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By Bob Kelley, retired Rend Lake College Sports Information Director
There were reasons aplenty to appreciate the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) National Championship by the Rend Lake College Men’s Cross-Country Team in Fall 2006.
Not the least of which was the impressive display by defending champion Central Arizona College. While 2005 individual Medalist Joseph Simuchimba was slipping to fifth, CAC teammate Tyson David of Kenya broke the tape in 22:36 to give the program its third winner in a row and yet another Central Arizona runner, Mohamud Ige, followed Simuchimba (23:25) in sixth at 23:43. The Vaqueros had won the previous year with their top two runners in first and fourteenth.
But fellow African Elkanah Kibet (Eldoret, Kenya), despite a tactical error during the race, managed to finish third as Rend Lake College’s expected frontrunner. Freshman Kibet, who paced himself initially with a frontrunner who was unable to maintain the speed, was timed in 22 minutes 44 seconds, behind David and the 22:41 of runner-up Daniel Maina of Cowley County (Kan.) over the flat, 8K (five-mile) El Paso, Texas, course.
First-Team All-American Kibet had some friends of his own not too far behind. Teammates Steeve Gabart (Miami Shores, Fla.) and Cory Currie (Ontario, Canada) were Second-Team All-America and All-America Honorable Mention, respectively. Gabart was ninth in 24:07 and Currie was 11th in 24:24.
And Kibet had more of them. More friends, that is. Fast friends forever. Better balance from RLC sophomore Kyle Cash (Greenup), 19th overall in 24:55, and Ahmed Mohamed (Carol Stream), 26th in 25:16. The latter two were acknowledged as NJCAA Cross-Country Coaches Association All-America for being in the Top 15 American-born participants.
Every Rend Lake College entrant set his season PR (personal record).
Discounting the placement of the No. 8 runner competing as an individual rather than in team scoring, Coach Brent McLain’s five-man Warrior contingent racked up a low total of 64 points – 3-8-10-18-25 – to 74 for second-place Central Arizona, whose last two runners could do no better than 32nd and 37th, adjusted down to 29-33 for scoring purposes. Butler County (Kan.) Community College was a distant third with 107 points. There were 26 teams and 206 runners vying for honors.
And there was nothing ho-hum about another NJCAA National Championship Cross-Country Team from Rend Lake College. Do not dismiss a fourth title, following those of past RLC Sports Hall of Fame Inductees representing Fall 2001, Fall 2002 and Fall 2003, as mere formality. This one came as a Division I competitor, just three years after the top two NJCAA divisions were combined; i.e., the challenge was even more demanding for the three-time D-II champs, who settled for third the next two years following consolidation before this D-I breakthrough.
After all, any National Championship is to be appreciated . . . and then some. Hall of Fame worthy, most definitely.
Since the fourth NJCAA Team Title, the Men’s Cross-Country Team won another D-I crown in 2009 (Hall eligible in 2016), RLC claimed Indoor Track and Field championships by both its Men and Women’s teams in 2008 and the Warrior Basketball team recently rode the momentum of a Great Rivers Athletic Conference title against D-I rivals to the 2012-13 NJCAA Division II National Championship.
The individual members of the Rend Lake College Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2013:
• Rebecca Harris (Mascoutah) was one of the top two scorers in Women’s Basketball history when she played for the Lady Warriors from 2004-06. She ranked No. 3 in the country when she scored 707 points and averaged 23.6 points-per-game as a sophomore, earning All-America Honorable Mention status before becoming the first Juco recruit in six years at the University of Illinois.
• Craig Sands (Highland) established Warrior Baseball records for most single-season and career pitching victories (16 and 31, respectively), complete games (16 and 28) and innings pitched (144 and 258). They erased standards that were established 11 years prior to his arrival, and they remain on a pedestal alone to this day . . . especially impressive since he played from 1987-89.
