By Nate Perry, TTU Sports Information
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – Purity Sanga followed through on her billing as the top female runner in the Ohio Valley Conference this season, winning the individual league title on Saturday morning at the OVC Championships. The Tech men made their own statement in the second race of the event, taking a third-place team finish, the program's best since 1967.
"I thought both teams went out there and gave it their all today," said head coach Wayne Angel. "The men accomplished their mission with a top-three finish, the second-highest in Tech history."
"Our women are still working hard to be great. This was the first conference championship meet for a lot of them, and they are moving in the right direction. The future is certainly bright for both of our teams."
Sanga left no doubt in becoming the second Tech woman ever to win the individual championship, as she finished the five-kilometer race in 17-minutes, 1.7-seconds, more than 14 seconds ahead of runner-up Lilian Kiborus of Eastern Kentucky.
As is the OVC's custom, Sanga was named the Female Athlete of the Championships for her triumph, and will receive First Team all-conference honors for the second straight season – yet another pair of titles to add to her profile as a Golden Eagle.
Sanga joins Tech legend Stephanie Place as the only female to win multiple First Team honors.
The victory was Sanga's third in six races this season, and she came very close to posting her third 5K time of less than 17 minutes. Nonetheless, her mark stands as the third-best in Tennessee Tech history, giving her the top four results in the women's record book, and seven of the top 10.
"Purity was amazing today, she led from start to finish," Angel said. "She is a national-caliber athlete, and we knew coming in that she was the odds-on favorite to win it all. There is not a meet that she does not bring her 'A' game, and this one was no different."
Sharon Chepkemboi was the second finisher for the TTU women, placing 22nd overall with the second-best time of her career, 18:29.3. Chepkemboi was one of the most impressive newcomers at the meet, coming in third among freshman racers.
Janet Kwambai, who was named Co-Female Freshman of the Year Friday night, was the team's No. 3 runner, clocking an 18:47.3 for 31st overall.
Vivien Chesire and Ashley Daniel were TTU's fourth and fifth, respectively, with times of 21:42.6 and 24:32.7.
Overall, the Golden Eagle women came in seventh out of the 12 OVC institutions with 204 points. Eastern Kentucky won the women's team title with four runners in the top 10 and a total of 33 points. The host Southeast Missouri was the runner-up with 80.
If its regular season resume was any indication, the Tennessee Tech men's team came into the OVC Championships poised to record a historical performance of its own.
And it did just that.
With a total of 97 points, the Tech men came in third place, the program's highest finish at the OVC Championships since its second-place result in the 1967 season.
Known for their ability to stay in a compact group during their races, the TTU men's spread between their first and fifth runners was once again under a minute at 50.4 seconds.
"I am so proud of (the men's team)," Angel said. "I thought we made some really good decisions at key points during the race that helped us finish as high as we did."
Brannon Cheplak led the way with a 10th-place finish in 24:48.9, which included him on the Second Team all-conference list for the first time in his Tennessee Tech tenure.
It marks the first all-conference honor for the men's program since Gilbert Boit's performance in 2017, which merited First Team recognition, and the first time a Golden Eagle made the Second Team since Geoffrey Sambu in 2015.
Ababu Mohamed was the team's No. 2 runner for the first time in his career, coming in 16th overall with a 25:03.2, the third-best mark in his two seasons in Cookeville. The time was just 6.9 seconds off his all-time best, a 24:56.3 set at the Greater Louisville Classic four weeks ago.
Sammy Kipkirui and Gabriel Kiprono crossed the line in succession, placing 22nd and 23rd, respectively, with times of 25:12.3 and 25:13.4.
Kiprono's time was also his third-best in a purple and gold uniform, and just 16.5 seconds behind his record pace.
Benard Sigei was the No. 5, finishing in 25:39.3 for 31st overall.
Eastern Kentucky won the men's race with 29 points, followed by Belmont with 49.
There is still another chapter of the 2018 season remaining for Tech cross country, as it will participate in the NCAA South Regional on Friday, Nov. 9. Angel is now faced with getting his teams in the right mindset for another huge weekend, but he knows right now the most important thing is to get them rested up.
"We're going to take a couple of days off to nurse a few dings, and then we'll start our preparation for the regional championships. It's imperative that we get ourselves back to being as close to fully rested as possible."
Photo by Eric Mueller, Southeast Missouri Strategic Communications