Northwest Arkansas Community College cross country program off to flying start

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Runners must be full-time college students and maintain a 2.5 grade point average. The teams are open to men and women of all levels. The scholarships are available to qualifying student-athletes, according to the Northwest Arkansas Community College website.

BENTONVILLE – Northwest Arkansas Community College’s initial step into athletics has begun.

College trustees voted 7-1 in November 2019 to begin a cross country program to compete in Division II of the National Junior College Athletic Association. The competition started this fall.

The first season ended on November 13 at the national championship at Pole Green Park in Richmond, Virginia, where the men’s team finished 11th. Cowley (Kansas) College won the 30-team men’s division.

Freshman Emmanuel Kipchirchir was Northwest Arkansas Community College’s top runner-up at 29th out of 221 runners. He had to overcome an annoying muscle strain in his right leg.

Kipchirchir of Kenya called the display at the nationals a team effort.

“It was not an easy task,” he said. “Cross country is about fighting as a team.”

Northwest Arkansas Community College did not have the full complement of runners to compete in the team’s rankings in Virginia, but Sophia Rodriguez (100th) and Caitlyn Barron (159th) were among the 197 runners who finished. Lansing (Michigan) Community College won the women’s championship. There were 26 women’s teams.

Teams are allowed seven runners, but only the top five finishers count toward team points.

Todd Schwartz, a member of the university’s Board of Directors, said the season was “frankly above expectations.” He watched the nationals through a live broadcast and was able to follow the college runners as they crossed the finish line.

“Not many schools go to nationals in their first year,” he said.

Coach Josphat Boit didn’t start recruiting until March, and the first meeting was in September. He finished with a men’s team of 10 and a women’s team of three. Only two of the 13 were enrolled in college when Boit began recruiting. Boit said her main goal for next year is to build a full team of women.

Boit is a former Razorback from the University of Arkansas. He won two NCAA national titles, eight All-America awards, six Southeastern Conference titles and two conference Athlete of the Year awards. He also participated ten times in all the conferences. Boit remains the second-fastest 5-mile cross-country runner in Arkansas and is one of only three Razorbacks to win consecutive individual conference titles, according to the university’s cross-country website.

“I wanted to build something from scratch,” he said. “I thought it would be a challenge. It’s a good opportunity to prove yourself.”

Mike Power, a cross country coach at Bentonville High School, said the community college program brings a broader scope to the sport in the area. The University of Arkansas cross country teams are well known for their national success.

The first year of a program can be difficult, Power said.

“You’re a little nervous about that first class,” he said. “When recruiting athletes, there is nothing to sell them on, but the first class is an important class because it is a stepping stone. The first year is always difficult, but they did fantastic,” he said of the community college teams.

The varsity men’s team made it to the nationals after winning the Region 2 meet at the University of Arkansas-Rich Mountain on October 30 by placing runners first, second, third, fifth, sixth, 11 and 13.

Aries Burasco, a Rogers freshman running back, said the team set a standard in the first game of the year in September, then built on that toward the Nationals. Burasco was the first signatory of Boit.

The team was fully funded with about $ 45,000 in private donations this season, said Todd Kitchen, vice president of student services.

Schwartz said his personal goal is to continue funding athletics through private donations. This year’s money went to expenses such as uniforms, food, car rentals, plane tickets and coaches’ salaries, he said. Fundraising will be easier based on this year’s success and as the area recovers from the impacts of COVID-19, he said.

The university hosted the Eagle 5K and Fun Run on November 20. The $ 2,500 raised will go towards the cross country program.

Boit said he is focused on fundraising. He recognized that some of the work was difficult at first because he had nothing to offer potential backers. Now, he has a men’s team that finished 11th in the nationals and will have almost all of his members back next year.

“We’re going to be dangerous,” said Springdale team member Matthew Ball.

Cross Country is a three-year pilot program at the university. Officials aren’t talking about adding more sports for now, Schwartz said.

“We thought it would take three years for the show to have wings, but the show this year proved it has wings,” he said.

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