Sanga’s school record, men’s top-five finish highlight breakout performance at Commodore Classic

Sanga’s school record, men’s top-five finish highlight breakout performance at Commodore Classic

By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Sophomore Purity Sanga is the new owner of the fastest women's five-kilometer time in Tennessee Tech cross country history, and she sits alone at the top of the all-time list by a wide margin.

Sanga came across the finish line in 17-minutes, 20.7-seconds, eclipsing Micayla Rennick's old mark of 17:29.8 from October 29, 2016 by more than nine ticks of the clock.

"It was awesome to see that," said head coach Wayne Angel. "She ran the perfect race and beat some very good people. She was right up there with two of the athletes from our conference (EKU's Lilian Kiborus and Gladys Cheruiyot) who will be battling for the individual championship this year and ended up finishing ahead of both of them today. I think it was her way of showing them that she is going to be a contender and challenge them for that top spot."

Sanga's effort gave her second place overall, the highest individual result of her budding career in a "big meet" setting. She was in a league of her own at the much smaller Golden Eagle Invitational last week, claiming victory with a mark of 17:50.5.

The Kapsabet, Kenya native has now registered a top-10 individual finish in six of her eight meets in a Tennessee Tech uniform, with five of those six also being top-five results.

She came in 11 seconds behind the race winner, Dorcas Wasike of Louisville, who crossed in a blistering 17:09.4.

Sanga led the Tech women for the seventh consecutive race, propelling them to a total of 340 points and a 12th-place team finish among 19 teams. Ohio State won the team competition with 105 points.

"I think it's a maturity thing," said Angel of Sanga's leadership. "She's just a dedicated, committed, tough competitor. She moved up from sixth at this race last year to second, and cut 18 seconds off her time so I'm extremely proud of her and very hopeful for what is yet to come."

The next two Golden Eagles across the line were a pair of Angel's promising freshmen, Sharon Chepkemboi and Janet Kwambai.

Competing at the collegiate level for just the second time, Chepkemboi and Kwambai ran alongside one another for much of the race, finishing 48th and 53rd, respectively, with times of 18:36.6 and 18:38.5.

Those times were also fast enough to make the Tech record book at No. 31 and No. 34, respectively, which means that both freshmen already have their names included twice in TTU's women's top 50.

"(Chepkemboi and Kwambai) both ran really well," Angel said. "We need to work on our No. 4 and our No. 5 (runners) now, but I'm very hopeful that by the time the OVC Championships come around, we'll be in pretty good shape."

Two more freshmen, Sarah Pearson and Vivien Chesire, rounded out the five TTU entries in the women's race with marks of 23:51.9 and 23:57.7, respectively.

Sammy Kiprkirui followed up last week's four-mile victory at the Golden Eagle Invitational as the fastest of the Tennessee Tech men for a second straight week.

Kipkirui's sixth-place overall finish in 25:07.7 was the second-best eight-kilometer time of his career, and entitles him to the No. 16 spot on the all-time list for the Tech men's program.

"Very good opener for Sammy," said Angel. "He ran a very smart, tactical race and was a great leader for our men's team today. He, and all of our men, stayed tightly packed until our release point, and then let loose and just went for it, and I was really happy with that."

His performance also led an impressive all-around outing for TTU, as the Golden Eagles placed fourth out of 14 teams with 98 points.

They were also right on the heels of Belmont, the third-place finisher at the 2017 OVC Championships, which accumulated 95 points at the Commodore Classic.

Eastern Kentucky, the best program in the OVC for over a decade, took the first, third, fourth, fifth and seventh individual finishes for a total of 20 points to win the men's team portion.

Brannon Cheplak was Tech's No. 2 runner, clocking a time of 25:20.2 for 13th overall. It was the fifth-best career 8K mark for Cheplak, and it becomes the 24th-best time in TTU history.

Benard Sigei was next for TTU, placing 18th with a career-best time of 25:35.3, and making three Golden Eagles inside the top 20 out of 139 runners. 

Sigei replaced his previous best with an improvement of more than four seconds, and moves up to No. 30 all-time in school history.

Sophomore Ababu Mohamed took 31st overall, turning in a new-personal-best time of 26:02.4. Mohamed improved on his old top mark by almost 11 seconds and remains the owner of the 48th-best time in Tech history, due to the new marks posted by his teammates.

Gabriel Kiprono was the bookend for a Tech team that finished entirely inside the top 40 overall, completing his first-ever collegiate 8K in 26:09.1 for 36th place.

Angel was extremely proud of the pack his men's team maintained throughout the race, with a spread of just 31 places and 1:01.4 between his No. 1 and No. 5 runners.

"I was very happy with the men's spread today and we're only going to get better," said Angel. "This was our first 8K together. I think we're on track to have everybody running in the low (24-minute range) by the time we go to Louisville in a couple of weeks."

"We beat some Power 5 schools today, which is great. Beat my alma mater, Illinois, beat (coach Whitney Fountain's) alma mater, Clemson, and lost in our conference to a very good EKU team that finished with just 20 points. I think we're in a great spot at this point in the season."

Photo by Thomas Corhern