The University of New Mexico North Golf Course played host to a sunny Saturday of exciting races at the NJCAA Cross Country National Championships. Both the men's and women's teams brought home hardware and high finishes; highlighted by the men's team finishing 5th and Sheilah Cheruiyot placing 12th overall.
At 11:00am 343 of the best runners in the NJCAA took off across the UNM North Golf Course in pursuit of season capping performances. Five TSJC runners immediately inserted themselves toward the front of the pack. Felix Kemei, Miguel Coca, and Devin Paredes battled the majority of the race with the top 20 runners. Bailey Smith, Micah Stanton and Caleb Palmer followed them forty to fifty places behind. As the last loop of the 8-kilometer race began Devin Paredes made a push into 12th place. Kemei followed closely behind. Paredes would continue to pass runners all the way to the finish line where he finished 9th in the country in a new School Record time of 24:32.94. Kemei was close behind in 13th place with a time of 24:47, marking a new personal best for the sophomore. Miguel Coca finished 31st, running 25:37. All three of these athletes finished with All-American honors. Running a massive personal best time, Caleb Palmer moved up throughout the race to finish 57th in a time of 26:22.3. Micah Stanton also ran a personal best to finish just behind Palmer in 26:22.4. Bailey Smith improved upon his finish last year by placing 100th and running 26:56. Joseph Enright rounded out the Trojan's performance in 148th place.
The Trojans combined to score 155 points, garnering them 5th place overall. This marks the team's highest finish at a National Championship since both the men's and women's programs were restarted in 2016. "I'm proud of how our men competed today," said Coach Lauren Masterson. "This group of guys has been fantastic to work with all year. They gave us our best finish to date, and that's something to be proud of." Devin Paredes' performance also gained high praise from the coach, saying; "Devin ran like a man possessed the last mile of that race. He simply put his head down and started blowing past some great runners. Him and Felix gave us strong races up front, while Caleb Palmer gave us a heroic effort to get up next to Micah by the finish line." Wesley Banguria of Colby Community College took the individual title while Cloud County Community College took the team Championship with 89 points.
The starter's gun sent the women's race off at 12:00pm to a fast early pace. Sheilah Cheruiyot stalked the front pack for the early minutes, hovering around 20th place. Ashlee Ferarri and Mary Baldwin also got out well in the top 100 athletes, followed by Rachel McKinley, Camryn Mileta, and Jessica Arellano. Over the course of the 5k race Cheruiyot continually passed slowing runners, gaining momentum with each passing mile. Cheruiyot would pass runners all the way into the final stretch to finish in 12th place, earning All American honors. Mary Baldwin was the next Trojan across the line in 59th place, turning in another great performance despite battling stomach illness. Ashlee Ferrari wrapped up a great rookie cross country season with a stellar finish in 96th place, running her second best time ever in 21:00. Rachel McKinley followed across the line next in a personal best time of 25:30, good for 267th place. Camryn Mileta and Jessica Arellano both had strong performances to finish the Trojan?s charge, finishing in 27:13 and 31:19 respectively.
The Trojan ladies finished 24th as a team, despite not being ranked in the top 25 for the entirety of the season. Coach Masterson commented on the Nationals performance saying, "Our ladies gave a great effort all around. They really saved their best performance for the biggest meet of the year." Cheruiyot definitely saved her best for last with wise racing. "Sheilah was extremely smart in her approach. She sat back early in the race as many other runners got caught up in the adrenaline that comes with a National Championship. Then as they began to slow she made up ground rapidly to gain a top-15 finish." Faith Chepengat of Iowa Western Community College took the individual National Championship while Iowa Central Community College took the team win.
The men's and women's cross country and track programs now combine for 47 All-American awards since the fall of 2016. They've had their first team place in the top-5 at a National Championship this year, and their first individual break into the top 10 at the Cross Country National Championships. The Trojans will now turn their sights to indoor track season which will begin in only a few short weeks with meets in the early weeks of December.