National Athletes of the Week Rise to the Occasion at Conference Championships

National Athletes of the Week Rise to the Occasion at Conference Championships

NEW ORLEANS – Championships season is when runners get a chance to show what they’re made of when the stakes are on the line, and this week’s National Athletes of the Week made the most of that opportunity by winning individual conference titles to lead their teams to league crowns.

No individual title may have been more significant to his or her team as that of Grinnell’s Sarah Burnell in the Midwest Conference, the Division III women’s honoree. Competing in her final Midwest Conference meet in her hometown on her home course, the senior pulled away from Cornell College rival Abrah Masterson in the late stages of the race for her second straight individual conference title just one spot ahead of Masterson.

That head-to-head edge ended up being the difference in the meet as Grinnell claimed the team title by just one point over Cornell, 56-57.

BYU’s Jason Witt, the men’s DI honoree, may not have had the biggest margin of victory in the country — in fact, it may well have been the smallest in DI — but he put on the biggest display of resiliency of any DI conference champion this past weekend.

Over the final quarter-mile at the West Coast Conference Championships he battled back from third to claim the individual title at the finish line and lead the No. 5 Cougars to the WCC crown over rival No. 6 Portland.

Women’s DI honoree Emily Sisson of Providence stepped up to the challenge as she emphatically dethroned Villanova’s Emily Lipari as the individual Big East Champion and led her No. 4 Friars to the team title over No. 3 Georgetown in their first meet since dropping from No. 1 to No. 4 in the National Coaches Poll.

Drew Padgett of No. 2 Washington (Mo.) claimed his second DIII national honor of the season after defeating his defending UAA champion teammate Kevin Sparks and 2012 UAA runner-up Dylan Karten of No. 7 NYU for the 2013 UAA crown. The Bears took their fourth-straight title as a result.

Division II was largely quiet but for the PacWest Conference Championships, where Cal Baptist’s Bryton Reim dominated for a 31-second win and a team title for the Lancers, while Hawaii Pacific’s Fiona McKenna won by 27 seconds over a trio from champion Azusa Pacific to earn the division’s male and female honors, respectively.


Division I Men

Jason Witt, BYU
Senior | Midlothain, Va.
School Bio | TFRRS Profile

WATCH: Witt’s dramatic finish to win the WCC title at the line ( | WCC Championships Recap (

After leading much of the 8K race, Witt fell behind No. 6 Portland’s Scott Fauble and San Francisco’s Eric Causey in the final mile, trailing by about 20-30 meters at times. With the pair still in his sights on the final straightaway, Witt began his charge.

He first caught Fauble, who had been since overtaken by Causey, with fewer than 100 meters remaining and then edged ahead of Causey in the final steps, raising his arms in victory. Witt’s final time of 23:13.26 was just tenths of a second faster than Causey’s 23:13.53. The individual title by Witt paced No. 5 BYU to the team title over No. 6 Portland, 30-48.

Honorable Mention:
Kennedy Kithuka, Texas Tech West Coast Conference Men’s 8K Rebroadcast (see above link for video of the finish)


Division I Women

Emily Sisson, Providence
Senior | Chesterfield, Mo.
School Bio | TFRRS Profile

WATCH: Sisson recaps the individual and team Big East title, with highlights (MUAthletics)

Sisson and the No. 4 Providence Friars were looking to bounce back at the Big East Championships from a disappointing drop from the top spot in the National Coaches Polls to No. 4 two weekends ago, and bounce back they most certainly did.

Sisson ran with the front pack through the first half of the race before making a commanding move to the front to which defending Big East Champion Emily Lipari of Villanova and teammate Sarah Collins simply could not respond. Crossing the line in 19:49, Sisson bettered Lipari by seven seconds and led the Friars to a team title over No. 3 Georgetown, 28-47.

Honorable Mention:
Abbey D’Agostino, Dartmouth

Flotrack Big East Women’s 6K Race

Watch more video of Big East Cross Country Championships 2013 on


Division II Men

Bryton Reim, Cal Baptist
Junior | Mukilteo, Wash.
School Bio | TFRRS Profile

Reim was the runaway winner at the PacWest Conference Championships, claiming the 8K race by more than 31 seconds in a winning time of 26:00.33. En route to winning his first conference championship, the win earned him Athlete of the Year and Newcomer of the Year as Cal Baptist won the team title in its first year of postseason eligibility in Division II. This is the latest in a string of strong performances for Reim, who also finished runner-up at the Eric Anderson Invitational and 12th at the Santa Clara Bronco Invitational in a school-record 8K time of 24:09 — both times the top DII runner in the field.


Division II Women

Fiona McKenna, Hawaii Pacific
Junior | Dublin, Ireland
School Bio | TFRRS Profile

McKenna was a dominant individual champion at the PacWest Conference Championships as the junior defeated the field by 27 seconds with a winning 5K time of 17:16.08. The Iowa Central College transfer claimed Athlete of the Year and Newcomer of the Year honors as she defeated Kristie Sikma of team champion Azusa Pacific’s 17:43.80 performance. McKenna had twice befire been the PacWest Women’s XC Runner of the Week after a win at the Hawaii Pacific Invitational and a fourth-place finish at Willamette’s Charles Bowles Invitational.


Division III Men

Drew Padgett, Washington (Mo.)
Junior | St. Louis, Mo.
School Bio | TFRRS Profile

In winning the UAA title and leading his No. 2 Washington (Mo.) Bears to their fourth straight team title in the league, Drew Padgett had to not only defeat defending champion teammate Kevin Sparks but also defending runner-up Dylan Karten of No. 7 NYU. He accomplished both tasks, completing the 8K course at Carnegie Mellon in 25:10.59, seven seconds ahead of Sparks and 14 seconds clear of Karten. This marks the second time he has earned National Athlete of the Week honors, his first instance coming in the opening weekend of the season.

Honorable Mention:
Michael LeDuc, Connecticut College


Division III Women

Sarah Burnell, Grinnell
Senior | Grinnell, Iowa
School Bio | TFRRS Profile

WATCH: Burnell Recaps the race with the Midwest Conference (MWCVideo)

Burnell grew up in Grinnell, ran high school cross country in Grinnell, is the senior leader of the cross country team at Grinnell College and can now add "two-time Midwest Conference Champion and linchpin of Grinnell’s team title" to her hometown memories. After a fast start to the 6K race in Grinnell, Burnell was able to pull away from the lead pack in the late stages of the race to claim a five-second win over Abrah Masterson of Cornell College in 22:42.73. Her head-to-head victory over Masterson proved to be the difference in the team race, as Grinnell claimed the title by just one point over Cornell, 56-57.

Honorable Mention:
Kaleigh Kenny, Williams


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.