ETSU Cross Country brings conference title back to Johnson City for the first time since 1996
Saturday, November 1, 2008



Rotich named A-Sun Runner of the Year, Walker Coach of the Year


MACON, Ga. (Nov. 1, 2008) - The Atlantic Sun Conference now has a new men's cross country champion to add to its history books.


On Saturday morning, the ETSU men's cross country team snapped Belmont's six-year run as conference champions, and the Buccaneers went to win their first-ever A-Sun crown at the grounds of the Georgia Industrial Children's Home in Macon.


With the win, ETSU moved its running total of conference championships to the magic number of 21 (15 SoCon, five Ohio Valley, one A-Sun); marking its first title since head coach David E. Walker's club won the 1996 SoCon crown.


"We ran as a team today and in the end the hard work paid off," said Walker. "This was the last time for some of our guys to win a conference championship. The guys laid everything out on the line today and it was finally our time to win the crown. It was a very exciting race. Our guys made some moves late which helped us secure the conference title."   


As a team the Bucs put together a dominating race and were led up front by cousins Kenneth Rotich (Nairobi, Kenya) and Ben Ronoh (Sotik, Kenya). The Kenyan sensations finished the 8K race one-two - with Rotich claiming the individual conference crown - finishing the course with a time of 24:34 (fastest 8K time since 2004). Ronoh, who transferred to ETSU from Milligan this summer, has been a huge addition to the ETSU squad and crossed the tape seven seconds behind Rotich.


"We had hope from the beginning that we were going to win conference after the work we have been doing all season," Rotich said. "We have been training so hard and we have been working for it."


Rotich now joins the elite grouping of Neil Cusack, Brian Dunne, Mark Finucane, Ed Leddy, Adrian Leek, Louis Kenny, Dennis Stark, Seamus Power and Derek Murphy to claim an individual conference championship during their ETSU cross country career.


"Both Kenneth and Ben broke through the pack and controlled the pace midway throughout the race," commented coach Walker. "Once Ben and Kenneth led up front, both runners made sure they would not be touched and each ran a solid race. I am very proud of them, especially Kenneth, for working hard and winning the conference championship."


Despite Rotich and Ronoh leading up front, the storyline of the race came from the senior leadership of Jeff Crane (Taylors, S.C.) and Michael Deren (Blasdell, N.Y.). With this being their last time to win a conference championship, both men made some moves late that helped propel the Bucs to the top.


Deren found himself fall from third to eighth during the race, but dug deep in the last final 400 meters to pass three runners and claim a fifth-place finish, as he crossed the line in 24:52. Behind Deren was Crane, who could have also posted a top-5 finish, but in the middle of the race he noticed junior J Penny (Jonesborough, Tenn.) struggling, so the Taylors, S.C. native took one for the team by turning around to motivate his teammate. In what was considered a very risky and unorthodox move, Crane knew giving his teammate that lift could have been a deciding factor in winning or losing the championship.


"Both Crane and Deren showed their leadership on the course today," Walker said. "What Crane did by turning around and pushing his teammate was remarkable, and having Deren battle through a pack in the final 400 meters shows how tough of a competitor he is."


Crane battled through a difficult final season after having knee surgery prior to the season, but he gave it everything he had on Saturday, as the South Carolina native finished ahead of defending champion, Kipkosgei Magut. Crane came through with a ninth-place finish, completing the race with a respectable time of 25:17. Penny also battled for the Bucs and walked away with a 12th place finish.


The Buccaneers knew the course like the back of their hand as ETSU won the Mercer RunFit Sports Invitational back in late September, which they used that to its advantage.   


"Running on this same course back in September gave us an upper edge on Belmont," said Walker. "We were more comfortable out there and knew the exact spots where we had to make the right moves. In the end it paid off in a big way."


As a team, ETSU and Belmont made it a two-team race, as the Buccaneers edged out the Bruins - 29 to 35. Kennesaw State followed in third with 87 total points.


At the post-race ceremony, six Buccaneer members received conference honors. Rotich, who garnered three A-Sun Runner of the Week awards during the year, was named Runner of the Year, Walker was tabbed Coach of the Year for the 14th time in his career, and Rotich, Ronoh, Deren, Crane and Penny all received All-Conference accolades. Crane and Deren close out their ETSU cross country career as three-time all-conference winners.


On the women's side, Belmont's dominance continued on Saturday as the Bruins won the league title for the seventh time in eight years capturing the 2008 Atlantic Sun Cross Country Championship. The Bruins placed two in the top 10 in defeating their closest competitor, Jacksonville, by 18 points. Overall ETSU placed eighth.


ETSU was led by sophomore Tesha Haggard (Morristown, Tenn.), as she turned in a personal-best of 18:48, resulting in a 15th place finish. Haggard's overall mark is the highest any Lady Buccaneer runner has finished at the A-Sun championship.


"Tesha turned in a lifetime best today and finished one spot shy of collecting all-conference honors," said coach Walker. "She performed very well and hopefully she can continue to build off this success."


Belmont's Brittany Thune made it a clean sweep as she won the individual crown. Thune completed the 5K course in 17:39.


Other ETSU notables included sophomore Terra Haggard (Morristown, Tenn.) and freshman Victoria Jones (Marshall, N.C.). Haggard also turned in a lifetime best (19:21) and finished 35th overall; while Jones was 10 spots back (20:00).


The Buccaneer cross country teams will be back in action when they head to Maryville, Tenn. to run in the NCAA South Regional on Saturday, Nov. 15.


For more information on Buccaneer cross country, visit