Eagles finish in top 10 at Chile Pepper Festival, led by Njonjo

Timothy Zuercher was the No. 5 runner on Saturday for OC in the Chile Pepper Festival.
Timothy Zuercher was the No. 5 runner on Saturday for OC in the Chile Pepper Festival.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (Oct. 13, 2012) – Led by another strong performance by Geoffrey Njonjo, Oklahoma Christian posted a 10th-place team finish on Saturday morning in the Chile Pepper Festival at Agri Park.

OC, with a team score of 289, posted the highest finish among the 10 teams in the event either in NCAA Division II or the Division II membership process. OC – which the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association has declined to rank – beat Division II No. 28-ranked New Mexico Highlands, two other regionally ranked opponents and 15 NCAA Division I squads.

The Eagles now have beaten three of the USTFCCCA’s current top-35 squads as well as six other regionally ranked teams this season, some of them multiple times. The Eagles have done so despite being at full strength in only one of five races so far this season.

At 10 kilometers, the Chile Pepper is two kilometers longer than standard cross country race. Njonjo, who has thrived in long-distance events, finished 13th in 30:46.0, tops among non-Division I runners. Kennedy Kithuka of Texas Tech – a longtime foil of the Eagles when he competed at Wayland Baptist (Texas) of the NAIA – won in 28:53.0.

David McWilliams (42nd in 32:01.9), Brayden Barrientez (69th in 32:27.3) and Bryant Keirns (103rd in 32:58.0) all finished in the top third of the 313-runner field. Another one of OC’s usual top five runners, Roberto Diaz, missed the race because of lingering back pain that initially resulted in Diaz dropping out of a race two weeks ago at Oklahoma State, Miller said.

Timothy Zuercher (137th in 33:25.7), reigning Heartland Conference runner of the week Nick Stoots (174th in 34:00.3) and Evan Fike (210th in 34:32.4) rounded out the Eagles’ top seven. Joseph Zarazua (211th in 34:33.4) and Trent Stephens (249th in 35:12.7) also competed for OC.

“We had a good day today,” Miller said. “Geoffrey ran a smart race out front. Dave, Brayden, Bryant and Tim all ran great races to round out our scoring. The jump up to 10K is tough, but I am pleased with the effort our team gave today.”

Oklahoma State won the team title with a score of 20. Thirty-four teams competed in the race.

Notable Division II squads finishing below OC in the standings included New Mexico Highlands (17th with a team score of 478), regionally ranked Alabama Huntsville (20th, 544), regionally ranked West Florida (25th, 696) and Heartland Conference rival Dallas Baptist (Texas) (27th, 762).