By Cameron Blair
Eastern’s men’s and women’s cross country teams both took first place at the OVC Championships held at the Spain Park Trail in Hoover, Ala.The women’s title brought their conference title tally up to an OVC-record 22. The men’s title was the second in as many years and their 16th overall.
On the men’s side, Joseph Korir won his fourth consecutive conference title with a time of 24:54.28, becoming only the 13th runner in NCAA history and the 3rd in OVC history to accomplish the feat.
Korir will attempt to repeat as the winner of the Southeast Region Championships Saturday.
Joseph Maina gave the Colonels a sweep of the top two spots, finishing 2nd in the 8K race with a time of 25:10.53.
“Maina ran a great race and I feel he’s capable of getting into the NCAA championships,” Coach Rick Erdmann said.
While Korir and Maina both ran strong races, it was the other Colonel runners who allowed Eastern to dominate the meet. Eastern finished with a score of 27 while Jacksonville State finished a distant second with a score of 70.
The Eastern runners combined to take five of the top 11 spots in the meet.
Senior Jacob Fortney led the way after Korir and Maina, finishing sixth with a time of 25:42.30. Sophomore Elkana Kurgat (25:42.92) and junior Christopher Rengifo (25:55.47) finished seventh and 11th, respectively.
Erdmann said throughout the season the Colonels needed to close the gap between Maina and Korir and the rest of the runners.
“Our guys have competed at a pretty high level all season,” Erdmann said. “I think this was our best race of the year as a team.”
Korir, Maina, Fortney and Kurgata were awarded first-team All-OVC after the race while Christopher Rengifo was given the second team All-OVC honors.
Next up for the men is the Southeast Region Championships. The Colonels will spend the next week preparing for the larger, longer race. The course for the regional championship is a 10K course and will feature a much larger field of runners.
“It will be very difficult to run together at the regionals,” Erdmann said. “Our guys will just have to run the best individual race they possible can.”
Although the women weren’t quite as dominant as the men, their final score of 41 was still 25 points lower than runner-up Samford, which finished with a score of 66.
The Colonels were picked to finish second to the Bulldogs in the conference preseason poll.
“The girls were picked to finish second, but they had a certain amount of confidence going into the meet because they had beaten Samford earlier in the year,” Erdmann said.
Dependable senior Katy Ankrom led the way for Eastern, finishing second overall with a time of 18:03.20. Two other runners finished in the top 10 for the Colonels. Juniors Alli McMaster (18:35.59) and Barbara Phelan (18:48.21) finished fourth and eighth.
Senior Carrie Crofford and junior Maria Doerger rounded out the field for the Colonels. Crofford finished 11th with an overall time of 19:06.61 and Doerger finished 16th with a time of 19:22.63.
Erdmann said he thinks the competition the women faced during the season helped them claim the title.
“Being exposed to a high level of competition during the season gave the girls a certain amount of confidence,” Erdmann said.
Ankrom and McMaster earned spots on the all-OVC first team while Phelan and Crofford were awarded spots on the all-OVC second team.
Both teams will be back in action and the Colonel runners will be competing for spots in the NCAA Nationals Saturday at the Southeast Region Championships in Louisville.