By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – It's been an eventful two weeks for Tennessee Tech cross country.
Opening weekend brought a pair of individual race champions and OVC Runners of the Week in Sammy Kipkirui and Purity Sanga, along with a women's team victory.
Week two at the Commodore Classic was even bigger, highlighted by Sanga's new-school-record 5K and second consecutive Runner of the Week award from the conference, as well as a top-five finish for the men's team and their subsequent No. 8 South Region ranking by the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches' Association.
Now, both teams are tasked with continuing that momentum, with their sights set on the Mountain Dew Invitational hosted by the University of Florida.
Following the national anthem at 6:45 a.m. CT, the men's 8K race will be held first on UF's Mark Bostick Golf Course at 6:55. The women's 5K will follow shortly after with a start time of 7:30.
"Like most other meets, we're looking for progress," said coach Wayne Angel. " As we continue to compete in bigger and better meets, it raises our level of confidence and mental toughness. Last year, the men's team placed second at this meet, so we know we can hang with the competition, and we hope to improve on that finish. We're excited to see what unfolds this weekend."
For a men's team that came in fourth – and only three points from third place – out of 14 teams at the Commodore Classic, improving on last year's runner-up finish at the Mountain Dew will be a great challenge, but also a realistic possibility.
Tech's five men's runners maintained an exceptional spread at the Commodore, 1-minute, 1.5-seconds, which, if replicated at the rest of the meets this season, will keep their team scores included with the premier programs.
Much like last week, a deep, imposing group of competitive programs awaits both Golden Eagle teams when they arrive in Gainesville.
"The Mountain Dew Invitational is one of the top meets in the South, and I think this field will be very strong," Angel said. "We feel honored to have been invited. As a team, we must step up our efforts and exhibit a high level of intensity, discipline and competitiveness."
On the men's side, the list of entrants – 27 in all – includes five teams ranked in the USTFCCCA's South Region. In addition to Tech at No. 8, Florida State checks in at No. 4, the host UF Gators are No. 6, Florida A&M, a big riser in Week 2, is ninth, and North Florida occupies the last ranked spot in the region at No. 15.
North Florida was the only team to beat Tech at last year's edition of the Mountain Dew, compiling a team score of just 52 points to Tech's 82. Florida was third with 109 points and Florida A&M was fifth with 155. Florida State did not participate.
2017 TTU phenom Gilbert Boit was the individual men's champion, while Brannon Cheplak and Kipkirui both took top-10 finishes, placing fifth and sixth, respectively, with times of 25:06.0 and 25:10.4.
The women's race features two ranked programs among the 32 scheduled to compete: second-ranked Florida State and No. 12 Florida.
TTU took 10th place at last year's race with a team score of 258 points. Florida won convincingly with a score of 71 points, and Florida State was fourth with 131.
Sanga led the Golden Eagles with a third-place overall finish in 17:46.8, which was the best mark of all participating freshmen, and her highest individual result during the 2017 campaign.
At its core, the Mountain Dew Invitational is the next phase of the progression for Angel's teams as they strive to improve each week ahead of the high-stakes meets later in the fall.
"This competition will be another stepping stone as we prepare for the conference championships in October," said Angel. "With the quality and depth of the field being so high, it will definitely test us. These are experiences that we need in order for us to be at our best late in the season."
Photo by Thomas Corhern