Spartanburg, S.C. – Throughout the season, USC Upstate's Gilbert Kemboi made his case as the top runner in the A-Sun. He cemented it Saturday morning by winning the championship at the 2010 A-Sun Cross Country Championships at the Milliken Research Par, winning by 40 seconds over the second-place finisher.
Kemboi, a sophomore from Eldoret, Kenya, finished second in the 2009 A-Sun Championships and was both a First Team All-Conference selection and the league's Freshman of the Year. This season, he won three individual championships and placed third in a field of 323 national-caliber runners in another meet heading into this weekend. On Saturday, he was again dominant.
Kemboi went out quick with the pop of the starter's gun and took the lead. He would never relinquish it. By the time he ran half of his race, he was already 30 seconds ahead of his closest competitor. He won the 8k race with a time of 24:00.84. It was the third-fastest time run in the championships and the second-fastest by a winner. Belmont's Ryan Snellen won the 2004 title with a time of 23:37.00, while teammate Jacob Buckman finished second with a time of 23:38.00. Kemboi also posted the second-largest margin of victory in the history of the championship. His 40-second victory over Kennesaw State's Nabil Hamid was second all-time behind the 54-second win by Georgia State's Andrew Letherby in 1997.
"It was another great performance for Gilbert today," said Upstate assistant coach Carson Blackwelder. "It was another solo effort, he was by himself out there. He didn't feel all that great because he doesn't like cold temperatures, but he was able to get through it."
"I just tried to do my best," said Kemboi. "It was cold and that made it a little tough. But, I just wanted to go out strong. I really wasn't pushed, but it was a good race and a good win."
Kemboi earned First Team All-Conference honors from the A-Sun with the win and was joined on the all-conference team by teammate Davey Dennison (Carlisle, Pa.), who finished eighth with a time of 25:12.87. Andrew Kipchumba (Eldoret, Rift Valley, Kenya) earned A-Sun All-Freshman honors after finishing 24th with a time of 25:58.18.
"Gilbert obviously has had an amazing season," said Upstate head coach Jimmy Stephens. "I am extremely proud of how hard he works and the leadership he brings to the team. He is a great person and I am so proud of him.
"Our guys really performed at a high level. We had some guys really step up. We knew that Kennesaw was almost untouchable. I am really proud of how they performed. We had a lot of personal records and that's all you can ask for in a conference championship."
Upstate finished third in the meet with 80 points. It marked the second-straight third-place finish for the Spartans after tying for third last year. Kennesaw State, which placed three runners in the top seven positions, claimed the men's championship with 55 points. Belmont was second with 68 points and was followed by Upstate (80), North Florida (98), Campbell (114), East Tennessee State (137), Mercer (163), Florida Gulf Coast (200), Lipscomb (214), Stetson (324) and Jacksonville (334).
Habid led the Kennesaw State contingent on the day. He finished second with a time of 24:41.66, a little more than 40 seconds behind Kemboi. Teammate Jaakko Nieminen finished third with a time of 24:44.22. Piotr Witzack was seventh with a time of 25:11.88.
Christian Ritacco (Niceville, Fla.) also turned in a solid finish for Upstate, finishing 21st with a time of 25:50.59. Along with Kemboi, Dennison and Kipchumba, he gave the Spartans four runners in the top 25.
North Florida claimed the women's team championship after placing four runners in the top 12. The Ospreys tallied 55 points and was followed by Lipscomb (73), Jacksonville (96), Upstate (108), Belmont (110), Florida Gulf Coast (158), Mercer (172), Campbell (174), Kennesaw State (217), East Tennessee State (261) and Stetson (314)."
All of the coaches talked about how it could go either way," said Blackwelder. "Our girls did well. They put it out there for the first two miles. Our top three were right there where we wanted to finish. We just needed to finish a little higher in order to move up. The conference is a lot better and our team is still sitting at fourth. The quality of our conference continues to improve."
Kennesaw State's Mackenzie Howe, after finishing second in each of the last two A-Sun Championship meets, claimed the individual title this year with a 5k time of 17:22.78. She finished just under two seconds ahead of North Florida's Shelby Kittrell.
Upstate's Joan Tangwar (Eldoret, Kenya), who entered the race having claimed two wins on the Milliken course this season, finished fifth with a time of 17:56.47. She earned First Team All-Conference honors and was joined on the all-conference team by second team members Carolyne Chelulei (Eldoret, Kenya) and Jemeli Sang (Eldoret, Kenya). Lauren Walker (Columbia, S.C.) finished with a time of 19:07.81 to claim 39th.
"As a team, we are all a little disappointed that we got fourth," said Stephens. "But, we did the best we could do and other teams had great days today. That's all you can ask, to do as good as you can. The conference is so good and it was so tight at the top. I think this is something that we can build on for next year."