FRESNO, Calif. -- A season of history just became more historic.
For the first time in 23 years of the Golden State Athletic Conference one school has swept all 4 possible crowns of the conference cross country championship meet. NAIA power Azusa Pacific captured the GSAC men’s and women’s team titles today at Woodward Park and along the way Cougars won the men’s and women’s individual crowns as well.
“This really speaks to the strength of the conference that no one in the history of the GSAC has ever won all 4 titles in the same meet,” said Cougar coach Preston Grey, who was named the GSAC Women’s Coach of the Year by his peers following the meet. “It shows the balance of the GSAC that no one has ever done this, and it validates the GSAC as the best conference in the NAIA. It’s pretty cool to be the first school to do this.”
Led by All-Americans Jacky Kipwambok and Jaime Canterbury the NAIA’s No. 2-ranked Azusa Pacific women rolled to their second straight GSAC championship with one of the most dominating performances in the conference history. The Cougars put all 5 runners in the top 10 and scored a microscopic 23 points to easily run away from No. 4 Concordia which finished second with 56 points. No. 8-ranked Biola with third with 66 points.
The Cougars clocked a school and GSAC-record team time of 1:28.06 with their top 3 runners – Kipwambok, Canterbury and Renee Graham – all recording times that rank among top 4 in conference championship meet history. The sophomore Kipwambok successfully defended her conference crown with a sizzling 17:00 over the 5K course, breaking the former GSAC record by a whopping 30 seconds. She took the early and lead and ran away from the 91-athlete field.
Canterbury followed in second, also besting the former conference standard with a season-best 17:25. By the time Graham crossed the finish line with her season-best 17:31 to finish third overall, Azusa Pacific had practically clinched the team title. All that was left were the performances of senior Becca Reyes and freshmen Lauren Jimison, and the pair didn’t disappoint. Like their preceding teammates, the duo also posted personal bests, Reyes with an 18:01 to finish eighth and Jimison with an 18:09 to follow in ninth.
“Becca and Lauren ran out of their mind,” added Grey. “Those are All-American-like times and to have them as your No. 4 and 5 runners is pretty amazing.
Though fifth on her team and ninth in this year’s GSAC race, Jamison would have won 17 other GSAC meets with her 18:01, including 6 run on this same Woodward Course. However, perhaps the statistic that best represents Azusa Pacific’s domination today is that fact that even without Kipwambok, Azusa Pacific would have still won the GSAC championship by 4 points. Sophomore Kayla Carstensen finished 30th and just out of the team scoring with a season-best 19:17.
“I knew that the potential was there to have this kind of performance,” said Grey. “I wasn’t sure how we’d bounce back from the Aquinas meet of 2 weeks ago, but we clicked on all cylinders to make a ‘best-case scenario’ a reality.”
The top 5 Cougar finishers all earned All-GSAC recognition for their performances, and for Canterbury, it’s her third All-GSAC honor.
In the men’s race, No. 3-ranked Azusa Pacific relied on the 1-2 finishes of Kenyans Aron Rono and Abednego Magut to win its first GSAC crown in 4 years but its fourth in the past 7 years. The Cougars scored 45 points to beat Fresno Pacific University, which surprised the 8-team field by finishing second with 71 points.
Without much suspense, Rono won the 8K race, running away from the 65-athlete field from the opening gun and then blazing a GSAC-record 23:57 to become the first athlete in GSAC history to win 3 conference individual titles. Unchallenged the entire way, Rono beat his own GSAC record of 24:11 that he set last year on this same course.
“Aron is the greatest ever in the GSAC, it’s not even close,” said Grey. “In fact, he’s one of the best ever in the NAIA. He’s taken everything to another level.”
Magut, who was an NAIA All-American last year at Simpson College (Calif.), continues to display marked improvement from meet-to meet, and this time, in finishing second behind Rono, he recorded a season-best 24:31, more than 2 minutes better than his debut time as a Cougar back on Sept. 15, and the fifth-best time in GSAC Championship Meet history.
“Today was a huge break through for Abednego,” said Grey. “He did this on his own, without anyone rabbitting him. He’s now in shape to run among the top 5 at NAIAs.”
Azusa Pacific appeared to be in good shape for the team title following the Rono-Magut effort, but Fresno Pacific rattled the Cougars’ collective nerves with a 3-pack of runners who finished seventh, eighth and ninth. However, John Pfeil followed with a season-best 25:58 to finish tenth, and Forrest Lewton recorded a 26:00, coming in 12th to restore order.
When freshman Brandon Dugan crossed the line at 26:33 to finish 20th Azusa Pacific had its first GSAC title since 2004 wrapped up.
Rono, Magut, Pfeil and Lewton all collected All-GSAC recognition for finishing among the top 14 of the meet.
Several schools have come close to sweeping all 4 GSAC crowns in the past by taking 3 of the titles in the same meet, including Azusa Pacific in 2004, but until today, no one had claimed the quadruple crown of GSAC cross country.
With the team titles in hand, the Cougar women and men earn automatic berths into the NAIA Championship Meet, which will be held Nov. 22 in Kenosha, Wis. The Cougar women will be making their 15th straight NAIA meet appearance, while the men are making their seventh straight NAIA showing.