• Brad Weathers (hometown, Benton) was a reliable contributor for winning RLC Basketball Teams, including 20-6 Southern Illinois College Conference frontrunners, who went on to play for McKendree College. But it is as an Alumni Coach that he has gained entry into the McKendree Hall of Fame in 1999, the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2005 and now the RLC Hall of Fame. He was “Coach of the Year” following a 32-3 Carlyle Indian Class A State Championship season in 1988-89 and his teams have won 477 games in 23 seasons at Carlyle and the last four at Nashville Community High School.
Let’s hear it for Cash and Mohamed for the quality depth they provided. Also competing at the National level for Team RLC were Freshman Jeremy Whitaker (Granite City) in 67th-place (26:12) and Trevor Popravak (Ft. Myers, FL), 77th in 26:26.
Kibet led the pack, as was his custom in winning the Border War Championship against 315 other runners, almost all of whom were representing four-year programs in the Edwardsville meet, and Region XXIV (1 minute 42 seconds ahead of second-place Gabart over the RLC MarketPlace layout), but was outkicked in the stretch run in the finals. His strategy was to run alongside another highly regarded runner, who turned out not to be as strong as rankings had led him to believe; alone in front, Kibet had to change his thinking and re-set his pace.
“It was a very excellent team effort,” Kibet said. “Everybody ran his best . . . just as I expected they would. It was a good course. The weather was good . . . and we did it. We won it.”
Multiple NJCAA “Coach of the Year” McLain told Rend Lake College Sports Information Director Nathan Wheeler, this victory “was the sweetest of all four” earned by his program. No doubt, in part, because it had Division I distinction.
“Regarding his team’s reaction,” Wheeler reported, “McLain said it was the most exciting running achievement for (the Warriors) to date. However, the pride runs deeper than the seven runners who brought home a championship.
“This isn’t just for the team or the Athletics program,” Wheeler quoted McLain. “This one is for the entire Rend Lake College family. It’s for everyone who has supported us.”
The expanded 2006-07 Cross-Country Team also counted Assistant Coach Mark McCall, Phil Mevert (Steeleville), Robert Kapsoiyo (Eldoret, Kenya), Chris Rengifo (Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada), Alphonso Shepherd (Dayton, Ohio), Stephen Williams (Marion), Andrew Acuna (Indianapolis, Ind.), John Kennedy (Pittsboro, Ind.) and Ty Williams (Panama City, Fla.) among its ranks.
Ironically, in Fall 2004 – RLC’s first as a D-I entry – Central Arizona also placed runners first (Obed Mutanya in 23:41), fifth and sixth over the El Paso course. But Paradise Valley nabbed the team title with 65 points, compared to 75 for runner-up CAC and 78 for third-place RLC (which was 65 points ahead of No. 4 Pima, AZ).
Cash was the Warriors’ second-best runner in 2005, his 26:14 showing good enough for 12th behind teammate Brett Simon in 10th. CAC was first with 100 points, Iowa Central next at 104 and RLC third with 119 in Lawrence, KS.
Central Arizona won its first NJCAA D-I Men’s Cross-Country crown in 1988 and then titles back-to-back in 2002 and 2003. The Viqueros made it five championships in Fall 2012, when Rend Lake College hosted the Nationals for the second time.
Kibet was back in Fall 2007, repeating as a First-Team All-American in fifth. The Warriors were fourth as a team. Team members also included Whitaker and Kapsoiyo.
Before the 2006-07 athletic year was over, Kibet was a three-time Indoor Track All-American – third in the 3000M and 5000M Runs and fourth in the Mile – and a two-time Outdoor Track All-American – third in both the 5000M and 10,000M. Currie and Cash were All-Americans Indoors as well, finishing fourth and eighth, respectively, behind Kibet in the 5000M.
In 2007-08, Kibet earned Academic All-America status with his 3.92 grade-point average (4.0-point scale) and twice deserved individual National Championship accolades – Indoors in the 5000M and Outdoors in the 10,000M. He also was second Indoors in the 3000M and Mile and third Outdoors in the 5000M. Whitaker was back as a sophomore to run a leg on the second-place 4 x 800M Relay Team Indoors and take sixth Outdoors in the 3000M Steeplechase.