GARDEN CITY, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College cross country teams toughed out cold and windy conditions Saturday at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course in Garden City, site of the NJCAA National Cross Country Championships, to finish off the 2018 season on high notes.
Cloud County saw its men's team rebounded from a somewhat disappointing fourth-place finish at the Region VI/KJCCC Championships to earn sixth-place as a team during Saturday's championships; the highest finish of any Region VI program.
"To come out, have this young team run together and come away with a top-10 finish in the nation is pretty special," said Cloud County head coach, Drew Mahin. "We upset some of the power teams in our region at the national meet and I couldn't ask for much more from the guys. The course was tough. The wind was tough and the competition was tough. But they stuck with it."
Cloud County finished with 200 team points, wedged between fifth-place Southern Idaho and Hutchinson Community College (203) in seventh.
The T-Birds were led by freshman Dennis Kiptoo as he capped a breakout freshman campaign by earning a fourth-place finish out of 289 runners with a time of 24 minutes, 55.1 seconds.
"I thought second place to six place, somewhere in there, was realistic for Dennis," Mahin said. "He did a really good job of staying steady in the first three miles then working his way back through. Dennis was comfortable and in control of his body the whole race. We need to work on some finishing speed for next year, but other than that he ran the perfect race for himself."
Fellow freshman Kenyi Santino, who ran with the lead pack through the first three miles, joined Kiptoo in the top-20 as he finished 18th overall with a time of 26:39.8.
The T-Birds also received strong national performances from freshmen Saba Khvichava (47th, 27:34.0), Thom Reynders (71st, 28:16.2), Kwanele Mthembu (72nd, 28:17.7) and Ablel Gebreselase (82nd, 28:27.1).
Cloud County's lone sophomore on the men's team Burke Deters closed out his career in black and gold with a 91st place finish with a time of 28:35.6.
"If we don't have Burke and the guys like him pushing our top-5 in races and at practices, we don't have the season we've had," Mahin said. "He stepped up every time we've needed him too and we couldn't be prouder of the work he's done in his year and a half with us."
Hamisi, despite battling illness, paced Cloud County with a 194th-place finish in a time of 23:16.0.
"About a week and a half ago Janne got sick and was still coming back from that, so she struggled a little in the middle of the race. But she refused to walk and refused to slow down," Mahin said. "She fought like hell (Saturday)."
Jones followed in 211th-place with a time of 23:37.5 and Thomas claimed 254th place (24:55.6).
"I'm proud of Sadie for the two years she stuck out with us. She had some great experiences and performances. We're proud of the work she's done with us," Mahin said. "And with Rebekah came over from dance this season, it was great to be able to have her compete at a national championship with us."
While Mahin and many of the Cloud County runners will now turn their attention toward the indoor track and field seasons, he said the work to improve on Saturday's performances has already begun.
"The guys are already talking about what can we do next year. 'Can we win the Region VI, can we finish top-3 in the nation?' They already want to build on this," Mahin said. "I think consistency over six months to 12 months will be the key for these freshmen coming back, as well as staying injury free and mentally being prepared to handle the stress of the training and meets of the season. If we can stay consistent, they should have outstanding years next season and have a chance to look at bigger opportunities."
"We'll have a couple freshmen returning, and we're hoping to bring in a few at semester," Mahin said. "We have about 5-6 local Kansas girls that we're hoping to sign for next year here in the next month."