By Alan Grosbach, Manager of Communications and Sports Information
ELSAH, Ill. – (Results) Southern Oregon claimed its second national championship in program history Saturday at the 61st annual NAIA Men’s Cross Country National Championship. The event was held at North Farm Cross Country Course in Elsah, Ill. The Raiders, who entered the national championship ranked No. 3 in the final regular-season coaches’ poll, accumulated 122 total points to best the 37-team.
Connor Cushman was the lead finisher for Southern Oregon, taking 16th-place in a time of 24:59.80 to earn All-America honors. The West Linn, Ore., native claimed 189th place at the 2015 championships. Cushman was the lone Raider to finish among the top 30.
“We knew coming in that it was going to be a challenging course, and certainly the wind played a little into it today,” said Grier Gatlin, Southern Oregon head coach. “We had a race plan, and as cliché as it sounds, we executed that plan. What won it for us in the end was the way we ran the last 1,000-meters.”
Overall, Southern Oregon ran a combined time 8-kilometer time of 2:06:44.90 – an average of 25:20.98 per runner.
The last 1K of the individual race was arguably the most exciting moment of the 2016 championships, as Bacone’s (Okla.) Jackson Thomas out kicked defending national champion Geoffrey Kipchumba of William Carey (Miss.) to win the program’s first-ever individual title. The senior from Naschitti, N.M., flew through the course in a time of 23:50.2. Thomas, who was also named NAIA National Cross Country Runner of the Week once earlier this season, is now a two-time All-American – finished fourth last season.
“It’s very exciting, and very joyful way to end my last cross country season,” said Thomas. “I felt amazing during the race.”
Kipchumba, who entered the national championship looking to become the first individual to win back-to-back titles since Kennedy Kithuka of Wayland Baptist accomplished the feat in 2010 and 2011, finished with a time of 23:57.1. The junior is now a three-time All-American.
Rounding out the top five individual finishers were Will Norris of Northwestern (Iowa) (24:29.3), Jesse Hooton of British Columbia (24:31.4) and John Gay of British Columbia (24:35.5).
St. Francis (Ill.) took second in the team race with 148 points. The Fighting Saints were led by Joey Santillo’s 25th-place finish. British Columbia took third-place with 152 points, while College of Idaho (218 points) claimed fourth-place and The Master’s (Calif.) (261 points) fifth.