NCAA & NJCAA National Athletes of the Week (Sep. 28)

NCAA & NJCAA National Athletes of the Week (Sep. 28)

NEW ORLEANS – One isn’t a stranger to the national conversation. Another threw her hat into the ring following arguably the best race of her career.

What do Butler’s Erik Peterson and Stony Brook’s Christina Melian have in common besides being honored as National Athletes of the Week? A pair of breakthrough wins.

Peterson, an All-American in cross country last year, earned the individual title at the Virginia Panorama Farms Invitational, while Melian was a surprise winner at the Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown.

Joining Melian and Butler as National Athletes of the Week are Black Hills State’s Alec Baldwin (DII men), U-Mary’s Alexis Zeis (DII women), Amherst’s Mohamed Hussein (DIII men), Williams’ Lacey Serletti (DIII women), Iowa Western CC’s Sylvester Barus (NJCAA DI men), Rose Jebet of New Mexico JC (NJCAA DI women), Mohawk Valley CC’s Zakaria Djouma (NJCAA DIII men) and Northampton CC’s Meseret Hart (NJCAAA DIII women).

Hussein and Djouma are repeat winners.

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 – Erik Peterson, Butler

Senior | Barrington, Illinois

Welcome back, Erik Peterson. After a breakout cross country campaign in 2014 that culminated in a 22nd-place finish at NCAAs, Peterson missed the entire outdoor track & field season with injury redshirted the 2015 outdoor track & field season but ran a career-best 28:26 at 10,000 meters. With a come-from-behind win at the Virginia Panorama Farms Invitational on Saturday, he’s officially back on the NCAA scene and ready to roll.

In an 8K race that featured No. 9 Virginia, No. 18 Furman and a handful of All-Americans, it was Peterson who came out on top. He used a furious kick down the closing straightaway to edge Campbell’s Lawrence Kipkoech (a top-10 finisher over 10,000 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Championships) in the closing meters for a four-tenths-of-a-second win in 23:45.9. He was 12 seconds clear of third-place Brandon Doughty of Oklahoma, a steeplechase All-American this past spring.

Peterson will be back in action this coming weekend at the Notre Dame Invitational, in which he finished runner-up a year ago.


NCAA DIVISION I WOMEN – Christina Melian, Stony Brook

Junior | Staten Island, New York

In a race packed with national-caliber, it would have been easy for Stony Brook junior Christina Melian to get lost in the mix at the Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown. Well, Melian didn’t choose the easy way out.

Running a brilliantly tactical race, Melian put herself in contention and then pulled away late to earn the individual title. Melian won in 16:50.0, one second ahead of Syracuse’s Margo Malone.

This was Melian’s second win of the season. Melian clipped off a 14:18.4 6K three weeks earlier at the Stony Brook Invitational and won by 32 seconds.

“Christina had a great run today against a quality field,” Stony Brook head coach Andy Ronan told the university’s website. “This performance certainly puts her in the group of athletes that have a chance to qualify as an individual for the NCAA Championships in several weeks’ time.”

Melian’s next opportunity to cement her name as a contender will be Oct. 17 at the Pre-National Invitational in Louisville, Kentucky.


NCAA DIVISION II MEN – Alec Baldwin, Black Hills State

Senior | Spirit Lake, Iowa

Baldwin was exceptional in claiming the Roy Griak Invitational’s Maroon II Division individual title, crossing the line in the 8K race nearly 15 seconds clear of his closest competition and more than half a minute ahead of the next-best NCAA DII runner. On an unseasonably warm day in Minnesota, Baldwin crossed the line in 25:27.4 for his second consecutive win in 2015. It took nearly 40 seconds – 36, to be exact – for the next-best DII runner in Robert Peterson of MSU-Billings to finish in fourth.

Led by his individual victory, Black Hills State claimed a narrow team victory over UW-Parkside and Augustana (S.D.), 93-96-98. The Yellow Jackets will next be in action on October 9 at the Yellowjacket Invitational.



Sophomore | Bismarck, North Dakota

Zeis topped a strong field in the Roy Griak Maroon DII Division, crossing the line in the 6K race nearly 13 seconds clear of the rest of the field. The sophomore completed the course on a hot Minnesota day in 22:13.6, well ahead of UW-Parkside’s Moira Palmer in 22:26.2. Among those she defeated were former National Athlete of the week Molly Montonye of MSU Moorhead, the trio of All-Americans from No. 4 Minnesota Duluth, and runners from No. 6 Augustana (S.D.) and No. 20 Northern Michigan.

