TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – All-American junior David McNeill didn’t disappoint in his quest for a top-five finish at the NCAA Cross Country Championships Monday afternoon. The Australian native ca ptured second-place in the men’s 10,000m race in a time of 29:07, and was trailed by fellow junior Jordan Chipangma who placed fifth to lead the Northern Arizona men’s cross country team to its second fourth-place finish in three years and third consecutive Top 10 finish.
Interim Director of Track and Field Eric Heins couldn’t be more pleased by the effort of his student athletes Monday afternoon.
“That was a great team effort today,” Heins said. “We went into this thing with people all around the country starting to have doubts about NAU. We didn’t have Diego Estrada who is recovering from an illness, and the guys really ran this race for him. I cannot say enough about how proud I am of the team finishing fourth without one of their top guys.”
Heins was also happy for senior Veronica Pohl who finished the women’s 6,000m women’s championship race in 38t h, garnering All-American honors for the second-straight year. Pohl was the lone member of the women’s team to travel to Terre Haute after she recorded an eighth-place finish at the Mountain Region Championships last weekend in Albuquerque, N.M.
“I think it is hard when you go to a cross country meet and you don’t have your teammates there,” Heins said. “She put herself in an awkward position and could never really get herself out of the pack, but it was great to see her finish 38th and walk away with her second-straight All-American honor.”
The men’s race got underway promptly at 12:08 EST with Liberty’s Samuel Chelanga jumping out to an early lead at the 1k-mark. McNeill settled nicely into a pack behind Chelanga, battling Stanford’s Chris Derrik and Mississippi’s Barnabas Kirui throughout the race. In the final 1,000m, McNeill broke away from Derrik and Kirui to claim second place, and first in team scoring.
McNeill was excited by his final results from today’s race, and ecstatic about the fourth place team finish.
“It was a really satisfying day, and was a good experience because it was different from the races I have run before,” McNeill said. “The last two years I have been conservative at the start, but this year I got right to the front and that definitely helped me. The best part of the day was the whole team coming out firing and us being on the podium. Given our training and circumstances, that was a huge achievement for us.”
At the 5k-mark, Chipangama broke away from a secondary pack and cruised to a fifth-place overall finish in a time of 29:33. The junior from Zambia is no stranger to the course when he finished third earlier this season at the Indiana State Pre-Nationals.
“It feels so good to have achieved what I was looking for,” Chipangama said. “At the same time I was looking to do better than fifth, but am still very happy about the finish.”
Chipangama is also thrilled to be able to share his great day on the course with his teammates.
“We wanted to be to on the podium as a team,” Chipangama said. “We didn’t come here to race as individuals, we came here as a team.”
This is the first time in program history that two NAU runners finished in the top five in the men’s championship race. The last time two runners cracked the top 10 was in 2007 when McNeill and former All-American Lopez Lomong accomplished the feat.
Junior Ben Ashkettle (49) sophomore Ahmed Osman (62) and junior Jason Pedersen (75) rounded out the scoring for the Lumberjacks in Monday’s race. For Ashkettle and Pedersen, this year’s race proved to be successful as the duo finished much higher than last year. Ashkettle improved 10 spots, and Pedersen leaped up 99 places.
Sophomore Andrew Belus (118) and senior Simon Gilna (161) closed out the season with solid performances as well for the Lumberjacks.
For Gilna, Monday was his last cross country race in a NAU uniform. The Los Alamos, N.M., native spent four years as a member of the team with his career culminating in his first appearance at the NCAA Championships.
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Northern Arizona 4th place - 190
2. David McNeill, 29:07
5. Jordan Chipangama, 29:33
59. Ben Ashkettle, 30:32
74. Ahmed Osman, 30:39
95. Jason Pedersen, 30:52
149. Andrew Belus, 31:21
196. Simon Gilna, 31:54