First Big XC Weekend Produces Big National Athlete of the Week Performances

By Kyle Terwillegar, USTFCCCA

September 30, 2013   

NEW ORLEANS – Rainy conditions in Minnesota and Oklahoma were not enough to cool of this week’s National Athletes of the Week.

With the crux of the weekend’s cross country action happening on a rainy Saturday morning at Minnesota’s Roy Griak Invitational — a combined 30 ranked teams were in attendance between the three NCAA divisions — the meet produced five of this week’s six award winners, while rain at Oklahoma State’s Cowboy Jamboree wasn’t enough to derail the defending NCAA individual champion.

Shelby Houlihan of Arizona State won the women’s Gold race at the Griak to take home the Division I women’s National Athlete of the Week honor, while the men’s honor went to Kennedy Kithuka of Texas Tech after the defending NCAA champion dominated a top ten filled with five other All-Americans from the nation’s top two teams at Oklahoma State.

The Griak also produced the Division II winners as Kevin Batt of Adams State was a half step from winning the Division I race and Augustana (S.D.) standout senior Runa Falch set the Maroon II course record.

Division III’s honorees include David Stilin of UW-La Crosse, who led his Eagles with a ninth-place individual finish to a runner-up team showing in the Division II Griak race; and Chelsea Johnson of St. Scholastica, who won wire-to-wire over a strong field in the Maroon III women’s race at the Griak.

THE HONOREES

Division I Men

Kennedy Kithuka

Kennedy Kithuka, Texas Tech
Senior | Thika, Kenya
School Bio | TFRRS Profile

After thunderstorms delayed the start of the Cowboy Jamboree at Oklahoma State by two-and-a-half hours, Kithuka unleashed a storm of his own in Stillwater. The defending NCAA champion completed the 8K course in 23:55.27 to win by 30 seconds over a field with the top two teams in the nation — No. 1 Oklahoma State and No. 2 Northern Arizona — and five All-Americans in the next six spots. After opening up a 40-second lead at the 5K mark, Kithuka cruised to his third win in as many races this season, and extended his unbeaten streak at Texas Tech to 10 races.

Also considered:
Soufiane Bouchikhi, Eastern Kentucky
Edward Cheserek, Oregon

 

Division I Women

Shelby Houlihan

Shelby Houlihan, Arizona State
Junior | Sioux City, Iowa
School Bio | TFRRS Profile

Behind a strong second half of the rainy Jack Johnson Women’s Gold Division I race at the Roy Griak Invitational, Houlihan in her 2013 debut was the runaway winner of the 8K race in 20:35.45 over a field that included eight ranked teams — including in-state rival No. 5 Arizona — and the top two squads in Division II. After coming through the halfway point as part of a lead pack of about two-dozen runners, Houlihan turned on the jets in the latter stages of the race to pull away from the group and defeat Arizona’s Elvin Kibet by 13 seconds.

Also Considered:
Cally Macumber, Kentucky
Elaina Balouris, William & Mary
Emily Sisson, Providence

 

Division II Men

Kevin Batt

Kevin Batt, Adams State
Junior | Sydney, Australia
School Bio | TFRRS Profile

The Merrill Fischbein Men’s Gold Division I race at the Roy Griak was very nearly won by a Division II runner as Batt was edged out by just a half step — .1 of a second — at the line by BYU’s Tylor Thatcher. Batt finished the slippery and soggy 8K race in 24:25.2, joined in third by teammate Tabor Stevens to lead defending champion No. 1 Adams State to a fourth-place team showing as part of a field with 22 Division I schools. Batt followed Thatcher as he made a late move away from the lead pack, and nearly overtook the top runner of the No. 4 team in Division I down the homestretch hill.

Also Considered:
Vegard Olstad, Western State
Adam Volkert, Pittsburg State
Isaac Chavez, Chico State

 

Division II Women

Runa Falch

Runa Falch, Augustana (S.D.)
Senior | Steinkjer, Norway
School Bio | TFRRS Profile

Falch is the first repeat women’s winner of this national honor after winning the Maroon II women’s race at the Roy Griak Invitational in race-record fashion, navigating the wet and rainy 6K course in 21:34.3. The previous race record of 21:38.7 was set in 2011 by unattached runner Courtney Schall. To get the win, Falch had to reel in a group of lead runners who had built an 11-second advantage at the halfway point before overtaking Pitsburg State’s Jessica Macy in the final kilometer for a final winning margin of about five seconds. The race featured three other ranked DII squads, in addition to former National Athlete of the Week Jennifer Agnew of U-Mary (sixth).

Also Considered:
Jessica Janecke, Grand Valley State

 

Division III Men

David Stilin

David Stilin, UW-La Crosse
Senior | Milwaukee, Wis.
School Bio | TFRRS Profile

Like Batt from Division II, Stilin was another runner who stepped up to a higher-division race and made a significant impact on the individual and team races. The senior finished tenth overall in the Maroon II race at Roy Griak to lead his UW-La Crosse squad — tied for No. 2 in the DIII National Coaches Polls — to a runner-up team finish among a field of 44 teams, most of which were Division II. Stilin completed the rainy 8K course in 25:45.7 after finishing the first kilometer of the race in a pack approximately 11 seconds back of the leaders. By the 3k mark, Stilin worked up into the top 30.

Also Considered:
Colin Cotton, Williams
Zac Nowicki, Calvin

 

Division III Women

Chelsea Johnson

Chelsea Johnson, St. Scholastica
Senior | North Branch, Minn.
School Bio | TFRRS Profile

No win at this weekend’s Griak Invitational was as dominant as Johnsons’, as the St. Scholastica senior took control of the 6K Suzy Wilson Women’s Maroon III race almost immediately from the gun and was untouchable en route to a win in 22:03.63. By the first kilometer, Johnson had already opened up an eight-second advantage over the next-fastest runner — last week’s National Athlete of the Week Noelle Olson of St. Olaf — and the lead stretched to 14 seconds by the halfway point. In the end, Johnson would defeat Olson by 16 seconds and the rest of the field by more than half a minute, though both St. Scholastica and St. Olaf would finish tied for fifth in the team competition.

Also Considered:
Kaleigh Kenny, Williams
Nicole Michmerhuizen, Calvin

 

ABOUT THE AWARD

Awarded to six collegiate track and field and cross country athletes (male and female for each of the three NCAA divisions) each Monday by the USTFCCCA office beginning with the 2013 indoor season, the National Athlete of the Week Award will spotlight exceptional performances by student-athletes from around the nation.

Nominations are open to the public. Coaches and sports information directors are encouraged to nominate their student-athletes; as are student-athletes, their families and friends, and fans of their programs.

The award seeks to highlight not only the very best times, marks and scores on a week-to-week basis, but also performances that were significant on the national landscape and/or the latest in a series of strong outings. Quality of competition, suspenseful finishes and other factors will also play a role in the decision.

Nominations should provide qualitative detail to explain the noteworthiness of the student-athlete’s performance. The manner in which his or her event(s) was won or nearly won; any records (school, conference, collegiate, etc.) broken as a result; the national significance of the time, mark or score; and the credentials of the competition are all pertinent details for quality nominations.

Photos, videos and interviews are also encouraged.

Nominations, which can be competed here, are due each Monday by 12 p.m. EST, and winners will be announced by 4 p.m. EST.