NCAA & NJCAA XC National Athletes of the Week (Oct. 20)

NEW ORLEANS – Cross country might not be fully back, but it looked like it this past weekend.

We saw some incredible regular season competition across the nation, especially at the NCAA Division I, NCAA Division II and the NJCAA level.

Here are those 12 athletes who stood out the most and were named National Athletes of the Week on Tuesday by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA).

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 12 collegiate cross country athletes, when applicable (male and female for each of the three NCAA divisions and three NJCAA 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. Nominated athletes are noticed before those athletes found through searching TFRRS.

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 – Luis Grijalva, Northern Arizona

Senior | Guatemala

One of the last times we saw Luis Grijalva, he clocked the sixth fastest indoor performance over 3000 meters in collegiate history at the BU David Hemery Invitational in Boston.

Well, it’s safe to say he’s as fast as we remember him.

Grijalva, running in his first cross country meet of the fall season, posted an individual victory at the OSU Invitational this past weekend. He covered the 8K tract in a course-record 23:30.2, a little more than one second faster than Conner Mantz of BYU, who finished fourth at NCAAs last year. Mantz was one of three men in the top-10 that Grijalva beat who had placed among the top-10 finishers at one of the past two NCAA Cross Country Championships.

This marks just the second time that an athlete from Northern Arizona has been named National Athlete of the Week during the cross country season. Jack Shea was the first in 2018.

NCAA DIVISION I WOMEN – Katie Thronson, Tennessee

Junior | Spokane, Washington 

Katie Thronson put herself in the right position to succeed on Friday.

Running at the UAB Blazer Classic at Veterans Park, Thronson sat seventh at 3K, moved up to second place at 4.9K and then pushed the tempo over the final 1.1K to win in 20:13.2. Thronson covered the final 1.1K in 3:11.7, which was nearly three seconds faster than runner-up Jenna Gearing of Kentucky, who won the Live in the Lou Classic a few weeks earlier.

Also competing in the race were a number of athletes from NCAA qualifying teams in 2019, like defending national champion Arkansas, Florida State and Ole Miss, among others.

This is the first time that an athlete from Tennessee has been named National Athlete of the Week during the cross country season. The Volunteers are the fourth women’s team from the SEC to have a National Athlete of the Week since the award’s inception in 2014.

NCAA DIVISION II MEN – Christian Noble, Lee (Tenn.)

Senior | Greenfield, Indiana

Christian Noble put together a dominant performance at the UAB Blazer Classic.

Running in the Men’s 8K Gold Race, the senior from Greenfield, Indiana, won by 51 seconds in 23:24.41 for his third consecutive individual title. He led by 21 seconds by the 3K split and pushed it from there. His solo effort led to a personal best and Lee (Tenn.) school record for 8K.

Even more impressive is that Noble’s time would have won the Men’s 8K Green Race – featuring individual champion Amon Kemboi, the eighth place finisher from the 2019 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships –  by one second. Kemboi won that race in 23:25.5.

This is the second this season that Noble has been named National Athlete of the Week.

NCAA DIVISION II WOMEN – Celine Ritter, Lee (Tenn.)

Senior | Roesrath, Germany

Make it three-for-three on the year for Celine Ritter.

Following a strong outing at the UAB Blazer Classic against NCAA Division I competition, Ritter crossed the finish line in 20:58.2 for a third place finish in the Women’s 6K Gold Race. Her performance ranks her No. 2 in Lee (Tenn.) history for the distance.

This is the third time this season that Ritter has been named National Athlete of the Week.

NCAA DIVISION III MEN – Justin Varineau, Calvin

Senior | Grand Rapids, Michigan

Justin Varineau found his stride at the right time.

The senior from Grand Rapids, Michigan, was the top collegiate finisher at the Jayhawk Invitational this past weekend, covering the 8K tract in 25:02.5. The next collegian crossed the finish line two seconds later and former National Athlete of the Week and teammate Jonathan Ellis was more than 20 seconds behind.

Varineau helped Calvin capture the team title with 28 points. He was one of three Knights who finished in the top-10 individually (Ellis and Noah Cummisford were the others).

This is the third different male athlete from Calvin to be named National Athlete of the Week during the cross country season.

NCAA DIVISION III WOMEN – Maeve Roach, Coast Guard

Senior | Chicago, Illinois

A victory is great.

