TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- Galen Rupp won his first individual title to lead Oregon to its second straight NCAA men’s cross country championship on a gusty and cool Monday at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course. The women, racing without one of their top runners, gutted out an impressive second place finish, which was the Ducks’ second straight NCAA runner-up showing.
"It was a great day for the men; it was a great day for the women. All-around, it was a great day for the University of Oregon," said Associate Director of Athletics Vin Lananna. "And Galen Rupp was just terrific. What a great young man and a wonderful national champion to represent our University."
Rupp was one of three top-10 finishers for the men, as the No. 1-ranked Ducks pulled away for a 54-point victory over No. 7 Iona. Oregon tallied 93 points to Iona’s 147. No. 3 Stanford edged No. 4 Wisconsin for third 227-229.
The senior from Portland, Ore., watched Liberty’s Samuel Chelanga race out to an early lead that reached about 30 meters after a 4:24 opening mile. But Rupp bided his time, never losing site of Chelanga. He closed the gap to about :03 at the 3,000-meter mark, and the two ran shoulder-to-shoulder the last half of the race until Rupp made his move with 200 meters remaining. He then sprinted away and, with a smile on his face, crossed finish line in 29:03.2. Chelanga was second in 29:08.0.
"I heard somebody yell with 100 meters to go ‘don’t forget about last year’," said Rupp, who finished second in 2007. "It’s just so exciting to win and get the team trophy again. It feels really good.
"I knew (Chelanga) might go out fast, but my plan was not to panic if he did that. I stayed strong and focused on the finish," said Rupp. "I have been running a lot of mile races and it paid off because it came down to a sprint finish."
Rupp became the just the third Duck to win the NCAA cross country title. He joins Oregon legends Steve Prefontaine, a three-time winner in 1970-71 and 1973, and Alberto Salazar, who was the Ducks’ last individual champion in 1978. Rupp also collected his third career cross country All-America award and ninth overall.
In addition to Rupp, the Duck men also counted All-American performances from Luke Puskedra, who ran fifth in 29:27.8 and was the meet’s top freshman finisher, and senior Shadrack Kiptoo-Biwott, who placed ninth in 29:43.4.
Those three had Oregon out front 75-133 over Stanford at the 3,000-meter mark, and then 97-164 on Iona at the midway point. That lead held steady through 8,000-kilometers, with the Ducks at 106 and the Gaels at 159, before some finishing sprints pushed the Ducks’ final score below 100 points.
Oregon also counted a 45th-place finish from sophomore Matthew Centrowitz (30:21.3) and a 54th-place showing from sophomore Diego Mercado (30:31.0). Other Duck finishers included junior Kenny Klotz in 66th at 30:35.8 and sophomore Andrew Wheating in 75th at 30:40.3.
It was the sixth NCAA men’s cross country championship for the University of Oregon, and school’s 15th NCAA team championship overall. It was also the Ducks’ first back-to-back titles since 1973-74. Oregon’s other NCAA cross country titles came in 1971, 1977 and 2007.
Nearly as impressive was the women’s second-straight second place showing. Alexandra Kosinski and Nicole Blood were the catalysts with top-10 finishes, while seniors Mattie Bridgmon, Lindsey Scherf and Zoe Nelson all placed in the top 61 to keep the Ducks ahead of No. 3 Florida State, despite not having senior Melissa Grelli, who was sidelined with a leg injury.
Blood and Kosinski, a sophomore from El Dorado Hills, Calif., ran with the lead pack for much of the race as Kosinski finished eighth in 20:05. Blood, a junior from Sarasota Springs, N.Y., was just a step behind her in 10th (20:09) as both Oregon runners earned the second cross country All-America awards of their careers.
"It felt pretty good to run together (with Blood)," said Kosinski. "It was good to be able to stay in that pack, especially going into the wind. I’m pretty happy with eighth."
Then it was the seniors who carried the Ducks to second place. Bridgmon, a transfer from Eastern Washington, ran the race of her life to finish 40th in 20:43.6 and earn her first career All-America award. Lindsey Scherf, a transfer from Harvard, crossed the line in 20:46.3 to finish 48th, while Nelson, from Kalispell, Mont., ran 20:54.8 to finish 61st.
No. 1 Washington won their first NCAA title with 79 points. Oregon was second with 131 points, a total that was a 46-point improvement over the Ducks’ 2007 mark. Florida State was third with 163 points, followed by West Virginia with 198 points and Princeton with 220 points to round out the top five.
"Nationals is unlike any other race," said Blood. "You know it’s going to fast from the gun and you’ve got to stay in there and hang on.
"I’m really proud of our effort, especially without one of our top runners," said Blood. "It’s not first place, but it still feels pretty good."
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