Collegiate XC National Athletes of the Week Include 1st NJCAA Honorees

Collegiate XC National Athletes of the Week Include 1st NJCAA Honorees

NEW ORLEANS – Youth might be served in collegiate cross country, but the old guard isn’t letting go that easy. For the second consecutive week, strong debuts and big wins by some upperclassmen highlight the National Athletes of the Week honors as handed out Monday by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

A pair of freshman runners from the National Junior College Athletic Association burst on the scene with sizzling times (Gilbert Kigen of Central Arizona and Leanne Pompeani of Iowa Central CC), while sophomores Colin Bennie of Syracuse (Division I men), Derrick Williams of CSU-Pueblo (Division II men) and Mohamed Husein of Amherst (Division III men) had strong races of their own.

Penn State senior Tori Gerlach (Division I women) and MSU-Moorhead senior Molly Montonye (Division II women) each picked up wins in the early season.

Other National Athletes of the Week for this week include Calvin College’s Lauren Strohbehn (Division III women) as well as Mohawk Valley’s Zakaria Djouma (NJCAA Division III men) and Suffolk County’s Ryleigh Donegan (NJCAA Division III women).

Find out more about each of these runners by clicking their names above or scrolling below.

National Athlete of the Week is an award selected and presented by the USTFCCCA Communications Staff at the beginning of each week to six collegiate cross country athletes (male and female for each of the three NCAA divisions).

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.

NCAA DIVISION I MEN – Colin Bennie, Syracuse

Sophomore | Princeton, Massachusetts

In the weekend’s lone showdown between three nationally ranked NCAA DI teams at the Penn State Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational – No. 3 Syracuse, No. 12 Michigan and vote-receiving Penn State – it was Colin Bennie who emerged as the individual victor. The sophomore, who finished 95th at NCAAs a year ago, covered the 8k course in State College in 25:20.0 to defeat Michigan’s Aaron Baumgarten by nearly 10 seconds.

Bennie and the Orange will next be in action at the Boston College Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown on September 25.


NCAA DIVISION I WOMEN – Tori Gerlach, Penn State

Senior | Perskasie, Pennsylvania

Based on the competition level in the women’s race of the Harry Groves Spiked Shoe Invitational this past weekend, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call it one of the biggest Division I Cross Country meets of the young season. After all, three quarters of the field was comprosed of nationally ranked teams (No. 10 West Virginia, No. 17 Syracuse and No. 23 Penn State).

Gerlach, a senior from Perskasie, Pennsylvania, made it look easy, winning the women’s race by nine seconds ahead of Syracuse’s Margo Malone. The victory also paced Penn State to a team title as well as move up the Regional Team Rankings (No. 4 to No. 2).

Outside of a possible time trial, there won’t be much racing on Penn State’s schedule the rest of the month. The Nittany Lions return to action Oct. 3 at the Greater Louisville Classic.


NCAA DIVISION II MEN – Derrick Williams, CSU-Pueblo

Sophomore | Columbia Falls, Montana

Derrick Williams burst onto the NCAA DII distance running scene this past track season with a runner-up indoor finish at 3000 meters and a third-place outdoor showing at 1500 meters, and he appears to have kept that momentum for the cross country season. In his 2015 debut at the Fort Hayes State Border Classic he took down a field featuring a trio of top-10 regional teams, taking the 5k race by nearly 10 seconds in 15:02.6.

He defeated runner-up Collins Kirui of New Mexico Highlands by about eight seconds, and a pair of national contenders in West Texas A&M’s Geoffrey Kipchumba and Fort Hays State’s Cory Keehn by 15 and 16 seconds, respectively.

Williams’ Thunderwolves are back in action this weekend at the Colorado College Invitational.


NCAA DIVISION II WOMEN – Molly Montonye, MSU-Moorhead

Senior | Graceville, Minnesota

Molly Montonye is on a mission in 2015. After a 2014 regular season that included a runner-up finish in the NSIC and two individual wins, she found herself on the outside looking in in the NCAA Championships qualifying process at the Central Region championships with a seventh place finish. Only three athletes who don’t qualify to NCAAs as a member of a team advance with at-large berths; she was No. 4.

After a pair of mile/1500 All-America efforts on the track earlier in the year, Montonye kicked off her fall campaign this weekend with a win at her home Dragon Twilight in the Randy Smith 4k race. She crossed the line in 13:48.1, just 1.2 seconds ahead of last year’s 18th-place NCAA finisher Emilee Trost of No. 4 Minnesota Duluth and more than 15 seconds clear of another pair of UMD All-Americans in Hannah Olson and Breanna Colbenson. Coincidentally, the narrow victory over Trost took on another dimension as Trost edged her by less than a second in both of those NCAA track mid-distance championship races.

