NCAA & NJCAA National Athletes of the Week (Oct. 26)
NEW ORLEANS – Don’t look now, but the college cross country postseason is upon us.
All 10 of this week’s honorees for National Athlete of the Week put up big performances in postseason races across the nation.
Those runners honored Monday by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) are:
- Grambling’s Hassan Chepkwony (NCAA Division I Men)
- Alabama State’s Paige Rankine (NCAA Division I Women)
- Tiffin’s James Ngandu (NCAA Division II Men)
- U-Mary’s Alexis Zeis (NCAA Division II Women)
- Hamilton College’s Charles Pfander (NCAA Division III Men)
- Hamilton College’s Michelle Fish (NCAA Division III Women)
- Harford Community College’s Chris Vitek (NJAA Division I Men)
- Hagerstown Community College’s Annie Noffsinger (NJCAA Division I Women)
- Potomac State College’s Jared Hallow (NJCAA Division III Men)
- Northampton Community College’s Meseret Hart (NJCAA Division III Women)
Find out more about each of these runners by clicking their names 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.
Freshman | Kenya
Chepkwony of Grambling became the first NCAA Division I men’s conference champ of the 2015 season with a win at the SWAC Championships, and he did it in style. The freshman won by more than a minute as he traversed the 8K course at Choctaw Trails in 25:56.9.
The chase back was nearly a minute and 10 seconds behind Chepkwony, who led his squad to the overall team title by just five points over Texas Southern. It was the team’s first title since 2011 and just the second since the turn of the century.
The win is his third of the season.
Junior | McDonough, Georgia
If Alabama State was going to continue its dominant run in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, it needed Paige Rankine to help them do so. Well, Rankine did just that.
Rankine continued her strong season at this past weekend’s SWAC Championships and won the women’s championship race. She crossed the finish line in 18:09.85, 25 seconds ahead of teammate Artrailia Lesane.
Rankine led Alabama State to an impressive fifth consecutive conference championship. The Hornets swept the top-5 and scored 15 points in the victory.
This was Rankine’s first big cross country win of her career.
Junior | Nairobi, Kenya
When you win your school’s first individual conference title by way of outkicking the No. 1 runner of the No. 1 team in the country, that is certainly an excellent way to make an NCAA cross country postseason debut. That’s exactly what Tiffin’s James Ngandu did as he topped Zach Panning of No. 1 Grand Valley State to claim the individual title at the GLIAC Championships.
Panning – who has led the GLIAC team champ No. 1 Lakers all season long – led with just over one kilometer remaining in the 8K race, but Ngandu took command shortly thereafter and held him off down the stretch to cross the line in 24:06.8 to Panning’s 24:07.1. The win is his fourth of the season to go along with a runner-up finish at the All-Ohio Championships.
Not only was his title the first in Tiffin’s history, it was also the first time in 20 years that a runner not wearing GVSU, Ashland or Wayne State (Mich.) jerseys has won the title.
Sophomore | Bismarck, North Dakota
One month ago on the Les Bolstad Golf Course, Alexis Zeis of U-Mary raced to a dominant Roy Griak win and National Athlete of the Week honors. The setting was the same for this weekend’s NSIC Championships, but the performance was even more phenomenal.
She cruised to a 32-second victory on a sloppy Les Bolstad course, dispatching runner-up All-American Leah Sievert of Augustana (S.D.) and 2014 NSIC champ Sasha Hovind of Northern State among six All-Americans that finished in the top 10.
Zeis, who was 21st at the NCAA Championships a year ago, covered the 6K course in 21:41.7. The last U-Mary Marauder to win the NSIC title? That would be eventual national champion Jennifer Agnew in 2013.
Senior | Beacon, New York
Hamilton College’s Charles Pfander saves his best for last. Just like the rest of his career, Pfander turns on the jets when the postseason nears.
This past weekend, Pfander outran the field at the New York State Collegiate Track Conference Championships. Pfander placed first out of 96 runners and won his second title in three years (Pfander also finished first in 2013).
He covered the 8K course in 25:24.8, the fifth fastest time ever run on the tract.
Pfander and his teammates have a quick turnaround when they travel to the New England Small College Athletic Conference Championships this weekend.
Junior | Slingerlands, New York
For the first time in her collegiate career, Hamilton College’s Michelle Fish was first to the finish line in a cross country meet.
Fish beat 85 other runners and won the women’s race at the New York State Collegiate Track Conference Championships. Her time of 22:29.6 was three seconds faster than the second-place finisher and the seventh fastest time in the history of the 6K course.
Prior to this victory, Fish’s best finish came in 2014, when she was 15th at the Hamilton Cross Country Invitational.
Fish and her teammates return to the course this weekend when they try to win a conference championship.
Sophomore | Perry Hall, Maryland
Harford Community College harriers have had their share of success at the Region XX Championship in the past. On Saturday, sophomore Chris Vitek continued that trend.
Vitek claimed the NJCAA Division I individual title after being the first runner in his division to cross the finish line. He finished third overall in 28:33.
Sophomore | Middletown, Maryland
Hagerstown Community College didn’t run enough women at the Region XX Championship this past Saturday to count in the team standings, but that didn’t stop sophomore Annie Noffsinger from giving them an all-important low stick anyway.
Noffsinger was the top finisher in Division I and took third overall. Her time of 20:49 beat the DI runner-up by six seconds.
Freshman | Gerradstown, West Virginia
After starting his first collegiate season with four consecutive runner-up finishes, Hallow has long been on the brink of breaking through for his first collegiate victory. That breakthrough came this past weekend as he led wire-to-wire to claim the Region XX title by 45 seconds. His time of 27:18 over 8K broke the Region XX course record.
Freshman | Coopersburg, Pennsylvania
With her win at the Region XIX Championships this weekend, Meseret Hart not only improved her winning streak to six races to start her collegiate career, but she also captured the school’s first-ever cross country title. She covered the 5K course at Branch Brook Park in Newark, New Jersey, in 18:16.1 to win by nearly half a minute over former National Athlete of the Week Sarah Meighan of Rowan-Gloucester.