MDES and FAMU Favored to Win MEAC XC Championship Titles
Maryland Eastern Shore head cross country coach Ernest Barrett is confident that his men’s squad will win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Cross Country Championships for the third straight year.
However, Barrett is casting a wary eye toward once-dominant Norfolk State. He predicts Saturday’s race at the Delaware State University Outreach and Research Center in Smyrna, Del., will boil down to a two-team affair between the schools.
“We have as good a chance of winning as we did last year,’’ Barrett said. “Based on how Norfolk State has been running, we know it’s going to be a really good race. They have some good athletes and they have been running well. It should be really competitive.’’
Maryland Eastern Shore and Norfolk State dominate the conference statistics. Thirteen runners from the two schools rank inside the top 20 during 8k races this year.
Barrett likes his team’s chances for a number of reasons. The Hawks have virtually the same squad as the one that won the 2015 title, with five runners finishing in the top 10 and seven in the top 20. Mark Tuwie was the only senior in that group.
Senior Khalil Rmidi Kinini was first at the 2015 MEAC Championships (25:00.50) and he has the fastest time in the conference this season – 24:02.90 in the Princeton Invitational on Oct. 15 while finishing second.
“Khalil has developed really well,’’ Barrett said. “He has the work ethic, the commitment. He’s a guy who puts it all on the line when he’s running. He’s faster; he’s stronger (than he was last year).’’
Barrett anticipates the Hawks having a number of runners finishing close to each other again this year. Besides Kinini, five Hawks – Mark Blackmon (25:01.20), Donovan Mundy (25:45.60), Nassor Whitehead (25:49.10), Stanley Meli (25:52.30) and Leon Jordan (25:52.90) have posted times in the 25-minute range and have consistently run in the 26-minute range this season.
“We’re not stretched out,” Barrett said. “That’s good in dual situations and this looks like it will be a dual meet with Norfolk State. Khalil is on a different level of running, but 3-6 are pretty much running the same time. That’s how you win cross country.’’
Norfolk State and Maryland Eastern Shore have been the most successful cross country programs in the MEAC in recent years, winning 14 of the last 16 titles. Norfolk State had a run of 11 crowns in 12 seasons from 2000-2011. Maryland Eastern Shore broke the Spartans’ string in 2007 and won back-to-back titles in 2014 and ’15. Florida A&M, which claimed consecutive crowns in 2012 and ’13, is the only other school to win the championship this millennium.
Norfolk State finished a distant third in 2015 after being ineligible for the MEAC Championships in 2013 and ’14. The Spartans returned four runners from their 2015 squad, Hailleyesus Demsie, Desmond Fogg, Tomas Fantaye and Joseph Wanene. However, it has been the newcomers who have led the way.
Ronald Korir, a transfer from Eastern Kentucky, has the second-fastest time in the conference (24:53.10); another transfer, Anteneh Girma, who previously ran at Virginia Commonwealth, is No. 4 in the (25:17.00) and freshman Felix Kiprotich (25:25.50). Demsie, the Spartans’ top runner last season, is their No. 4 runner. His best time (25:43.00) is ninth-fastest in the conference.
“They brought in some good runners,’’ Barrett said. “They have the personnel to get the job done. I do expect for the meet to be a really exciting race. I am confident that we will do well.’’
The Hawks’ championship experience is a reason for Barrett’s confidence. Blackmon, a former basketball player, is their only runner who wasn’t a part of the team’s two championships.
“They know how to win,’’ Barrett said. “They have won. We have a psychological edge because our kids know how to win. They’ve won two times. They have that chemistry as a team. We have six strong runners. We’re battle tested and ready to go.’’
On the women’s side, Florida A&M is going for an unprecedented fifth consecutive title. Last year, the Lady Rattlers joined Delaware State (1984-87) and Coppin State (1991-94) as the only schools to win four consecutive championships. Maryland Eastern Shore finished second last year, but Barrett says the Lady Hawks have closed the gap on Florida A&M and could very well overtake the Lady Rattlers this year.
“It’s all up to them on that day,’’ Barrett said. “We did some recruiting and brought in some solid girls. I’m thinking we are going to give FAMU a run for their money.’’
Sharon Jerop, a freshman from Kenya, is Maryland Eastern Shore’s top runner. Jerop has the fourth-fastest 5K time in the conference (18:44.20). Sophomore Jennaya Hield (19:04.40) is also in the top 10. Hield finished third at the 2015 MEAC Championships (18:05.60). Freshmen Neus Quinonero (19:17.60) and Silvia Guerra (19:17.80), both from Spain, complete a strong quartet of runners for the Lady Hawks.
Florida A&M has three of the fastest times in the conference and is led by Judith Kibii (17:59.70). Fridah Limo (18:30.31) and Emmax Kiplagat (18:40.60) are right behind Kibii in the times on a 5k course. Kibii will look for her first title as she finished as the runner-up last year at the 2015 MEAC Championships (17:53.90).