NCAA & NJCAA XC National Athletes of the Week (Sept. 12)

NEW ORLEANS – Here are our National Athletes of the Week in NCAA & NJCAA Cross Country for September 12, 2022!

Performances from the first few weeks of the cross country season were considered.

Find out more about each of these athletes 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 the NJCAA).

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 – Ezekiel Rop, Iowa State

Junior | Eldoret, Kenya

Ezekiel Rop waited nearly three years to taste victory again.

It’s safe to say that Rop won’t wait nearly as long if he repeats performances like he turned in two weeks ago at the Mizzou XC Opener.

Rop worked his way through the pack throughout the race and stormed to victory in crunch time. He put 10.3 seconds between him and eventual runner-up Colin Caso of Oklahoma over the final 1k and crossed the finish line in 17:54.9.

The last time Rop won a race on the grass circuit was back in 2019 when he captured top individual honors at the Ohio Valley Conference Championships while at Eastern Kentucky.

This is the fourth year in a row that a male athlete from Iowa State has been named National Athlete of the Week during the cross country season. Rop joins Wesley Kiptoo (2021, 2020) and Edwin Kurgat (2019) in that regard.

NCAA DIVISION WOMEN – Addie Engel, Ohio State

Junior | Springfield, Ohio

Don’t count out Addie Engel.

Engel posted an incredible come-from-behind victory at the Michigan Big Ten Preview this past weekend. It was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the Ohio State standout closed a 15.8-second gap at the 2-mile split to nip the Michigan duo of Ericka VanderLende and Kayla Windemuller at the finish line by less than 1.2 seconds: Engel finished in 20:54.4; VanderLende in 20:54.9.

That marked back-to-back wins for Engel, as she took top individual honors at the Mike Baumer XC Classic on September 1. Engel has been riding a wave of momentum since the 2021 cross country postseason, where she finished fourth at the Big Ten Championships and then was third at the ensuing Great Lakes Region Championships.

Engel is the first athlete from Ohio State to ever be named National Athlete of the Week during the cross country season.

NCAA DIVISION II MEN – Afewerki Zeru, UC-Colorado Springs

Senior | Colorado Springs, Colorado

Afewerki Zeru has his season off to a hot start.

The senior from UC-Colorado Springs won the 15th Annual UCCS Rust Buster for the third-straight year. Zeru broke the tape in 23:56.5 for a 29 second victory ahead of New Mexico Highlands’ Andrew Amor. Zeru also broke the course record of 24:18.5 set by Dylan Ko of Colorado School of Mines at the 2020 RMAC Cross Country Championships.

This is the first time a male athlete from UC-Colorado Springs has been named National Athlete of the Week during the cross country season.

NCAA DIVISION II WOMEN – Kaela Dishion, Cal State Stanislaus

Senior | Murphys, California

Kaela Dishion kicked off the 2022 campaign with strong back-to-back showings.

Dishion picked up her first victory of the season this past weekend at the Kim Duyst Invitational. The senior from Cal State Stanislaus was the first to cross the line in 21:33.4 to win by more than 6 seconds over teammate Kayden Legan.

Dishion also opened up the year with a third-place finish at the University of San Francisco Invitational on September 3rd. She completed the 6k course in 20:59.8 and was the top NCAA DII athlete in the field that was primarily made up of NCAA DI competition.

This is the first time in program history an athlete from Cal State Stanislaus has been named National Athlete of the Week during the cross country season.

NCAA DIVISION III MEN – Spencer Moore, Emory

Senior | Rochester, Minnesota

An ultimate low stick led to an impressive team title.

Spencer Moore won the individual title at the Jacksonville State Foothills Invitational two weeks ago, which spurred Emory to the team title. Both victories came over a primarily NCAA DI field.

Moore took top individual honors by 5.5 seconds over Cooper Atkins of Auburn and several other Eagles finished in the top-10 to give them just enough to nip the Tigers in the team race by a score of 34-35.

This was Moore’s first collegiate victory and the first time that an Emory athlete has been named National Athlete of the Week during the cross country season.

NCAA DIVISION III WOMEN – Alex Ross, Johns Hopkins

Senior | Glastonbury, Connecticut

Alex Ross is riding a wave of momentum.

