COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech cross country teams have one final tuneup race before competing at the end of the month in the Ohio Valley Conference Championships, and what a meet it will be. The Golden Eagles are set to run Friday afternoon in the Crimson Classic, hosted by the University of Alabama.
The Crimson Classic will be held at Harry Pritchett Park in Tuscaloosa, and features a lineup of strong teams to give Angel's teams a tantalizing test before the conference meet. The course provides a rolling landscape, and will allow the runners opportunities for personal best efforts.
"We are very excited to be participating in the Crimson Classic on Friday," said head coach Wayne Angel. "It will be a great opportunity for Tech to view the course where the Regional Championship will be held (Nov. 14).
"We will be competing against some very strong regional teams this week," Angel said. "Our training has been truly outstanding and we are starting to come together as a team, particularly on the women's side.
A field of as many as 30 teams will be on hand, including strong cross country programs such as South Alabama, Southern Mississippi, Florida State, Auburn, Lipscomb, Alabama, Samford, Tennessee, North Florida, Mississippi State and Belmont.
The women will tour a course that is 5K in length, beginning at 5 p.m. Friday, while the men face an 8K challenge that is scheduled for a 5:30 p.m. starting gun.
The Tech women's lineup will feature six runners and the men's will have five. Golden Eagles running in the women's event will be Sonel Bezuidenhout, Sarah Brandt, Angela Jepchirchir, Purity Murray, Jenna Storms, and Madison Stremler. The men's lineup will include Colin Gwaltney, Amos Kepchirchir, Noah Rotich, Geoffrey Sambu and Daniel Williamson.
"I look for some big breakthroughs on both sides this week as we prepare for the conference championship in two weeks," Angel said. "Geoffrey, Jenna, Sarah and Purity have stepped it up to another level."
"Our goal going into Friday's competition is to race outside of our comfort zone," he said. "To push ourselves to the level of our training and beyond. We have to go out and race while having fun and enjoy it, because it's going to be very stressful."
Storms and Brandt have paced Tech in each of the team's four races so far this year, each finishing first on the team twice and second twice. Storms led Tech two weeks ago in the Greater Louisville Classic, posting the team's best 5K time of the year at 18:24.9. Brandt was right behind in 18:25.2. Murray, meanwhile, has consistently been the third Golden Eagle across the finish line and posted her career-best at Louisville in 19:13.2, while Bezuidenhout has been fourth on the squad in every event. She also had a PR at Louisville with a 19:28.6 effort.
For the Tech men, Sambu is returning to the form that earned him all-OVC and all-region honors a year ago in his debut season. After finishing second on the squad in the opening meet of the year, he has led the Golden Eagles in each of the past three meets and posted his season-best time at Louisville in 25:17.1.
The most improved runner on the team is Daniel Williamson, who led Tech in the opening meet and has been second across the line in each of the last three meets. He has rewritten his own PR times this season. His best of the year was a clocking of 25:37.29 at the Commodore Classic.
Kipchirchir has been a consistent third finisher for Angel's team, including a career-best 26:50.33 at the Vanderbilt meet. Misoy had been finishing fourth on the squad through the first three meets, before missing the Louisville event.
"We have some very talented athletes on this team; it's time that they start believing in themselves, their training and their coaches and race like champions," Angel said.
The team has stayed relatively injury-free this season, but a few injuries have popped up to hinder some performances, according to Angel.
"We still have a few athletes that are not quite at 100 percent," he said. "Daniel Williamson continues to improve each week from his achilles injury. Timothy Misoy is still a week away from getting back on the course.
"We have moved into the peaking phase of our training and the intensity has been very high in practice," Angel said. "Our student-athletes are responding very well. Juco All-American Purity Murray is starting to come into her own. Madison Stremler is really adapting to her first season of cross country. I look for her to crack the top five on this team this week.
"On the men's side Amos Kipchirchir and Noah Rotich are starting to respond to training and should have breakthroughs this week."