ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico – Ending the season the same way that they started it all the way back in August, the top-ranked Cloud County Community College men’s cross country team would prove to worthy of all five number one rankings to bring home the 2019 NJCAA Men’s Cross Country Team National Championship at the University of New Mexico North Golf Course in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Saturday.
Earning the first national title in program history, the Cloud County distance runners added to last spring’s NJCAA Outdoor Track and Field National Title as Cloud County has now won two national titles in the past seven months. The National Title also bests Cloud county’s best previous finish at a National Championship race after finishing fifth in 2002 at the NJCAA Division II level and sixth in 2017 at the NJCAA Division I National Championship.
As a team, Cloud County would finish with a total of 89 points, 21 points better than National Runner-Up and third ranked El Paso Community College. The team race would prove to be just a two-team race as Cloud County and El Paso would both finish well ahead of third-place Iowa Central who took third with 140 total points. Cloud County’s win also marks the first time in seven years that the National Title was not won by either Iowa Central or Central Arizona as the pair had finished either first or second in each of the past six years.
“There’s so many different variables you have to deal with when running at a national championship meet and for us to be able to battle through the elevation and all the other things makes this national championship that much more special” said head coach Drew Mahin in a post-meet interview. “We’ve told the guys all year long that there’s six of them and all we have is all we need, and it was incredible to see our top three runners really help push and carry each other to the finish line today.”
A key component to the team title for T-Birds was the top three runners for CCCC finishing 10th, 11th, and 12th overall as Dais Malebana (24:38.80), Kwanele Mthembu (24:41.08), and Saba Khvichava (24:41.19) paced Cloud County. An 18th place finish from Habtamu Geta (25:18.60) would give the T-Birds four runners in the top 20 as Ablel Gebreselase (26:05.82) would take 38th to cap off the team scoring for CCCC. Also running for the T-Birds would be Gabriel Chinya with a 75th place finish with a time of 26:45.31 as the race would be contested at an elevation over 4,000 feet higher than the NJCAA Region VI Championships two weeks ago.
For many of the T-Bird runners, it would be their first time competing at a National Championship event as the new experience for most would lead to nerves and other things. Fortunately for Cloud County, the focus remained on competing as a team and not letting any one thing become a factor as the T-Birds managed to stay the course that they had set throughout the year.
“At the start of the season, coach Mahin brought the six of us together and told us that what we have is all that we need to compete for a National Title and that each one of us has a role to play” said Malebana following the race. “What was really neat for me personally was seeing the guys working together each and every race and leaving it all out on the course every time we ran.” “We’ve finished every competition as the top NJCAA team at the meet, and to cap it off with a National Title is a feeling unlike any other.”
For the T-Birds, a 12-hour van ride now awaits as they make the trek back from Albuquerque back to North Central Kansas. Having a National Title trophy in hand and three All-Americans will make the trip all that much better as Cloud County truly did leave it all out on the course on Saturday.