Lady Tigers cap remarkable season with NJCAA Division I national title
Leaving no doubt as to who the best junior college women’s cross country team is, the Cowley College women’s cross country team captured the program’s firstever national championship Nov. 13 at the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I national championships held in Spartanburg, S.C.
Cowley (75 team points) finished eight points better than national runner-up South Plains Community College (83 points) and 11 points in front of third place Lansing Community College (86 points). There were 38 teams competing in the women’s race.
Cowley head coach Vince DeGrado, who was named the NJCAA Division I Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year, could not be more proud of his national championship squad.
“Something you never see at the national meet is three teams running the best they possibly can and that is what we had was three teams giving their absolute best efforts,” DeGrado said. “What made it so much sweeter was knowing those top-three teams ran their best.”
As they have done all season, Lady Tiger teammates Purity Cheruiyot and Kaitlyn Belisle, crossed the finish line one right after the other, with Cheruiyot (18:06) placing fourth in the 3.1 mile race and Belisle (18:15) finishing fifth. Both Cheruiyot and Belisle were named first-team All- Americans.
“Kaitlyn had a great finish and out-sprinted a half-miler champion from South Plains,” DeGrado said.
Cowley then had three runners follow each other across the finish line with Val Bland (119:03) placing 22nd, Cassy Kendrick (19:04) placing 23rd, and Erika LaCroix (19:05) finishing 24th.
“That was incredible,” DeGrado said.
Freshmen Jessalyn Lanoy (19:10) was not far behind as she placed 29th.
“Erika and Jessalyn played a huge part in us winning,” DeGrado said.
Sophomore Leigh Ann Omarkhail (20:21) capped her Cowley career by finishing 90th.
El Paso Community college’s Florence Ngetich won the women’s race with a time of 17:16.
Counting the national championships, the Lady Tigers won six of the eight meets they competed at during the fall.
“It took an all out effort from everyone, the girls rose to the occasion,” DeGrado said.
Cowley will lose Cheruiyot, Bland, Kendrick and Omarkhail to graduation as well as Elly Adamson, who was unable to run at nationals due to injury.
“My heart goes out to her,” De- Grado said.