NCAA & NJCAA XC National Athletes of the Week (Nov. 3)

NEW ORLEANS – The fall cross country season might be winding down, but performances are heating up.

Here are the 10 athletes who were named National Athletes of the Week in NCAA Cross Country and NJCAA Cross Country by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) on Tuesday!

NOTE: There weren’t enough results at the NCAA Division III level to facilitate choices this week. The NCAA Division III National Athlete of the Week award program will return next week following Conference Championships Weekend.

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 – Yared Nuguse, Notre Dame

Senior | Louisville, Kentucky

When Yared Nuguse broke loose, no one could catch him.

Nuguse turned up the heat over the final kilometer of the ACC Cross Country Championships this past weekend at WakeMed Soccer Park and crossed the finish line first in 23:03.6, nearly five full seconds ahead of Ian Shanklin of NC State, who was one of three All-Americans in the chase pack. It was the first time that a Notre Dame male athlete won an individual title in meet history (Nuguse came close twice before, finishing third in 2018 and runner-up in 2019).

With Nuguse’s ultimate low stick in hand, the Irish rallied behind him to win the program’s second conference title in the past three years. Notre Dame outscored NC State, 40-54, as well as five other teams that were either ranked or received votes in the previous National Coaches’ Poll.

This is the first time in award history that a male athlete from Notre Dame has been named National Athlete of the Week during the cross country season.

NCAA DIVISION I WOMEN – Mercy Chelangat, Alabama

Sophomore | Kericho, Kenya

The last time Alabama had an individual champion in the women’s race at the SEC Cross Country Championships, Whitney Houston topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart with “I Will Always Love You.” That was way back in 1993, for those non-music buffs out there.

Mercy Chelangat felt like that stat needed a little updating this past weekend.

Chelangat waited until the she passed the mile mark to forge ahead and posted a dominant, 11.5-second victory over a talented field featuring several former National Athletes of the Week. The Alabama sophomore led by 1.3 seconds at the 2 mile split, opened it up to 9.9 seconds by the 5K mark and cruised home from there to finish in 19:46.5.

The Crimson Tide followed Chelangat’s lead and reeled in eventual champion Arkansas as best as it could. Alabama, which trailed by 58 points at 1 mile and 34 points at 2 mile, ended up runner-up by 16 points, the smallest margin between the top-2 teams since 2012 and the program’s best conference finish since 1994 (If you want to know who had the No. 1 song then, it was Boyz II Men).

This is the first time in award history that a female athlete from Alabama has been named National Athlete of the Week during the cross country season.

NCAA DIVISION II MEN – Nicodemus Rotich, Texas A&M Commerce

Freshman | Eldoret, Kenya

Nicodemus Rotich etched his name into the history book.

The freshman from Eldoret, Kenya, became the first Lion to win an individual Lone Star Conference cross country title since 1986, and fourth overall in program history. Rotich won the 8K race in 24:51.0 to finish 13.51 seconds ahead of West Texas A&M’s Innocent Murwanashyaka.

His win at the LSC Championships gives Rotich a clean sweep of the 2020 season, winning all four meets he has competed in this season, and was named LSC Freshman of the Year.

This is the first time in award history that an athlete from Texas A&M Commerce has been named National Athlete of the Week during the cross country season.

NCAA DIVISION II WOMEN – Florance Uwajeneza, West Texas A&M

Junior | St. Paul, Minnesota

Florance Uwajeneza was unmatched at the Lone Star Conference Championships.

The junior from St. Paul, Minnesota, gapped the field from the gun and traversed the 6K course in a program record time of 20:50.60. Uwajeneza also posted the largest margin of victory in LSC Championship history en route to her individual crown, finishing one minute and 24 seconds ahead of second-place. The LSC Newcomer of the Year became the fourth Lady Buff to win the individual title.

This is the first time in award history that an athlete from West Texas A&M has been named National Athlete of the Week during the cross country season.

NJCAA DIVISION I MEN – Kelvin Bungei, Iowa Central CC

Freshman | Kitale, Kenya

There wasn’t a huge assortment of teams competing at the NJCAA Region XI Cross Country Championships on Sunday, but athletes from those teams are extremely talented, with four current or former National Athletes of the Week from the 2020 fall season competing in the Men’s 8K: Pur Biel, Iowa Central CC; Kelvin Bungei, Iowa Central CC; Melvin Kipkemboi, North Iowa Area CC; Sam Mickelson, Hawkeye CC.

