The men’s cross-country team picked up its sixth straight OVC championship this past weekend. The Colonels finished with five runners in the top six places. (Courtesy of ekusports.com)

By Ryan Alves

Eastern’s men’s cross-country team showed no mercy this past weekend when they dominated the Ohio Valley Conference Championship at Arlington Club in Richmond.

 “People don’t realize how great this team is,” said Head Coach Rick Erdmann.

Erdmann emphasized how important the win was for Eastern. When looking at the 2011 NCAA Division I National Cross-Country Coaches’ Poll, teams that dominated in other regionals such as the ACC (Florida State) and Conference USA (Tulsa) were beaten by Eastern in past competitions this season. And those are not the only two teams as the list goes on.

Erdmann also earned Men’s Coach of the Year, making this the 18th time he has received it.

The Colonels had two top finishers and seven of the top nine finishers to help bring in their 20th overall and sixth consecutive conference crown.

For the men, the 8K race through Arlington was not an easy one. Muddy terrain, cold weather and many hills posed a challenge for them, but did not stand in their way.

 “The temperature was cold, the grounds were muddy and the hills were tough, but unless you want to be Coach Erdmann’s joke of the month, you better not complain about it,” senior Alex Dreyer said.

Sophomore Soufiane Bouchikhi started Eastern’s victory by winning the men’s 8K race with a time of 24:53.83.

“Soufiane is a very talented defending champion,” Erdmann said.

This is Bouchikhi’s second consecutive OVC Championship victory by defeating 74 runners and beating the clock two seconds faster than his winning time last season. With Bouchikhi’s win, Eastern now has had one of its runners winning the OVC Championship eight years in a row.

Bouchikhi was not the only victor on the field. Sophomore Adams Ronnoh, who finished second with a time of 25:20.77, was only 26 seconds behind Bouchikhi. Senior David Mutuse (25:34.25), freshman Thijs Nijhuis (25:39.46) and junior Daniel Jones (25:44.93) finished fourth through sixth and were able to receive first team All-OVC honors. Dreyer (25:58.69) and junior Musa Kimuli (26:05.21) finished eighth and ninth and were named second team All-OVC.

Seniors Ben Cheruiyot and Peter Sigilai, who are two of Eastern’s top runners, were not able to compete in the race.

“Due to some slight injuries, we had to hold them out to give people a chance to participate,” Erdmann said.

The women’s race had a final point total of 41, bringing the team in second place with Eastern Illinois coming in first. Behind Eastern were Southeast Missouri (88), JSU (103), Murray State (116), Morehead State (142), APSU (161), UTM (206), TTU (223) and TSU (321). It was a strange defeat because the team had won the last five OVC Championships and 25 of the 32 overall championships since the event first took place.

 The battle was not lost, though, as senior and OVC Runner of the year, Lydia Kosgei won the women’s 5K race with a time of 17:43.69, making this her first OVC Championship win.

 “We wanted to win as a team, but it was good to see Lydia win,” freshman Ann Mason said.

Kosgei’s running time was 17 seconds faster than 75 other runners, which was the fastest winning time since 2007.

 “It was impressive, winning it [the championship] my senior year,” Kosgei said.

Giselle Slotboom from Jacksonville State finished second with a time of 18:00.58. Junior Picoty Letich finished third with a time of 18:09.00, while freshman Ann Eason placed ninth with a time of 18:37.81.

“We need to become more motivated and have more drive for competition,” sophomore Hannah Miller said.

The women’s team did not have another runner in the top 14, but Miller placed 20th with a time of 19:02.61, and senior Danielle Mason rounded out Eastern’s top five in 24th with a time of 19:11.82. Eastern was able to place all of its top five runners in the top 14 to earn its first league title since 2001.

“We have to work on staying as a group,” Erdmann said. “The women’s course for the Regionals in Louisville will be 6.2 miles, while Arlington was only five miles.”

Eastern is just getting warmed up, though, as the teams focus their attention to the Southeast Region Championships on Saturday, Nov.12, in Louisville.