Next up is the Roy Griak Invitational on September 26, where Montonye finished fourth in 2014.


NCAA DIVISION III MEN – Mohamed Hussein, Amherst

Sophomore | Hargeisa, Somaliland

There were five Division I teams and one Division III team at the starting line of the UMass Minuteman Invitational last Saturday. Boston College, Connecticut, Maine, UMass-Amherst and Vermont were joined by Amherst, the eighth-ranked team in Division III.

Guess which team had the winning runner on its roster. That would be Amherst.

Sophomore Mohamed Hussein, who completed the 6K course in 19:27.9, reached the finish line four seconds ahead of Connecticut’s Mike O’Donnell. It shouldn’t need to be mentioned that Hussein would have been the top runner for all five of those Division I teams.

Hussein and the Lord Jeffs head to the Purple Valley Invitational, hosted by Williams College on September 26.


NCAA DIVISION III WOMEN – Lauren Strohbehn, Calvin

Junior | Stillwater, Minnesota

In the first big meet of the Division III Women’s Cross Country season, three top-20 teams were in action at the Calvin Invitational in Grand Rapids, Michigan (host No. 8 Calvin, No. 9 Hope College and No. 20 Case Western Reserve).

Calvin’s Lauren Strohbehn came away with the win as she beat 318 other runners to the finish line. Strohbehn, a junior, completed the 5K course in 17:54.3 and led the Knights to a second-place team finish behind meet champion Aquinas (five inside the top-20).

Strohbehn and her teammates will take this weekend off before resuming their season September 26 at the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association Jamboree hosted by Hope College. Calvin won last year’s Jamboree ahead of Hope and Albion.


NJCAA DIVISION I MEN – Gilbert Kigen, Central Arizona


When Central Arizona competes in a meet, other teams notice. The Vaqueros made sure of that by winning back-to-back National Junior College Athletic Association Cross Country championships the past two years.

Well, it looks like Central Arizona has a new freshman sensation – Gilbert Kigen.

Kigen won the UC Riverside Invitational this past weekend and covered the 8K course in 23:46.3. He crossed the finish line seven seconds ahead of the closest competitor, Southern Utah’s Hayden Hawks. Thanks to Kigen’s victory, the Vaqueros placed sixth in the team standings. Central Arizona bested two Division I programs and several from Division II and Division III.

The next time Kigen will have a chance to beat Division I opponents is October 17 – back at UC Riverside for the Highlander Invitational.


NJCAA DIVISION I WOMEN – Leanne Pompeani, Iowa Central CC

Freshman | Canberra, Australia

It might be tough for some foreign athletes to adjust to running in the United States, but not Iowa Central’s Leanne Pompeani.

In her first collegiate meet, Pompeani ran away with the individual title at the 6k Asfahl-Haugulun-Swenson race at the Luther College All-American Invitational. Pompeani beat DIII Luther All-American senior Tricia Serres by 13 seconds and finished the race in 17:42.6.

Iowa Central returns to the course on Saturday at the Woody Greeno Invitational in Lincoln, Nebraska and then takes a break before heading to Fayetteville, Arkansas for the annual Chile Pepper Festival.


NJCAA DIVISION III MEN – Zakaria Djouma, Mohawk Valley CC

Freshman | Utica, New York

Zakaria Djouma knows how to make a good first impression. His first two races as a Mohawk Valley frosh have resulted in a pair of victories by a combined total just shy of two minutes, including a 62-second victory this past Friday at the Finger Lakes CC Bruce Bridgeman Invitational. He ran 27:41.6 over 8k to top runner-up Tevin Johnson of Bryant and Stratton by more than a minute on the same course that will host regionals in late October.

Djouma and Mohawk Valley compete next at SUNY Poly – where he won last weekend in 6k course-record fashion – on September 26.


NJCAA DIVISION III WOMEN – Ryleigh Donegan, Suffolk CC

Freshman | Center Moriches, New York

In just the third race of her young college career, Ryleigh Donegan notched a runaway win at the College of Staten Island Invitational that earned her National Athlete of the Week honors. The frosh covered 5k in 20:32.4 to win by nearly 50 seconds over teammate Leana Wiebelt in leading her Sharks to the team title. Her win comes one week after finishing runner-up at the St. Joseph’s Friends and Alumni meet, and almost two weeks after a 25th-place showing at the mostly NCAA DIII Vassar Ron Stonitsch Invite.

Suffolk County is back in action this coming weekend for the LIU Post Invitational.