University of Louisville

Cross country: EKU on NCAA bubble after placing fourth in regional

LOUISVILLE — The Eastern Kentucky men went into Friday's NCAA Southeast Regional Cross Country Championships aiming to qualify for the national meet.

The Colonels came away from E.P. "Tom" Sawyer Park on the bubble, placing fourth on a cold but sunny day.

Only the top two teams earned automatic berths in next weekend's NCAA Championships at Terre Haute, Ind. EKU will find out Saturday if it is able to land one of 13 remaining at-large bids.

"We'll probably be one of the first two out or the last two in, something like that," Coach Rick Erdmann said.

The Colonels earned automatic qualifying spots the last three years.

Virginia, No. 28 in the nation, won Friday's meet with 75 points, edging No. 16 Furman by four points. Then came North Carolina with 87 and EKU with 107.

It's possible that EKU could receive an at-large bid ahead of North Carolina, as the Colonels beat the Tar Heels twice this season.

Louisville, led by 2-3 finishers Edwin Kibichiy and Ernest Kibet, placed eighth with 224 points. Kentucky, paced by Keffri Neal in 40th, took ninth in a field of 33 teams.

Morehead State came in 20th, Western Kentucky 22nd and Murray State 27th.

Elon senior Luis Vargas won the men's 10,000-meter race in 30 minutes, 5.8 seconds. Kibichiy hit the finish in 30:13.9.

Ole Hesselbjerg, fifth in 30:19.0, led EKU.

"We were doing really well up until the 8K," Erdmann said. "I think we were three points behind Virginia. Then the last 2K hurt us tremendously."

Amos Kosgey, in 10th, was the second Colonel to finish. Then came Ambrose Maritim in 16th, Sean Vandermosten in 31st and Luka Ndungu in 45th.

At the front of the pack, Kibichiy said he wanted to bide his time and make a move at 5K. He felt good, though, and went at 4K.

Vargas overtook him near the 8K mark.

"There's a lot of great competition here that I'd never raced before," Vargas said. "My strategy really was just stay in that front group. And once I saw that guy from Louisville go out, I was like 'I can either stay here and play it safe or I can try to go for it.' I'm glad I decided to go for it."

Unranked William & Mary took women's team honors with 74 points, followed by No. 14 Virginia with 82.

No. 11 North Carolina, led by individual champion Annie LeHardy, took third with 94.

EKU led in-state schools, seventh with 230. Louisville placed 10th, Kentucky 12th, Western Kentucky 20th, Morehead State 24th and Murray State 28th in a field of 38.

"My strategy coming in was just to relax and stay in the top pack and just feel it out and see how everything goes," said LeHardy, who clocked 20:13.4 for 6,000 meters. "And just make sure I'm up there and place up high for my team.

"I love the cold. I think I race better in the cold."

Carolyn Hennessey of William & Mary was runner-up in 20:14.7.

EKU's Ann Eason, a senior out of Sayre, was the top in-state finisher, 16th in 20:43.8.

Like the men's team, Eason will find out Saturday if she'll get an at-large bid to run in nationals.

"Of course the goal was to qualify, so I wanted to put myself in the best position for that," she said. "I knew if I was in top 10, top 15 it might be possible. The biggest thing I was working on was getting out well and not getting boxed in. But I know these girls. I know they're competitors. So I knew if I was in a pack they were going to do the work for me. They were going to get me to where I needed to be."