By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
MONTEVALLO, Ala. – If the prior weeks' accomplishments weren't enough proof, Tennessee Tech cross country left no doubt it's ready for the OVC Championships in two weeks, as it turned in another round of spectacular performances at the UAB Blazer Classic Friday morning.
"I challenged both teams to be excellent today," said coach Wayne Angel. "I told them to be the best they could be, and it's clear from the results they accepted that challenge."
Purity Sanga added another milestone to her Tech resume, earning her first career individual victory with a six-kilometer time of 20-minutes, 28.56-seconds.
The victory extended Sanga's streak of top-three finishes to five meets in a row – the entire length of the 2018 campaign – and was the cornerstone of TTU's ninth-place team result out of 19 programs at the Blazer.
In just the fourth 6K race of her career, Sanga led the rest of the field by a whopping 26 seconds, and held off the top finishers from SEC powers Alabama and Tennessee, who claimed the second, third and fourth-place positions.
It was the second-fastest 6K time of the Kapsabet, Kenya native's career, as she was about 12 seconds faster (20:16.4) at last year's NCAA South Regional in Tallahassee, Fla., which gave her a first-ever trip to the NCAA Championships.
Results like these provide a promising outlook for a return to the big stage this November.
"Purity was the class of the field today – she ran away with that meet," Angel stated. "She is establishing herself as one of the top distance runners in the country."
Janet Kwambai and Sharon Chepkemboi were the second and third finishers for TTU, roles they have occupied all season.
Both freshmen handled themselves very well for their first-ever collegiate 6K, as Kwambai came across in 22:41.20, and Chepkemboi in 22:49.84, which netted the 35th and 43rd overall places, respectively.
Two other freshmen rounded out the lineup for the TTU women, as Vivien Chesire clocked a time of 25:58.95, and Ashley Daniel ran a 31:55.47.
"The women continue to rise to the occasion," said an encouraged Angel. "They competed with a high level of intensity, which was great to see. We will definitely be a team to look out for in a couple of years."
The Tennessee Tech men raised some more eyebrows around the region, taking a runner-up team finish out of 19 with 52 points, and beating out two clubs currently ranked ahead of them in the South Region in Florida A&M (third place) and Tennessee (sixth).
TTU ended up just nine points behind the meet champions, Florida State, another titan in the South.
Brannon Cheplak led the tightly packed Golden Eagles with a sixth-place finish, and crossed the line in 24:35.06, the second-best 8K mark of his career and the second-fastest time posted by any member of the team this season.
It was the first time in 2018 that the junior paced the Tech men's team, and the fifth time he's taken a top-10 individual result as a collegian.
Sammy Kiprkirui was next, earning 10th place with a time of 24:55.03. After taking 51st overall at one of the largest meets in the country, the Greater Louisville Classic, Kipkirui returned to the top 10 for the fourth time this season. He has now finished in less than 25 minutes at every 8K meet this year, save for a 25:07.7 at the Vanderbilt Commodore Classic.
It was a third straight sub-25-minute outing for Sigei, who was coming off a personal-best 24:36.2 that led his team two weeks ago in Louisville.
Mohamed came the closest to setting a new PR of any of Tech's men's runners, and has now broken the 25-minute barrier in back-to-back meets.
Gabriel Kiprono was Tennessee Tech's crucial No. 5 runner, completing the 8K loop in 25:05.23 for 18th place, and making two meets in a row that the entire TTU lineup finished within the top 20 runners.
"The men defeated No. 2 Tennessee and No. 6 Florida A&M, and lost by nine points to FSU, who is No. 5," Angel said. "That's a really good performance at this point in the season. They competed like winners and were not afraid to go for it."
With the regular season now complete, the TTU cross country teams are off until the OVC Championships on October 27, undoubtedly the biggest meet to this point in the year. Angel is confident his teams' preparation and progression have them primed to show up with their absolute best at the conference showdown.
"We've worked hard all year, and it has shown in our meet results," Angel said. "We've had some nice accolades and accomplishments throughout the season, but now we're into the meets where the stakes are the highest. This is where all of the training gets put to the test, and I expect our teams to showcase that at the OVC Championships in a couple of weeks."
Photo by Thomas Corhern