Chebet claims SBC crown at Kereiakes

 Senior Joseph Chebet won the Men’s Sun Belt Cross Country Championship meet at Keraiakes Park in Bowling Green on Oct. 27, 2012. Chebet won with a time of 24:46.7 and will be racing in the NCAA Regionals in Charlotte, N.C. on Nov. 10, 2012. (WKU held the 2012 Sun Belt Cross Country Championship)

Jonah Phillips

WKU’s biggest star shined in the Toppers’ biggest meet of the year.

Senior Joseph Chebet was crowned Sun Belt Conference Champion Saturday at Kereiakes Park, finishing the 8K in 24:47.7 minutes.

That time gave him a comfortable nine-second lead over the second-place runner, Louisiana-Monroe’s Daniel Mutai.

Chebet’s win marked the first individual cross country crown for the WKU men since Shadrack Kipchirchir in 2010.

It was also a big momentum boost for Chebet, who’ll move on to the NCAA Regionals on Nov. 10 at McAlpine Park in Charlotte, N.C.

“It was great,” coach Erik Jenkins said. “Joseph has been running well all season. We expect two more strong races out of him.”

Chebet, who became the first Topper runner since Nicholas Aliwell in 1998 to win multiple races in a season, said practice paid off for him on Saturday.

“We have been working hard all season, training together, and staying focused,” he said.

But aside from Chebet’s individual title, WKU took home a little less hardware than usual from this year’s meet.

Injuries and illnesses, which plagued the men throughout the season, hurt the Toppers when it came to the conference meet.

WKU, the 2011 Sun Belt men’s champion, finished fifth on Saturday, collecting 142 team points.

The Toppers trailed first-place Arkansas-Little Rock (58 points), North Texas (85), Middle Tennessee State (86) and South Alabama (139).

“Staying healthy is the most important key to success, and that was the men’s biggest challenge all season,” Jenkins said.

Sophomore David Mokone finished fourth overall and second for WKU, earning all-Sun Belt honors alongside Chebet.

“I think I did very well today,” Mokone said. “I was hoping to finish in the top three, but I am still content with my fourth-place finish.”

WKU’s third- and fourth-place finishers, sophomore Sean Hurd and senior Kyle Chettleburgh, both ran in the meet after battling illness and injury, respectively, this season.

Hurd finished 39th overall, and Chettleburgh finished 45th.

“We had some guys that came out and ran really well,” Jenkins said. “We had some other guys that came back off injuries and came out and gave it all they could.

“We are making the right strides to be a great team in the future.”

Meanwhile, the women finished third overall, snapping a streak of six straight Sun Belt titles for the Lady Toppers.

WKU (83 points) was beaten by conference newcomer Georgia State (52) and Arkansas State (58), despite freshman Lindsey Hinken and senior Vasity Chemweno’s efforts.

Hinken ran her way to second-team all-SBC honors with a seventh-place finish. At her heels in ninth was Chemweno.

Hinken’s fellow freshmen, Katie Lever and Louise Hill-Stirling, finished 16th overall and 22nd overall, respectively, for the Lady Toppers.

 “I knew I had to do my best to help the team,” Hinken said. “I’m pleased with how I did individually.”