Ross, who PR’d at four different distances between the indoor and outdoor track & field seasons, cruised to victory at the Baltimore Metro Meet two weeks ago and led Johns Hopkins to the team title over several NCAA DI programs. Ross crossed the finish line in 18:10.1, which was exactly five seconds faster than runner-up Katie Altieri of Maryland.

The Blue Jays are looking for big things from Ross in 2022 after a strong season on the grass circuit last year. Ross finished top-5 in four consecutive meets before an All-American effort at the 2021 NCAA DIII Cross Country Championships to help Johns Hopkins to the national title.

This is the first time since 2016 that a female athlete from Johns Hopkins has been named National Athlete of the Week during the cross country season. Ross joins Felecia Koerner (2016), Sophia Meehan (2015, 2014) and Hannah Oneda (2013) as those athletes who have been honored in program history.

NJCAA DIVISION I MEN – Rodgers Rotich, Butler (Kan.) CC

Freshman | Eldoret, Kenya

The Terry Masterson Twilight Classic is held at Hutchinson (Kan.) CC’s Fun Valley Sports Complex.

No one had more fun this year than Rodgers Rotich, who set a new course record of 19:11.8 for the 4-mile tract in winning by over nine seconds. The former course record of 19:32.6 was set by Andrew Kibet of Hutchinson in 2018, the year he won the NJCAA Division I Cross Country National Championships.

This is the first time an athlete from Butler has been named National Athlete of the Week for cross country.

NJCAA DIVISION I WOMEN – Mercy Biwott, Iowa Western CC

Sophomore | Eldoret, Kenya

Mercy Biwott opened up her 2022 campaign with a major upgrade in competition by running against NCAA DI and DII runners at the Augustana Twilight.

Biwott – runner-up in last year’s NJCAA Division I Cross Country National Championships – was easily the top JUCO finisher, placing 13th in 18:19.4 for the 5K course.

This is the third time Biwott has been named National Athlete of the Week in cross country, having earned the honor twice last year.

NJCAA DIVISION II MEN – Yotuel Garcia, Mesa (Ariz.) CC

Sophomore | Mesa, Ariz.

Yotuel Garcia had a pair of impressive efforts to begin the 2022 season.

Most recently he won the Vaquero CAMPY Invitational by 12 seconds, covering 8k in 25:24. A week earlier he was ninth in the open division of Northern Arizona’s George Kyte Classic, finishing as the leading collegian of any division in 23:30.6 over the 4.5-mile course.

Garcia, who finished eighth in last year’s NJCAA Division II Cross Country Championships, is the second male athlete from Mesa to be named National Athlete of the Week in cross country.

NJCAA DIVISION II WOMEN – Kate Brockman, Mesa (Ariz.) CC

Sophomore | Mesa, Ariz.

What a difference a week makes.

Brockman opened the season with a ninth-place finish as the second JUCO runner in the George Kyte Classic open race, clocking 17:09.5 for 2.5 miles. A week later Brockman stormed to a 28-second victory in the Vaquero CAMPY Invitational, running 18:29 for 5k. In her wake was the only JUCO athlete ahead of her at George Kyte, Hayley Burns of Coconino (Ariz.) CC.

Brockman, runner-up in last year’s NJCAA Division II Cross Country Championships, is the second female athlete from Mesa to be named National Athlete of the Week in cross country.

NJCAA DIVISION III MEN – Nicholas Keeling, College of DuPage

Freshman | Naperville, Ill.

Nicholas Keeling was twice in the midst of leaders to kick off the 2022 season.

He was third as the top JUCO runner in the Lewis Early Bird Twilight, covering the 3.73-mile course in 19:41.3. A week later he was 15th – and the leading NJCAA DIII athlete – at the Aurora Spartan Classic with a time of 26:48.1 for 8k.

Keeping is the first athlete from DuPage to be named National Athlete of the Week in cross country.

NJCAA DIVISION III WOMEN – Payden Pietrusinski, St. Charles (Mo.) CC

Freshman | Wentzville, Mo.

Payden Pietrusinski has started the year off impressively, finishing as the top JUCO athlete in her first two races.

At Southeast Missouri’s Redhawks Invitational, she was 11th with a time of 15:15.3 for 4K. A week later, Pietrusinski finished fifth in the Illinois Springfield Prairie Star Invitational, clocking 19:37.3 for the 5K course.

Pietrusinski is the second female athlete from St. Charles to be named National Athlete of the Week in cross country.