By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – In what was most likely a unanimous decision, Tennessee Tech sophomore Purity Sanga was named the Ohio Valley Conference's Cross Country Female Athlete of the Year, as announced by the league office Friday evening. During the same ceremony, teammate Janet Kwambai was honored for her impressive first season, as she earned Co-Female Freshman of the Year.
"I am very happy with the announcement and thrilled for Purity and Janet," said coach Wayne Angel. "It is an honor well deserved for the two of them. Tennessee Tech has come a long way in cross country, and I believe the best is yet to come for both the men's and women's programs."
Sanga, who was the 2017 Female Freshman of the Year, stood head-and-shoulders above the rest of the league, having been crowned the OVC's Female Runner of the Week after each of her five regular-season performances in 2018.
The Kapsabet, Kenya native claimed two individual victories and two runner-ups, and never finished worse than third overall at any meet in her campaign – an impressive feat considering three of her five races contained at least 186 runners. A fourth, the UAB Blazer Classic, featured 142.
The Athlete of the Year recognition is just the latest piece to be added to Sanga's historic season, one that firmly solidified her as the best athlete in the history of TTU women's cross country.
Sanga set the top three five-kilometer marks in the program record book this year, initially breaking the old standard with her time of 17-minutes, 20.7-seconds at the Vanderbilt Commodore Classic on September 15. She built on that with a 39-second improvement the following week at the Mountain Dew Invitational, where she clocked the first-ever sub-17-minute result in TTU lore, 16:41.58. Finally, she shaved off another fraction of a second at the Greater Louisville Classic to set the current pinnacle at 16:41.3.
With those three additions, Sanga now owns six of the top 10 marks on Tennessee Tech's all-time 5K list.
Sanga is the first female to win the Athlete of the Year award for cross country under Angel's leadership, joining Gilbert Boit in 2017 as Angel's second overall winner.
Those two supplement Micayla Rennick's sweep of the honor for indoor and outdoor track and field last year, giving Angel a total of four of such recipients during his time at Tech.
Kwambai is joined by Eastern Kentucky's Lillian Ndorobo in earning Co-Female Freshman of the Year, the first time in OVC history that the honor has been split between two recipients.
As previously noted, Kwambai becomes the second Golden Eagle in a row to win the award, succeeding Sanga. The newcomer from Iten, Kenya began the season with a runner-up finish at the Golden Eagle Invitational presented by Hometown IGA, and later posted another top-15 result, placing 14th out of 270 entrants at the Mountain Dew Invitational. She also recorded her top 5K time at the Mountain Dew, a 17:38.31, which sits at No. 8 in the TTU record book.
In her three other meets, Kwambai has placed 35th, 52nd and 53rd overall, including her in the top 30 percent of finishers at each of those races.
Kwambai has been the firmly-established No. 2 runner for TTU all season, running directly behind Sanga at four of five meets.
She is Coach Angel's fifth Freshman Athlete of the Year, joining Sanga in 2017, and Boit on the men's side in 2016. In addition, a pair of track athletes won the award in 2016, as Na'Asha Robinson claimed it for the indoor season, while D'Airrien Jackson took it home for the outdoor portion.
Both Sanga and Kwambai will attempt to add to their impressive 2018 profiles when they toe the line in the OVC Championship women's race at 9 a.m. Saturday morning.
Photos by Thomas Corhern