The answer was a definitive yes. USC Upstate held off a charge from ETSU to claim a four-point win in the team competition while Gilbert Kemboi cruised to a 27-second victory.
“We had pressure as the defending champion and I had pressure having won twice,” said Kemboi “When you are going into a competition like this, you have to lay down a strategy on how we are going to accomplish our goals. That strategy helped make us confident and at the end of the day we won.”
Kemboi became just the second runner in A-Sun history to win three straight individual titles and the third to win three over the course of their career. His time of 24:16.70 was the third fastest winning time in conference history.
“Gilbert has done a great job controlling races and being a leader from the front for us. This is his third time in a row to win and we are excited he is in an elite group of A-Sun champions,” said USC Upstate Associate Head Coach Carson Blackwelder.
Add this to his accolades on the track and in the classroom and A-Sun fans got their final cross country glimpse of one of the greatest runners in conference history.
However, you don’t win titles on the strength of just one runner.
Three Spartans claimed second team All-Atlantic Sun accolades with seniors Davey Dennison and Cameron Thomas posting top-10 showings and junior Ross Oden placing 12th. A fourth senior, Christian Ritacco, claimed 19th place to secure the team championship.
“This senior class has changed our program tremendously over the last four years. They came in as freshman and moving from eighth in the team standings to back-to-back titles has changed us.” said Blackwelder.
The men’s race seemed to be a wide-open affair heading into the meet. Afterwards, it looked like a two-team showdown with the Spartans saving their best race of the season for this one.
“This year, we did not run the fastest times we thought we could. Most of the guys ran nearly a minute faster today than they had all season. They love the pressure and love to compete. When it matters, they get it done and proved it again today,” remarked Blackwelder.