RIVERSIDE, Calif. – It may only be September, but Azusa Pacific is running like the calendar says November.
Led by All-American Jacky Kipwambok, the NAIA’s No. 4-ranked Cougars served noticed today that they aren’t just reloading, but that they are ready to defend their national title. The Cougars put together the best race ever run by an Azusa Pacific team and in the process left the NAIA’s top 2-ranked teams – Cal State San Marcos and Biola – in their dust.
The Cougar quintet of Kipwambok, Victoria Martinez, Lauren Jimison, Poppy Lawman and Kayla Carstensen clocked a team time of 1:27:24 to break the former team standard of 1:28:06 set by last year’s eventual NAIA national championship team in the first week of November.
“Obviously, this is a very fast course, but even with this course and considering the competition, we ran a great team time,” said Azusa Pacific head coach Preston Grey.
The Cougars finished third overall with 106 points, trailing only NCAA Division I nationally-ranked UC Riverside, which won the meet with 89 points, and BYU, which was second with 98. The NAIA’s top-ranked Cal State San Marcos finished seventh with 165 points, and No. 2 Biola was eighth with 250.
“To beat a very good San Marcos and Biola means we’re ahead of schedule,” added Grey. “Whether or not it makes us the No. 1-ranked team is another thing. At the very least, it puts us in the conversation.”
Kipwambok ran the entire 5K unchallenged, clocking a 5-minute opening mile to pull away from the entire 217-athlete field. She finished with a course record 16:29, smashing her own school-record that she set last year by nearly 30 seconds.
“Jacky took the field out so fast that with this kind of competition on a fast course with a rabbit out front, you’re bound to either run fast or blow up,” said Grey. “On any course under any conditions, that was a very solid run by Jacky.”
Martinez, a junior who is on the mend from 2 injury-plagued seasons, ran the race of her life, finishing 14th with a 17:29, more than a minute better than her previous personal-best. Jimison was 20th with her first-ever sub-18-minute effort, recording a 17:40. Lawman, a freshman from England by way of San Jose, proved that her collegiate opening time 2 weeks ago was no fluke, coming back this week with an impressive 17:47 to finish 27th. Carstensen rounded out the Cougars’ scoring 5 with yet another personal-record at 17:57.
“Our 2 through 5 runner really stepped up today,” added Grey. “This is a group that ran in the shadows last year, but they’re emerging this year and taking ownership.”
In the men’s race, Azusa Pacific finished 15th out of 30 schools with 431 points. Vanguard was the only other Golden State Athletic Conference school to finish ahead of Azusa Pacific, finishing 13th with 387 points.
All-American Abednego Magut ran a sterling race, clocking a PR 23:48 to finish third overall after running the entire 8K race with BYU’s Miles Batty, who won with a 23:41, and Cameron Levins of Southern Utah who finished second with a 23:48.
“Abednego ran a very smart race,” said Grey. “The temperature was starting to get hot, so he got out there with the lead pack and then ran a very tactical race.”
However, the separation between Magut and the rest of his mates was quite significant. Once Magut finished the next Cougar didn’t hit the finish line for another 2-plus minutes when J.J. Timphony finished his 8K at 26:18 to come in 107th. Senior Forrest Lewton was 131st at 26:41.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Grey as he reviewed the men’s results. “Today was not a performance that will get us to nationals. We are going to have to improve – a lot.”
In truth, the day belonged to the Cougar women, whose surprise domination was the talk of coaches after the meet.
“We have to keep working hard,” said Grey as he was interrupted for a congratulatory handshake from San Marcos head coach Steve Scott. “It’s hard work that produced today’s performance. If today is the highlight of our season, we’re in trouble because there is a lot of time between now and November.”
For the day, though, it was November in September for the Cougars.