Helping your team beat a rival is even sweeter.

Maeve Roach earned the individual title this past weekend in a dual meet against the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, covering the 5K tract in 17:59, more than one minute ahead of the next closest competitor. It was a huge improvement for the senior from Chicago, as her prior best on a 5K cross country course was 21:07 from 2018.

This marks the second time in award history that a female athlete from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy has been named National Athlete of the Week during the cross country season.

NJCAA DIVISION I MEN – Habtamu Geta, Cloud County (Kan.) CC

Sophomore | Houston, Texas

Habtamu Geta won a battle of National Athletes of the Week on Friday.

Running at the UNK Invitational in Kearney, Nebraska, Geta and Teagan Flanagan of Hutchinson (Kan.) CC went toe-to-toe across the 8K tract at Meadowlark Hills Golf Course. Geta eventually pulled away and crossed the finish line in 25:07.3, four seconds ahead of Flanagan, who was followed by a host of athletes from NCAA Division II Nebraska Kearney.

This is the second time this season that Geta has been named National Athlete of the Week. Geta previously earned the honor on September 29.

NJCAA DIVISION I WOMEN – Faith Linga, Iowa Western CC

Sophomore | Nairobi, Kenya

Dominance: Thy name is Faith Linga.

Linga cruised to her third victory of the season this past weekend, winning the individual title at the Indian Hills CC Invitational by one minute, 16 seconds in 17:10.9. Two-time NJCAA Division II National Athlete of the Week Sarah Bertry of North Iowa Area CC finished runner-up.

This marks the third time this season – and sixth time in her career – that Linga has been named National Athlete of the Week in cross country.

NJCAA DIVISION II MEN – Melvin Kipkemboi, North Iowa Area CC

Freshman | Rift Valley, Kenya

One of the deepest fields of the season turned in some of the best results.

Six programs that were ranked in the top-25 of the most recent NJCAA Cross Country National Coaches’ Polls battled at the Indian Hills CC Invitational this past weekend and Melvin Kipkemboi of North Iowa Area CC went toe-to-toe with the best of them.

Kipkemboi finished fourth, covering the 8K tract in 25:17.5. He was the top finisher from the NJCAA Division II level, beat a former two-time National Athlete of the Week by eight seconds and was right on the heels of the third-place finisher at the NJCAA DI Championships in 2019.

This marks the third time in award history that a male athlete from North Iowa Area CC has been named National Athlete of the Week during the cross country season. Wal Khat earned back-to-back honors to begin the 2016 season.

NJCAA DIVISION II WOMEN – Lubna Suied, Cowley (Kan.) College

Sophomore | Tomball, Texas

Three wins. Two national honors.

Lubna Suied continued her strong season this past weekend at the Bethel College Invitational, winning the Women’s 5K in 18:27.1. It was her third win in four tries this season. Suied crossed the finish line exactly 10 seconds ahead of Gloria Butts of NCAA Division II Rogers State.

This is the second time that Suied has been named National Athlete of the Week this season.

NJCAA DIVISION III MEN – Ryan Pendergast, St. Charles (Mo.) CC

Freshman | O’Fallon, Missouri

Ryan Pendergast wasn’t afraid to mix it up this past weekend.

Pendergast finished as the only NJCAA DIII athlete in the top-10 of the Topper Town Invitational, which was hosted by Greenville University. He crossed the finish line 10th after covering the 8K tract in 27:11.0. The next closest NJCAA DIII athlete was 15 seconds back.

This marks the fourth time in the past two years that an athlete from St. Charles (Mo.) CC has been named National Athlete of the Week during the cross country season. Eventual national champion Edwin Kipainoi earned the award three times in 2019.

NJCAA DIVISION III WOMEN – Tiffany Lehmann, Joliet (Mo.) JC

Freshman | Joliet, Illinois

Welcome to the top of the podium, Tiffany Lehmann!

Lehmann captured her first career individual title in cross country this past weekend at the Topper Town Invitational hosted by Greenville University. She covered the 5K tract in 19:29, six seconds faster than Olivia Bloyd of Heartland (Ill.) CC, who led a pack of athletes from the second-ranked NJCAA Division II program.

This marks the fourth time this season that Lehmann has been named National Athlete of the Week, which ties her for the second most honors in a single season with Alexandra Smith of Suffolk (N.Y.) CC, last year’s NJCAA DIII individual champion.