TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – Oklahoma State won its second NCAA men’s cross country championship Monday at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course by running as a team.
Ryan Vail was the first Cowboy to cross the finish line, placing seventh. Teammates Colby Lowe (eighth), John Kosgei (11th) and Girma Mecheso (24th) earned All-America honors as well to lead the way for OSU, who finished 16 points ahead of second-place Oregon.
“We talked before the race about letting Ryan Vail lead the way,” Fourth-year coach Dave Smith said. “He is experienced and poised and he won’t make any mistakes. We said if you let him lead you, you’ll be okay. I’m very proud of him and of Colby Lowe and the entire team. Girma Mecheso ran better than he had all year. John Kosgei was solid as always. As a coach, I never have to worry about John.”
The Cowboys spent the entire season ranked among the top three teams nationally, but were never ranked No. 1.
“This has been the goal since we all got to Stillwater,” Vail said. “First, we won the Big 12, which nobody other than Colorado had done. Then, nobody thought we could beat Stanford or Oregon at NCAAs, but here we are. After all the miles run and all the training and early mornings, it all came together for us today. I am ecstatic and proud to represent Oklahoma State like this.”
OSU’s previous cross country NCAA championship came in 1954 and the Cowboys’ 2009 title marks the 49th NCAA team title in all sports in school history.
“I told the guys before the race that the advantage that we had over Stanford and the other teams was that we went through this last year,” Smith said. “We had all the pressure and all the expectations last season and it was our first time around. We didn’t handle it well. This time, we were ready for the experience and we were able to maintain our poise and composure and keep the right frame of mind.”
Both Lowe and Smith said after the race that they knew there was a special chemistry to this year’s Cowboy squad.
“The best way to describe the chemistry of this team is to talk about a guy like German Fernandez, who battled injuries all year and was willing to run through those injuries today and struggle to a 77th-place finish just so he could help us win the team title,” Smith said. “People expect so much from him, but nobody knows what he has been through with the injuries this year. His willingness to sacrifice his ego for the team speaks volumes about him as an individual and this team as a whole.”
While Liberty’s Sam Chelanga ran away from the field in the individual competition, the second-ranked Cowboys went to their normal strategy of running as a pack.
Through the first 3,000 meters, OSU was in third place, six points ahead of top-ranked Stanford. At the midway point, OSU created some separation between itself and the rest of the field, with 2009 Big 12 individual champion Vail leading the posse of Cowboy runners.
Through 8,000 meters, OSU held a comfortable lead over second-place Oregon. From that point, the Pokes made their final surge to seal the victory.
“We relaxed and ran together for the first 5K and felt really good about where we were as a team at that point,” Lowe said. “At around six or 7K, we started moving up to the front and I could really feel Vail and myself rolling. From there, we just went hard to the finish and kept pounding away. Our goal was to keep the team together for as long as possible and we couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
The Cowboys have finished in the top 10 at the national meet every season under Dave Smith, taking 10th in 2006, third in 2007, eighth in 2008 and first in 2009. Including this year’s showing, OSU has produced eight cross country All-Americans in Smith’s four years.
2009 NCAA Men’s Cross Country Championships
Team Results (top 10 teams only)
1. Oklahoma State, 127 points
2. Oregon, 143 points
3. Alabama, 173 points
4. Northern Arizona, 190 points
5. William & Mary, 226 points
6. Colorado, 315 points
7. Wisconsin, 321 points
T8. New Mexico, 350 points
T8. Iona, 350 points
10. Stanford, 354 points