NCAA & NJCAA XC National Athletes of the Week (September 26)

NCAA & NJCAA XC National Athletes of the Week (September 26)

NEW ORLEANS — The collegiate cross country season is picking up steam and in turn, so is the difficulty of picking National Athletes of the Week.

This past weekend provided several strong showings and here are the 10 athletes in all three NCAA divisions and both NJCAA divisions that stood out among their peers.

The men’s winners are Syracuse’s Justyn Knight (NCAA Division I), Saint Leo’s Robert Cheserek (NCAA Division II), SUNY Geneseo’s Isaac Garcia-Cassani (NCAA Division III), Cloud County CC’s Moses Dirane (NJCAA Division I) and Bergen CC’s Christopher Loughman (NJCAA Division III).

The women’s winners are Boise State’s Brenna Peloquin (NCAA Division I), U-Mary’s Alexis Zeis (NCAA Division II), Pomona-Pitzer’s Maya Weigel (NCAA Division III), Monroe College’s Susan Ejore (NJCAA Division I) and Howard CC’s Abigail Starks (NJCAA Division III).

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.

NCAA DIVISION I MEN — Justyn Knight, Syracuse

Junior | Vaughan, Ontario, Canada

During a hard workout last week, Syracuse coach Chris Fox told Justyn Knight to “work hard, not crush. We’ll crush it next Friday in the second half of that race.”

The race Fox referred to was the upcoming 8K at the Panorama Farms Invitational.

Knight followed his coach’s advice to the letter and dominated his XC debut. Over the final 3K of last Friday’s race, Knight gained an average of 30 seconds on the top-10 and turned the race into a rout by the end. Knight trailed former National Athlete of the Week Lawrence Kipkoech by eight seconds at 5K, but ended up winning by 16 seconds.

The finishing time for Knight was 23:13.9, which also broke the course record, previously held by his former teammate Martin Hehir.

Knight and his teammates return to the course October 14 at the Wisconsin Invitational.

NCAA DIVISION I WOMEN — Brenna Peloquin, Boise State

Sophomore | Gig Harbor, Washington

Last year Boise State had a host of talented freshmen.

Those freshmen are now sophomores and still taking names.

This past weekend at the Roy Griak Invitational, one of those sophomores for the Broncos went step for step with an individual title contender and broke her over the final 1K of the 6K race. It’s probably not the sophomore you’re expecting.

Brenna Peloquin left Michigan’s Erin Finn standing still after the 5K mark and cruised to an 11-second win. This was the first XC win of Peloquin’s collegiate career and a big one for her confidence as Boise State now has a powerful 1-2 punch in her and preseason individual title favorite Allie Ostrander.

Peloquin and the Broncos will battle the nation’s best in Wisconsin next month.

NCAA DIVISION II MEN — Ronald Cheserek, Saint Leo

Freshman | Kitale, Kenya

Two races into his collegiate career, Ronald Cheserek is starting to take after another cross country runner who shares his last name. The freshman took the title at the Florida Mountain Dew Gator Invitational on Saturday to start his season two-for-two in the win column.

Cheserek covered the 8K course in 24:43.1, crossing the line more than 18 seconds faster than former SEC Outdoor 10,000-meter champ Eddie Garcia (formerly of Florida) for the win. The nearest collegian, third-place Carlos Miranda of Florida, was another five seconds back. The field included runners from 11 NCAA DI schools and a dozen non-DI programs.

Cheserek will get to put his win streak to the test this coming weekend as Saint Leo heads up to Lehigh for the Paul Short Run. Ultimately, his win streak could potentially be put to one final test on his home course for the NCAA Championships on November 19.

NCAA DIVISION II WOMEN — Alexis Zeis, U-Mary

Junior | Bismarck, North Dakota

After watching rival Kendra Foley of Grand Valley State – the 2014 NCAA Cross Country Champion and last year’s national runner-up – notch a signature win in Big Ten territory at Michigan State, it was reigning national champion Alexis Zeis’ turn to do the same en route to her second National Athlete honor of the season.