Next up for Zeis and U-Mary is the Jamestown Jimmie Invitational on October 9.


NCAA DIVISION III MEN – Mohamed Hussein, Amherst

Sophomore | Hargeisa, Somaliland

For the second time this season, Mohamed Hussein dazzled on the big stage.

Two weeks ago Hussein stepped up at the UMass Minuteman Invitational, which earned him his first National Athlete of the Week honor of the 2015 season. During that race, Hussein beat a field of runners from Division I and Division III on the way to the individual crown.

Then this past weekend, Hussein went up against a strong contingent of DIII runners at the Purple Valley Classic hosted by Williams and beat them all to the finish line. Hussein used his kick to upend Williams’ Bijan Mazaheri by one second (25:16.7 to 25:17.9).

There were five ranked teams in the mix at the Purple Valley Classic, headlined by the top-10 battle between No. 3 Amherst, No. 6 MIT and No. 8 Williams. The Lord Jeffs won the team title by two points over the Ephs. Anything less than an individual title for Hussein would have spelled a second-place finish for Amherst.

Hussein and the Lord Jeffs don’t race this weekend, but return to action Oct. 10 at the New England Intercollegiate Amateur Athletic Association Championships.


NCAA DIVISION III WOMEN – Lacey Serletti, Williams

Senior | Wynnewood, Pennsylvania

Williams senior Lacey Serletti had quite the debut to her cross country season.

Setletti won the individual title at the Purple Valley Classic and led the eighth-ranked Ephs to a team crown against four other top-20 programs. Her time of 21:53.6 bested the second-place finisher by a full seven seconds.

Williams, ranked No. 6 in the latest National Coaches’ Poll, ran away with the team title (39 points). No. 7 Middlebury was second (66), followed by No. 2 MIT (69) and No. 3 Geneseo State (75).

At last year’s Purple Valley Classic, Serletti finished fifth in 22:47.4, so she nearly shaved off a minute from her time. This was Serletti’s first career collegiate cross country win.

Serletti and the Ephs take part in the Paul Short Invitational this weekend.


NJCAA DIVISION I MEN – Sylvester Barus, Iowa Western CC

Sophomore | Eldoret, Kenya

There was no chance anybody would catch Iowa Western CC sophomore Sylvester Barus last weekend at the Cowboy Jamboree.

Barus ran away – and then some – with the men’s individual title in the College Men’s race. Barus covered the 8K course in 25:03.1 and beat the second-place finisher to the line by one minute, six seconds. If Barus ran in the University Men’s race – the version with top-ranked Division I teams – his time would have been sixth.


NJCAA DIVISION I WOMEN – Rose Jebet, New Mexico JC

Freshman | Eldoret, Kenya

New Mexico Junior College freshman Rose Jebet won her second individual title of the young season, outdistancing the field at the NMJC Invitational. Jebet and Kayla Pallares broke away from the field early and Jebet pulled away late to win in 18:49.09.


NJCAA DIVISION III MEN – Zakaria Djouma, Mohawk Valley CC

Freshman | Utica, New York

A week before earning National Athlete of the Week honors with a win at Finger Lakes CC, Zakaria Djouma thrashed the 5K course record at SUNY Poly. He returned to SUNY Poly this weekend for another win, another wide margin of victory, and another course record – this time at 8K. He crossed the finish line in 26:12 to take down the course record by 21 seconds and the next-closest runner by one minute and 25 seconds. This is his third consecutive win to start his NJCAA career.

He’s back in action this Saturday at Cazenovia College.


NJCAA DIVISION III WOMEN – Meseret Hart, Northampton CC

Freshman | Ethiopia

Meseret Hart, just a frosh at Northampton CC, claimed this week’s NJCAA DIII women’s National Athlete of the Week award with a victory at the SUNY Poly Wildcat Weekend Classic. She crossed the line on the 5K course in 19:28, defeating SUNY ESF’s Marissa Lathrop by five seconds and the rest of the field by more than half a minute. The win is her third in as many tries, with previous victories at the Harrisburg Invitational and Cumberland County College Invitational.

Hart and her Spartan teammates travel to Luzerne County Community College for their next competition this weekend.