at 9 a.m., followed by the women's 5K at 10 a.m.

Photo by Thomas Corhern