Cheserek Wins NCAA CC Title

Edward Cheserek.JPG

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - Oregon freshman Edward Cheserek occasionally looked back during the final 2,000 meters of Saturday's NCAA Cross Country Championships.

He was all alone at every glance.

Cheserek became the first true freshman to win a national championship since Indiana’s Bob Kennedy in 1988; joining Steve Prefontaine (1970, 71, 73), Alberto Salazar (1978) and Galen Rupp (2008) as Oregon champions.

“What Edward did today is one that will continue to put his name in the book alongside some of the greats,” said Oregon coach Robert Johnson.

The LaVern Gibson Championship Course was shortened by 110 meters due to extremely muddy conditions at the start line. Cheserek finished in 29.41.1, beating defending champion Kennedy Kithuka of Texas Tech by 18 seconds.

“I think he was definitely building toward this,” said Oregon senior Mac Fleet, who finished 77th in 31:05, “but I don’t think any of us expected him to win. I thought he could be top-3, easily. But a win on a course like this, with competition like Kithuka, is pretty unbelievable.”

Cheserek and Kithuka were even through 5,000 meters, before Kithuka pulled away slightly around the 6,000-meter mark to lead by approximately 10 meters.

With 3,000 meters left in the race, Cheserek made his push and left Kithuka, who prior to the meet said he hoped to break the 28-minute barrier. The Oregon freshman was never seriously threatened once he pulled away.

Cheserek admitted to wondering how Kithuka would initially respond to his push, and he could be seen looking over his shoulder on several occasions.

“I was scared because he’s a really tough guy,” Cheserek said, “but then with 2,000 left I knew I was good. He was trying to go but he was a little tight.”

The previous best national championship finish by an Oregon freshman was Prefontaine’s third-place result in 1969. It culminates a championship-filled season for Cheserek, who won the Pac-12 and NCAA West Regional meets, and was named the USTFCCCA West Region Athlete of the Year.

“It’s unbelievable, for how young and how inexperienced he is, he handles himself like he’s a veteran in these type of races,” Fleet said.

No runner has won four NCAA individual championships, with Prefontaine, Washington State’s Gerry Lindgren and Henry Rono, each winning three titles.

Cheserek said he’s just hoping to help the team in whatever way possible in the future, and Johnson isn’t ready to make any grandiose projections for his star freshman’s future.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to go back to retool and do it all over again,” Johnson said.

On the strength of Cheserek’s win, the Ducks finished fifth in the team standings with 274 points. Colorado won the team championship with 149 points, while Northern Arizona was second (169), Oklahoma State third (230) and BYU fourth (267).

Parker Stinson was Oregon’s second runner, finishing 54th in 30:56; and was followed in scoring by Tanguy Pepiot (58th, 30:58), Fleet, and Jake Leingang (149th, 31:46).

Portland’s Scott Fauble earned All-American honors for the second consecutive season, finishing 13th in 30:21. The Pilots finished seventh. 

In the women’s meet, defending national champion Oregon finished 14th with 340 points. Providence won the team title with 141 points over second-place Arizona with 197. Dartmouth’s Abbey D’Agostino won the individual title in 20 minutes flat.

Johnson said most of the Ducks’ women had a strong finish, passing 10-14 runners in the last 2,000 meters. There was just one problem.

“We didn’t get out and execute the early part of the race,” Johnson said. “When you’re 100th at the mile, it doesn’t set you up well. You have to get out and get position, and hold position.”

Annie Leblanc led Oregon, finishing 66th in 21:03; followed in scoring by Megan Patrignelli (70th, 21:06), Maggie Schmaedick (81st, 21:11), Molly Grabill (101st, 21:20) and Abby Leonardi (142nd, 21:35).


ERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- Oregon's Edward Cheserek and Eric Jenkins frequently trained together during the summer and they quickly decided on an ambitious goal: finish the season as the nation's top runners.

The duo backed up those thoughts during the NCAA Championships at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course on Saturday with a historic performance.

Cheserek, a sophomore, repeated as national champion, running the 10K course in 30:19. He became the first Oregon runner to win back-to-back championships since Steve Prefontaine in 1970-71.

Jenkins used a strong finishing kick to finish second in 30:23. It's the first time Oregon had runners finish 1-2 in the individual standings of the national championships.

The historic day for area runners wasn't limited to Cheserek and Jenkins. Portland finished third in the men's team standings, the highest finish in the program's history.

"We're continuing to do things that are unprecedented or haven't been done in a long time," Oregon coach Robert Johnson said. "You can't say enough about (Cheserek and Jenkins) being able to do that."

The men's race had a modest pace during the first 5,000 meters, with roughly 70 runners all within three seconds of one another at the midway point.

That pace was fine with Cheserek, who had a simple plan in place. He was going to let the main pack set the pace and try to bring along his Oregon teammates closer to the front before breaking away at the 8K mark.

"I didn't even worry about the time," Cheserek said. "I just wanted to be smart, run smart, and focus on getting ready to go out at that 8K."

The only caveat to Cheserek's plan would be if someone broke away too much. Nobody did -- at least until Cheserek with 2K remaining in the race.

And much like he did last year, Cheserek could be seen looking over his shoulder to see who was behind him. And just like last year, nobody threatened him during the final stretch of the race.

But when Cheserek looked over his shoulder during the last 100 meters of the race, he was looking to see if Jenkins was going to hold off Northern Arizona's Futsum Zienasellassie.

