SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- It’s one thing to believe it, it’s another thing to be it.
Azusa Pacific women’s cross country is good – very good – and the Cougars proved it today with a convincing victory at the 64th Annual Aztec Invitational at Balboa Park in San Diego.
Azusa Pacific placed 3 runners in the top 10 and then held off solid NCAA Division I foes Northern Arizona University and UC Santa Barbara to finish with 96 and collect its first-ever win of the Aztec Invitational. Northern Arizona was second with 102 while UCSB tallied 143.
Sophomore All-American Jacky Kipwambok led the Cougar onslaught by winning the women’s invitational portion with a personal 5K record of 17:13, the second fastest time in program history and bettering her own previous best of 17:14 that she clocked while finishing second at last year’s NAIA championship meet.
Senior transfer Renee Graham was just as impressive, running a 17:41 to finish fourth, narrowly missing third by fractions of a second.
And as good as Kipwambok and Graham were, the Cougars are bolstered by the fact that reigning NAIA champion Jaime Canterbury, who is far from top shape, recorded an 18:16 to finish tenth. Canterbury has been slowed in her preparation for this season-opening performance by a broken arm suffered in the summer followed by a week-long flu-like symptoms in early September.
“The girls were absolutely unreal today,” said Cougar distance coach Preston Grey. “To beat Northern Airzona and UCSB, which are traditionally strong programs, speaks to the significance of their effort.”
The Cougars, who are ranked No. 3 in the NAIA, also beat No. 6 Cal State San Marcos by 100 points.
“Jacky ran unchallenged from the opening gun,” said Grey, “and it wasn’t a bad effort for Jaime considering she’s a little behind in her conditioning. Overall, it was a great team effort.”
In the men’s competition, Azusa Pacific finished ninth out of 17 teams competing in the Aztec Invitational.
As expected, defending NAIA champion Aron Rono won the men’s race for his sixth victory in the past 7 races and the 11th of his Cougar career. Rono ran a sizzling 24:16 to break the course record by a whopping 21 seconds and put himself well ahead of the pace he established in his 2 other All-American seasons. By comparison, Rono recorded a 24:48 (2006) and 24:42 (2007) in his 2 previous season-opening efforts.
Junior Forrest Lewton was the Cougars’ No. 2 runner, coming in 52nd with a strong early-season time of 26:12. Sophomore J.J. Timphany ran a 26:41 to finish 77th.
The Cougars, who are ranked No. 4 in the NAIA, scored 259 points. BYU won the men’s meet with 32 points. Northern Arizona was second with 96.
“This is a good start for the men,” said Grey, “and I’m very happy on both sides.”
Azusa Pacific takes 2 weeks off return to the turf in 2 weeks at the Stanford Invitational, Sept.27.