Another year, another title for Lady Toppers

Senior Marion Kandie rounds a turn at Kereiakes Park during the Sun Belt Cross Country Championships Saturday. Kandie won the 5K with a time of 17:34.2.

Sam Osborne

Sophomore Shadrack Kipchirchir and senior Marion Kandie have led the cross country team for much of the 2010 season.

That didn’t change Saturday at the 2010 Sun Belt Conference Championships at Kereiakes Park.

The pair both earned individual titles, with Kipchirchir clocking a time of 24:33.1 in the men’s 8k and Kandie finishing with a time of 17:34.2 in the 5k women’s race.

Kipchirchir, who has led the Toppers throughout the season, said an individual title was never in doubt.

“I was expecting it,” Kipchirchir said. “I knew I could do it. I’m very proud of it and very proud of how the whole team did.”

Kandie set a new personal record on the course and said she was pleased with the team’s showing.

“I’m very proud,” Kandie said. “I wasn’t sure if I would win the individual championship. I was just doing my best.”

The rest of the Toppers were also able to take full advantage of running on their home course. The women’s team clinched the Sun Belt championship for a fifth straight season, and the men’s squad finished fourth out of 11 teams. The University of Arkansas-Little Rock took the men’s title.

“Both teams did an outstanding job,” Head Coach Erik Jenkins said. “The women stayed very focused and steady through the entire race. The men came in focused and did their absolute best.”

WKU had the top two finishers in both races, with senior Vasity Chemweno placing second with a time of 17:43.5 and junior Deus Rwaheru taking second in the men’s 8k race with a time of 24:52.7.

Though a conference championship isn’t anything new for the women’s team, sophomore Monica Akello, who finished 19th in the women’s race, said the title felt great.

“It feels like long, everlasting joy,” Akello said.

Michelle Murphy Scott, women’s long distance coach, was named the 2010 Women’s Cross Country Coach-of-the-Year for her efforts with squad. It’s the third time Scott has received the accolade during her time at WKU.

With the Sun Belt Championships over, the Toppers will now focus on the NCAA Regionals, which take place in Louisville on Nov. 13.

Akello said she plans to focus on her “ability to maintain distance and speed” for the regional meet looming in less than two weeks.

Kipchirchir said the race will pose a challenge for him because the course is two kilometers longer. Despite the difficulty, Kipchirchir said he’s excited for the test.

“It’s going to be tough,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it, though. I’m going to prepare these next two weeks because I really want to qualify for nationals.”

Team captain Matt Wallace said he wasn’t proud of his individual performance Saturday, but he was pleased with what he saw and hopes the team can improve in time for their regional race.

“I was proud of the team,” Wallace said. “We were picked to finish fourth in the conference this year, so we would have had to step up really big to improve. Hopefully we can improve and perform better at the longer distance race at regionals.”

Jenkins said he couldn’t have been more pleased with how the teams performed.

“This is about as good as it gets,” Jenkins said. “I’m very thankful and truly blessed to have these student athletes and coaches.”