TERRA HAUTE, Ind. – Edward Cheserek became Oregon’s first freshman ever to claim the NCAA Division I Cross Crountry individual title with a time of 29:41.1. The newcomer from Newark, N.J., by way of Kenya joined an elite group of Oregon champions that include: Steve Prefontaine, Alberto Salazar and Galen Rupp Saturday afternoon.
“He was phenomenal,” head coach Robert Johnson said. “You never want to put that kind of expectations on a freshman but everyone in the nation knew what kind of runner Edward was coming into this race. To be able to run so composed the way he did was just phenomenal.”
"It feels great, I was just running my own race," Cheserek said.
The previous best mark by a freshman was held by Prefontaine, who finished third in 1969. It was also the first time a freshman won the high school cross country championship and the NCAA cross country championship in back-to-back years since Bob Kennedy in 1988. Kennedy was on hand at the race as one of the hosts for the NCAA live-stream coverage of the meet.
“He definitely put himself in the book at Oregon but it’s just a matter of how much he is going to rewrite,” said Johnson.
The Men of Oregon took fifth in the team competition with 274 points just behind BYU's 267 points. Top-ranked Colorado claimed the team title with 149 points with Northern Arizona taking the runner-up spot with 169 points. Oklahoma State, the three-time defending team champion, rounded out the top three with 230 points.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling,” Johnson said. “It’s sweet that the men improved 15 spots from the previous year but the bitter end was that we came out without a trophy.”
It was the best finish at the NCAA championships for the Duck men since 2009 when they were second behind Oklahoma State. The last time Oregon took fifth at the championships was in 2006.
Cheserek ran behind Kithuka the entire first leg of the race as the two separated from the pack. Kithuka, who had yet to lose a collegiate race, extended his lead over the freshman after the 6k mark but by the time the two hit the 8k split, Cheserek made his move and stormed past Kithuka to win by 18 seconds on his way to his fourth individual title this year.
“The plan was for him to bide his time, sit back and be steady to get to the 8k mark and take off if he felt good,” said Johnson. “He ran by coach [Andy] Powell somewhere in the 7k mark and gave him the thumbs up.”
Parker Stinson was the second Duck to cross coming in at 20:56.2 for 54th in the 10,000-meter race while Tanguy Pepiot took 58th with a time of 30:58.4. Mac Fleet, a senior from San Diego, Calif, took 77th with a course time of 31:05 and freshman Jake Leingang placed 149th with a time of 31:46.8.
The Women of Oregon, who were the defending national champions, finished in 14th place and were paced by Annie Leblanc who clocked in at 21:03.9 for 66th. Megan Patrignelli, a senior from Monroe, N.Y., was the second Duck to cross the finish line with a time of 21:06 (70th).
In her first NCAA race, Maggie Schmaedick clocked in at 21:11.9 (81st). Molly Grabill’s time of 21:20.1 (101st) was her best finish at the NCAA championships. Abbey Leonardi, a sophomore from Kennebunkport, Maine, ran the course in 21:35.6. Lindsay Crevoiserat crossed the line in 22:29.7 and Mia Elbon rounded things out for Oregon with a time of 22:58.2.
“The women ran well but we have a lot of work to do,” said Johnson. “If we look back throughout the season, we haven’t had everyone run well on the same day yet. It’ll be a good motivation though as we head into the track season.”
Providence won the team title with 141 points followed by Arizona with 197 points. Butler rounded out the top three with 200 points with Michigan and Georgetown taking fourth and fifth respectively. Abbey D’Agostino, a senior from Dartmouth, won the individual title clocking in at 20:00.3 while Emma Bates of Boise State took second with 20:03.9. Kate Avery of Iona led for a majority of the race but fell behind D’Agostino and Bates with 2,000 meters left.