Spartanburg, S.C. – USC Upstate cross country runners Gilbert Kemboi and Joan Tangwar know the course well at the Milliken Research Park. They both have raced there twice this season and both have two individual championships. Their experience could come in handy Saturday morning as Upstate plays host to the 2010 A-Sun Cross Country Championships at the Milliken facility.
Saturday's meet marks the first time that Upstate has hosted an A-Sun Championship exclusively and it is the first time the league has conducted a conference championship in Spartanburg. Upstate was co-host of the 2008 A-Sun Outdoor Track and Field Championships held at Clemson.
Kemboi and Tangwar, both from Eldoret, Kenya, have had considerable success this season and, in particular, on the Milliken course. Kemboi opened the season by winning the Eye Opener in dominating fashion at Milliken. He finished the 8k race with a time of 24:13.00, breaking his own meet record by an amzing 47 seconds over his performance in 2009. He went on to win the Clemson Invitational and finished third in a strong national field of 323 runners at the Greater Louisville Classic. He then took to the Milliken course two weeks ago in the Upstate invitational and lowered his time to 23:59.97, claiming his third victory in four races while also coming within five seconds of the course record.
Tangwar also opened the 2010 season by winning the Eye Opener in early September. She ran the 5k Milliken course in 18:02.00 to claim Upstate's third-straight women's individual title with three different runners in the meet. She went on to finish second at the Clemson Invitational and 13th against a national field of 302 runners at the Greater Louisville Classic. She returned to the Milliken course two weeks ago and claimed her second individual title of the season with a time of 17:34.56, lowering her time from the Eye Opener by 27 seconds.
Kemboi and Tangwar have also claimed several individual honors this season. They swept A-Sun Runner of the Week accolades three times this season. Kemboi was also recognized in the "Faces in the Crowd" section of the Oct. 4 issue of Sports Illustrated for his performance in winning the Eye Opener and Clemson Invitational. He has posted the fastest time in the A-Sun this season, finishing the 8k race at the Greater Louisville Classic with a time of 23:22.28, more than 41 seconds faster than any other runner has posted this season in the A-Sun. Tangwar has posted the second-fastest time on the women's side, posting a time of 17:25.36 in the 5k at the Greater Louisville Classic. Her time is 14 seconds behind Kennesaw State's Mackenzie Howe, who ran the Crimson Classic in a time of 17:11.30.
Though Kemboi and Tangwar have been dominant, they are not the only Spartans who have posted strong times. On the women's side, Carolyne Chelulei and Jemeli Sang have posted the seventh and ninth fastest times in the A-Sun this year. On the men's side, Davey Dennison and Andrew Kipchumba have posted the 9th and 18th fastest times in the conference, respectively.
While Kemboi is the favorite to win the men's individual title and Tangwar is expected to press for the women's championship, Upstate's teams are expected to battle for the team championships. Jacksonville's women and Kennesaw State's men will enter the race as the prohibitive favorites to repeat as champions this year. Jacksonville returns four runners who placed in the top 14 last year, while Kennesaw State's top three finishers from last year also return.
Joining the group of women's team vying for the championship will be North Florida, Lipscomb and Upstate. UNF and Lipscomb have both been ranked in the US Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association polls, while Upstate has consistently battled closely with those teams in meets this season. While Howe is the favorite to win the individual championship, Spartans Tangwar, Chelulei and Sang, UNF's Shelby Kittrell and Jacksonville's Joane Pierre are all expected to battle for the championship.
While Kemboi is the favorite on the men's side, he will have plenty of competition. Kennesaw State's Nathan Haskins, who has posted the second-fastest time in the A-Sun this season, Nabil Hamid and Jaakko Nieminen will be joined by ETSU's Ben Ronoh and Campbell's Terence Attema as runners who could swoop in and challenge for the title.
The women's race will get things started at 9:00 a.m. Saturday morning. The men's race will follow at 10. Admission to the championships is free of charge. Complete championship coverage can be found online at www.atlanticsun.org and www.upstatespartans.com.