For the second year in a row, Zeis won the Maroon DII race at the Minnesota Roy Griak Invitational, covering 6K in 22:10.2 to win by 15 seconds over All-American Emilee Trost of Minnesota Duluth. In so doing, she became the first repeat winner in the race since Morgan Place of Minnesota Duluth won three-in-a-row in 2008-2010.

Winning Griak turned out well for Zeis a year ago. She ended up going on to sweep the titles at the NSIC, Central and NCAA Championships.

NCAA DIVISION III MEN — Isaac Garcia-Cassani, SUNY Geneseo

Junior | Holbrook, New York

One of the biggest meets of the NCAA Division III XC season took place this past weekend in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Williams College played host to numerous nationally-ranked teams and their best runners.

The race for the individual title came down to three men — SUNY Geneseo’s Isaac Garcia-Cassani, Amherst’s Mohamed Hussein and RPI’s Benjamin Fazio. Garcia-Cassani and Hussein broke away down the stretch and ultimately it was Garcia-Cassani who had more left in the tank to pull away for a two-second win.

Garcia-Cassani crossed the finish line in 25:24.9 and posted his second consecutive victory this XC season. He won the Oswego State Invitational two weeks ago.

Thanks to his efforts, SUNY Geneseo won the team title over Williams and MIT.

NCAA DIVISION III WOMEN — Maya Weigel, Pomona-Pitzer

Senior | Los Altos, California

Neither mud, nor a defending meet champion could deter Pomona-Pitzer’s Maya Weigel this past weekend at the Roy Griak Invitational.

Weigel showed why she’s a favorite to contend for the NCAA DIII individual title come November in Louisville, Kentucky. Running against a talented field, Weigel got out from the start and left them all in the dust, including 2015 Griak champion Kimber Meyer.

By the time she crossed the finish line in 23:26.4, Weigel was more than 40 seconds ahead of Meyer, who eventually finished second. Weigel won by 45 seconds.

This was Weigel’s second XC meet of the season after she had a tremendous go on the track. Weigel took second in the 1500 and third in the 5000 at the NCAA meet in May.

NJCAA DIVISION I MEN — Moses Dirane, Cloud County CC

Freshman | Pretoria, South Africa

Moses Dirane put together a great race at the Emporia State Papa John’s Invitational this past weekend.

Dirane opened up an early lead over several highly-regarded NJCAA DI athletes and kept rolling on his way to a seven-second win with a time of 24:59.3. His victory anchored a strong outing by Cloud County CC as its runners took first, third and fourth overall in the 8K race.

NJCAA DIVISION I WOMEN — Susan Ejore, Monroe College

Sophomore | Nakuru, Kenya

Heavy downpours weren’t enough to slow down Susan Ejore this past weekend.

Ejore plowed through the rain on her way to a 57-second win at the Osprey Open hosted by Stockton University. She crossed the finish line in 21:37.64 over a muddy 6K course.

Outside of her teammate Nokulhula Dlamini, who finished runner-up, the closest collegiate competitor was one minute and 21 seconds behind Ejore.

NJCAA DIVISION III MEN — Christopher Loughman, Bergen CC

Freshman | Cliffside Park, New Jersey

Christopher Loughman was the top NJCAA finisher at the Goldey-Beacom Fall Classic, finishing 15th overall. He covered 8K in 29:18.2 to top the next-best junior college competitor by more than 20 seconds. He was also Bergen CC’s top finisher last week at the Iona Br. Doyle Meet of Champions.

NJCAA DIVISION III WOMEN — Abbey Starks, Howard CC

Freshman | Marriottsville, Maryland

Abbey Starks was the top NJCAA finisher at the Greensboro Invitational, finishing third overall. The freshman crossed the line on the 5K course in 19:39.9. The strong performance is a follow-up to her season-opening win at the Wilmington Invitational in early September.