Jenkins was in second coming down the final straight away, but he was passed with about 200 meters remaining. He responded by outkicking Zienasellassie to earn the second-place finish.

"When he passed me I was like, 'You know what, not today,' " Jenkins said. "I didn't put in all of this work to reach the last straight away and get passed in the final 200 meters."

Portland made its own history with a third-place finish in the team standings with 175 points. Top-ranked Colorado won the team championship with 65 points, while Stanford was second with 98 and Oregon was sixth with 221.

The Pilots were led by senior Scott Fauble, who finished 12th in 30:34. Classmate Reid Buchanan was 28th in 30:46, and Timo Goehler was 44th in 31:02.

Portland coach Rob Conner was visibly emotional when discussing his program's best-ever NCAA Championships finish.

"I really am because it's a culmination of a long time and a lot of energy," Conner said.

But don't expect reaching the nationals as a team to be a one-time deal, Conner said. Portland returns two runners from Saturday's lineup, including sophomore Danny Martinez, who finished 59th.

"That's a really nice nucleus for a return trip to the nationals -- guaranteed," the Portland coach said. "That's the goal every year. You'll never heard of some of these guys (next year), but they're ready. They've been in the program for two or three years, but they're ready to get us to the nationals."

In the women's race, Oregon finished sixth in the team standings with its top five runners all finishing within 10 seconds of one another. Four of them will return next season. Freshman Alli Cash was the Ducks' top finisher, placing 59th after running the 6K course in 20:56.

"They're all right there together and to be able to run that close without a really low stick -- that kind of caught up to us today," Johnson said. "But the women are really young and a lot of those girls will be back next year."

Portland senior Tansey Lystand finished 15th in 20:19.

Cheserek Joins Pre as Back-to-Back NCAA Champion
Edward Cheserek pulled clear of the field with 2,000 meters remaining and sprinted home to win the 2014 NCAA Men's Cross Country title.
Release: 11/22/2014
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Courtesy: Kirby Lee
ERRE HAUTE, Ind. – Edward Cheserek pulleross Country 0 .

“I was watching very close in case anyone made a move I had to cover, but no one did, so I just tried to time it with a mile to go and make my move,” said Cheserek. “I felt strong. Everyone in the field was so strong. I just wanted to take the lead, not go out crazy, but just control myself.”

The Men and Women of Oregon both finished sixth in the final team standings, making Oregon the only school to place both squads among the top half dozen in Terre Haute.

How It Happened - Men: Cheserek and Jenkins were among a massive lead pack that stayed together for the first 7,000 meters. The field finally began to string out after Cheserek jumped to lead with 2,000 meters to go. Jenkins was in the top 10 rounding the last curve, and then the senior sprinted up the final hill to clip a number of runners, including Northern Arizona’s Futsum Zienasellassie at the line, to give the Ducks an impressive 1-2 finish. Jenkins finished in 30:23.2, with Zienasellassie at 30:25.3.

Cheserek and Jenkins became the first teammates to finish 1-2 in the men’s championships since John Nuttall and Jonah Koech of Iowa State in 1989.

“That was the plan,” said Jenkins. “I think going into the year we talked about it, but actually being able to do it is a completely different thing. It’s great to come back here and finish a lot higher up.”

Oregon also had solid showings from seniors Tanguy Pepiot, who was 47th in 31:09.9, and Daniel Winn, who was 60th in 31:11.1.

Colorado won with 65 points, followed by Stanford with 98, Portland with 175, Northern Arizona with 188, Syracuse with 206 an

How It Happened - Women: As they have done all season, the women ran well as a pack, with just a :10 spread between their first and sixth runners, to finish sixth with 249 points.

Michigan State, which won the season-opening Bill Dellinger Invitational, won the 2014 title with 147 points, followed by Iowa State with 147, New Mexico with 188, Georgetown with 189 and Arkansas with 209 to round out the top five.

Freshman Alli Cash was the first Duck to cross the finish line, taking 59th in 20:56.4. Junior Waverly Neer was 62nd in 20:57.0, followed by senior Megan Patrignelli in 64th (20:58.3), junior Molly Grabill 77th (21:05.4), freshman Frida Berge 79th (21:06.2) and junior Annie Leblanc 82nd (21:06.5).

“We did a great job running together, but we were just a little far back,” said Patrignelli.

What It Means: Though the men had trouble finding a fifth runner in their quest for a top four finish, the Ducks have back-to-back top-10 finishes for the first time in five years. On the women’s side, the Ducks improved eight places over their 2013 NCAA showing and will return all but Patrignelli next season.

Odds and Ends: It was the last race as a Duck for Patrignelli, who has already used up her track eligibility, and she responded with her highest career finish (64th) at the NCAA Championships. The women led all Pac-12 squads in sixth place. Colorado was seventh, Stanford was 14th, Washington 23rd and UCLA 27th.

Quoteworthy: “For us to have a couple of guys go 1-2 is outstanding. I can’t say enough about their ability to do that. Probably not the team finish we were hoping for, but we’ll take it and we’ll move on,” said Oregon head coach Robert Johnson.

“To have the men and the women finish in the top 10 is always special for us, even though at Oregon we always say we want to be on that podium at the end of the race,” said Johnson. “But I think we left everything we had out there today to we can’t be too upset with that. Our women are really young and a lot of those women will be back next year and learn some things from this meet.”

“As time goes, we just forecast one thing at a time, so I’m not saying that I’ll come back here next year to defend it, but I would like to,” said Cheserek.