OAKWOOD, Ga. — How do you follow up a record-breaking performance in a conference championship?
For The University of North Carolina at Pembroke junior runner Joshua Chepkesir, the answer was simple — do it again.
Chepkesir broke his own conference record at the Peach Belt Conference Championship and became the first runner to win the conference three consecutive years Saturday at the University of North Georgia, also setting a course record in the process. He helped lead the Braves to a third-place team finish, on a day the women’s team also finished third.
“I was very prepared, I’ve been training so good for three months in a row, so I was ready to defend my title, ready to break the conference record, and ready to set the new course record,” Chepkesir said. “That was my plan. This morning I was ready — even last week I was ready for that.”
Chepkesir’s finishing time of 23 minutes, 41.9 seconds in the 8-kilometer race was seven seconds ahead of his own conference record from last year, when he beat the previously-established record by 18 seconds.
He led immediately off the start, putting daylight between himself and the field just seconds into the race. He led by 13 seconds at the 1.7-kilometer mark, gradually extending his lead to 30 seconds at the 6.7-kilometer mark and winning by 42 seconds.
“(His strategy was) get out, control the race, and then just kind of settle in, and even doing that strategy he still broke the Peach Belt and the course record pretty easily,” UNCP coach Peter Ormsby said. “He controlled the race, pretty much from the first quarter (mile), 400 meters in. It was pretty good, and he actually came back and said it wasn’t as hard, and he now knows a lot more about how to race cross country.”
Even as he’s proud of his accomplishments, Chepkesir was already thinking about the chance to win the event for a fourth time next year.
“I’m so proud about it, I’m so happy,” Chepkesir said. “Because of the hard work I’ve been making to do that, and I’m so proud. I’m still looking forward, and planning again to come next year, and make it again to be four years in a row.”
Behind Chepkesir, Ean Ormsby finished ninth to earn All-Conference honors with a personal-best time of 25:58.1.
“He’s been kind of snakebit, so to speak, with just having a couple of off races, so it’s nice to see him put one together and have the finish,” said Peter Ormsby, Ean’s father. “It wasn’t the time he was looking for, but obviously to be all-conference really means a lot to him, and he helped the team.”
Jack Pheiffer finished 14th in 26:53.3, also a personal best, to earn conference Freshman of the Year honors.
Hunter Levy finished 17th in 27:10.4, Tirus Kirwa was 23rd in 28:06.2 and Delsin Burkhart was 28th in 28:34.8.
Augusta’s Jacob Poston finished second behind Chepkesir, with fellow Jaguars finishing in the fourth through seventh positions to earn the team championship with 24 points. Flagler finished second with 47 points and UNCP was third with 64, well ahead of fourth-place Columbus State with 118.
The Braves earned third, matching last year’s finish, even as senior Silus Kipkoech, normally the team’s second-best runner, was out due to injury.
“I’m really happy for the guys, just showing up and going what we knew we could do,” Ormsby said. “That means we’re doing the right thing at the right time of the year.”
In the women’s race, sophomore Valary Samoei and junior Kathryn Anderson each earned All-Conference honors with top-10 finishes as the Braves finished third, a two-spot improvement from 2019.
Samoei finished ninth in the 5-kilometer race in 18:45.8, the fourth-fastest 5K time in program history, and Anderson was 10th in 18:48.7, leading the Braves as senior Erman Jepleting was out with injury.
“I feel that the girls really stepped up, and to have two all-conference honors with Kathryn and Valary was huge, and everybody just kind of stepped up,” Ormsby said. “That’s a huge win for the girls, especially the group of seniors that are going out with some of their best performances and one of the top team finishes that they’ve had at a conference championship.”
Molly McCann finished 19th in 19:28.2, Riley Axe was 20th in 19:31.2, Sam Badami earned 29th in 20:12.4 and Shelby McMurray was 36th in 20:56.5.
Ormsby said before the race the top few runners on the women’s team were “interchangeable,” and that proved to be true in Saturday’s race.
“They’ve gone back and forth, but it’s nice to know that behind them we’ve got two or three girls that, if one’s having a good day, then they’re going to be in front of the others,” Ormsby said. “It’s nice that we got the race they deserved and got the finish we earned. It was a good day for both sides.”
Augusta’s Mackenzie Taylor won by nearly a minute in 17:02.9.
Flagler won the team championship by a tiebreaker over North Georgia after both finished with 49 points. UNCP’s 87-point total narrowly beat fourth-place Augusta, who had 89.
Burkhart and Badami were named to the PBC All-Sportsmanship team.
With the NCAA championships canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Saturday’s meet concluded the season.
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