Chelanga, Zeis, Siemers & Martin Earn National Awards for Division II Cross Country
NEW ORLEANS – The U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) announced Tuesday its National Athletes and Coaches of the Year for the NCAA Division II Cross Country season following the championships in Joplin, Missouri, this past weekend.
NCAA Division II Cross Country individual champions Alfred Chelanga of Shorter and Alexis Zeis of U-Mary were named the men’s and women’s USTFCCCA National Athletes of the Year, respectively.
Chris Siemers of Colorado Mines and Damon Martin earned men’s and women’s National Coach of the Year honors, respectively, in leading their teams to national titles.
MEN’S NATIONAL ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
Alfred Chelanga, Shorter
In the span of 29 minutes and 24.6 seconds on a chilly Saturday morning in Joplin, Missouri, Chelanga went from under-the-radar to the undisputed king of the 2015 NCAA Division II cross country season. The Shorter freshman – running competitively for just his second year – executed to perfection a patient race plan to deliver his program its first-ever national title.
Never more than two seconds off the leaders, he moved up from 40th at 2K to 14th and 5K, before assuming the lead in a pack of four runners at about 7K. From that point on he wouldn’t relinquish the lead, ultimately topping Missouri Southern’s Vincent Kiprop by nine seconds at the tape.
The win was his third of the season to go along with titles at the Gulf South Conference and South Region championships. But his most impressive regular season effort may have been a third-place finish at the Alabama Crimson Classic where he topped NCAA Division I SEC winner Antibahs Kosgei of Alabama, Big 12 champion Vegard Oelstad of Oklahoma State, and Southern Conference champ Arse’ne Guillorel of Samford.
WOMEN’S NATIONAL ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
Alexis Zeis, U-Mary
How close was Zeis’ victory Saturday in Joplin over reigning national champion Kendra Foley of Grand Valley State? By the clock it was just .04 with the sophomore from Bismarck, North Dakota, crossing the line on the 6K course in 20:03.4, but there’s larger context for it. Not only was it by far the closest and most dramatic individual title race in any of the three NCAA Divisions, but it was also one of the tightest finishes in NCAA DII history. Since DII switched to the 6K in 1998, no championship race had been decided by fewer than three seconds.
Zeis ran at or near the front all throughout the 6K race, coming through the halfway point as part of a group of 10 runners that had broken away. The closing kilometer saw her and Foley start to pull away from that group, running side-by-side and trading the lead back-and-forth. It came down to a kick on the homestretch, where Zeis was able to find just enough of an extra gear to just beat Foley to the line.
The national title caps a five-win undefeated season for Zeis, who also emerged victorious with big wins at the Central Regional, the NSIC Championships, and the Roy Griak Invitational.
MEN’S NATIONAL COACH OF THE YEAR
Chris Siemers, Colorado Mines
Siemers, in just his fourth year at the helm of the Colorado Mines program, accomplished on Saturday what no one else in program history had ever done: winning a national team title. Led by a nation-best four All-Americans, his No. 4 Orediggers toppled three-time defending national champion No. 1 Adams State, 100-127.
His Orediggers moved into title position in the middle third of the race, as Marty Andrie would eventually finish 18th followed closely by the duo of Nathanael Williams and Dan Mahoney in 21st and 22nd. Grant Colligan was the fourth All-American in 33rd.
Siemers was able to regroup his CSM men after disappointing losses to Adams State at the RMAC Championships (36-52, led by individual winner Dan Mahoney) and the South Central Regional (55-104). His guys were the runaway non-Division I champions at the Arkansas Chile Pepper Festival, 44-125, over Pittsburg State.
This marks the third time Siemers’ Orediggers have been on the podium at the NCAA Championships, including a national runner-up showing during his first season in 2012.
WOMEN’S NATIONAL COACH OF THE YEAR
Damon Martin, Adams State
Martin, who has been guiding the Adams State women since 1989, is no stranger to the top of the podium. Saturday’s 83-97 victory over three-time defending national champion Grand Valley State was the 16th national title won by his women’s cross country team at the NCAA level (not to mention another two NAIA women’s titles, eight NCAA men’s XC titles and one NAIA men’s XC title – and that’s just cross country).
The race between the Grizzlies, Grand Valley State and eventual third-place Hillsdale was close throughout, with ASU and GVSU tied at 97-97 through the halfway checkpoint. His front pack of 10th-place Noel Prandoni, 11th-place Jenna Thurman and 14th-place Maura O’Brien remained steady throughout, but it was No. 4 Grace Tinkey that made the biggest difference late with a 16-spot improvement over the final three kilometers.
His team was impressive throughout the entire 2015 campaign, with big wins at the South Central Regional and the RMAC Conference Championships to go along with a strong seventh-place showing in the DI race at the Roy Griak Invitational.