None of those athletes were better than Bungei, though, as the freshman from Kitale, Kenya, won the individual title in 25:12.9, nearly 15 seconds faster than Yonas Mogos of Iowa Western CC (Mogos has also been under consideration multiple times for National Athlete of the Week). Bungei sat third at the 5K mark in 15:56.3 and then clipped off a final 3K of 9:29.6 to snag top individual honors and led Iowa Central CC to the regional crown.

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

NJCAA DIVISION I WOMEN – Faith Linga, Iowa Western CC

Sophomore | Nairobi, Kenya

There is no stopping Faith Linga.

Linga rolled to the individual title at the NJCAA Region XI Cross Country Championships this past weekend in Fort Dodge, Iowa. She and Eleonora Curtabbi of Iowa Central CC went stride-for-stride over the first 1K before Linga put the hammer down over the final 4K to win by 26 seconds in 17:32.5 (Curtabbi finished runner-up in 17:58.5).

This was Linga’s eighth win in nine cross country meets. Her only loss came last year at this meet when she fell to Winrose Chesang of Iowa Central CC, who is now at Iowa State.

That makes four National Athlete of the Week honors for Linga this season, tying the second most ever awarded one NJCAA DI female athlete in award history.

NJCAA DIVISION II MEN – Amos Pkiach, Cowley College

Freshman | Eldoret, Kenya

Amos Pkiach led Cowley College to a big victory this past weekend.

Pkiach, the top runner for the third-ranked NJCAA Division II program, finished runner-up at the Region VI Cross Country Championships at Butler CC and helped the Tigers top the podium in a meet that featured eight other ranked teams from both NJCAA Division I and NJCAA Division II. Four of those aforementioned teams were ranked in the top-10 in NJCAA Division I.

It was a thrilling battle for the team title between Cowley College and Cloud County CC. Both teams went back and forth throughout the proceedings before the Tigers eked ahead on their final scoring athlete and won the overall regional title by one point, 56-57.

This is the first time that a male athlete from Cowley College has been named National Athlete of the Week during the cross country season.

NJCAA DIVISION II WOMEN – Lubna Suied, Cowley College

Sophomore | Tomball, Texas

Lubna Suied proved this past weekend that she is one of the best female runners at the NJCAA level, regardless of division.

Suied won the individual title at the Region VI Championships in 18:05.3, six seconds faster than runner-up and former National Athlete of the Week Patricia Koma of Cloud County CC. All told, there were athletes from nine teams that were ranked in the most recent NJCAA National Coaches’ Polls, including five top-10 programs in NJCAA Division I.

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

NJCAA DIVISION III MEN – Hunter Brignall, Finger Lakes CC

Sophomore | Seneca Falls, New York

Hunter Brignall was critical to his team’s success this past weekend.

Brignall won the individual title at the NJCAA Region III Cross Country Championships in 27:38.5, beating the closest competitor by nearly 21 seconds. That ultimate low stick by Brignall also helped Finger Lakes CC, the third-ranked team in NJCAA Division III, earn a team title over SUNY Broome and No. 5 SUNY Corning, which both finished with 48 points.

Here’s where it gets interesting: If Brignall finished anywhere outside the top-4, the Lakers would have tied with those other two teams at 46 points. Then, if you removed Brignall from the race entirely, FLCC would have dropped all the way to third. Brignall is a difference-maker.

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

NJCAA DIVISION III WOMEN – Tiffany Lehmann, Joliet JC

Freshman | Joliet, Illinois

A strong wind didn’t deter Tiffany Lehmann: It only made her stronger.

Lehmann ran to an individual title at the Kishwaukee Halloween Hootenanny this past weekend, covering the wind-swept 5K course in 21:17, 36 seconds faster than the runner-up. Athletes had to battle a stiff wind numerous times during the race, including two 300-meter stretches at both the start and finish line.

This is the fifth time that Lehmann has been named National Athlete of the Week this season, tying the most honors given out to an NJCAA Division III female athlete in award history.