EL DORADO, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College cross country team, and freshman Moses Dirane, had waited through three long years of recruiting efforts and setting up travel arrangements for Saturday's opportunity to see what the South African native could do at the national level.
Up against 297 competitors at the NJCAA DI Cross Country National Championships, Dirane made the most of the opportunity as he crossed the finish line at Prairie Trails Golf Course with a time of 24 minutes, 25.32 seconds, finishing second overall behind only Central Arizona's Gilbert Kigen and earning All-American honors in the process.
"When I saw the finish line, I was just like 'Good, here's a chance to come in second place,' and to see myself win second, I started crying," said Dirane, who was named NJCAA Central Region Cross Country Male Athlete of the Year at Friday's banquet. "It was my first time crying because I knew how big this was for me, for Cloud County, and for coach Drew (Mahin). I'd like to thank coach Drew and coach (Harry) Kitchener for believing in me and giving me an opportunity like this to come to the United States from South Africa and run."
Dirane was joined on the All-American podium by fellow South African freshman, Thobile Mosito, who came in 12th overall with a time of 25:33.70.
Freshman Stephen Marindich (58th, 26:55.71), and sophomores Dominic Rotich (136th, 28:02.74) and Nick Roark (247th, 30:38.12) rounded out the Cloud County men's team, which finished 13th overall out of 40 participating teams.
"We had been ranked around No. 15-No. 17 all year, so breaking through that barrier at the most important meet of the season was really important for our team as we continue to grow each year," Mahin said. "The progression the last four years has shown we're bringing in better and better kids and performing at a higher level each year."
The Cloud County women's team was led by sophomore Stephanie Barrett as she placed 32nd with a time of 19:11.97. She highlighted what was a solid afternoon for the T-Birds, who also saw consistent times from Thandeka Manzana (116th, 20;31.82), Ariel St. John (149th, 21:01.04) and Camila Faundez (213th, 22:00.21)
"I think (Barrett) having a solid season without injury or sitting out practices was such a huge success for her. She's been a role model on our team. Today, the race she ran was as good as she's had all year. Just the competition was a notch better," Mahin said. "Thandeka Manzana stepped up and Ariel St. John ran around 21 minutes flat, so there were consistent times that they had ran all year."
Cloud County will send a handful of men's runners to the NJCAA Half Marathon Championships next Saturday in Gulf Shores, Alabama to conclude the 2016 cross country season. But Saturday marked the end of cross country competition for many of the T-Birds' sophomores, including Barrett, Roark and Faundez.
"It is really fun to see how our sophomores have grown," Mahin said. "Nick (Roark) told me right before the start line that 'It's been an honor.' We really take pride in that, knowing that the kids developed as people, as runners and as students. Whether or not they get plagues at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter."