Akiharu Kitagawa recorded the best individual finish in school history and University of Mount Olive earned a top 20 finish for the second straight year as the Trojans finished 19th at the 2014 NCAA Division II Men's Cross Country National Championship Saturday at Louisville, Ky. Kitagawa finished 41st out of 245 runners, beating the previous best Trojan finish by 29 places.
Originally scheduled as a 10k race, the meet was shortened to 9,650 meters due to course conditions caused by rain leading up to the event. Runners were forced to run through puddles throughout the race.
Kitagawa was in 19th place after the first split at 1,800 meters. He dropped to 37th after the 5k split and stayed in the 35th-40th position until the finish when he just barely fell out of the top 40 and a chance to become the Trojans' first-ever men's cross country All-America. He ran a time of 31:29.3.
"Aki did everything he could to finish in the top 40," said Trojan head coach Matt van Lierop. "He ran a great race, but came up just short."
Kitagawa, who placed 95th at last year's championship, became the second runner in Trojan men's cross country history to finish in the top 100 in back-to-back years. Former Trojan Dylan Lafond, who finished in the top 100 in 2012 and 2013, placed 70th last year for the previous best finish at the championship.
Jacob Urys (31:29.3) finished 109th, Michael Munoz (32:48.0) was 132nd, Eugenio Gil (33:06.0) was 153rd and Austin Steagall - the lone senior among the Trojan runners at the championship - finished 179th (33:31.2) to complete Mount Olive's scoring. Fredric Lang (34:04.0) was 199th and Pol Domenech-Ferrer (34:51.9) was 224th.
In the team standings, Mount Olive compiled 537 points to finish 55 points ahead of 20th-place Simon Fraser (B.C.) and 30 points behind 18th-place Colorado-Mesa. Adams State (Colo.) won its third consecutive championship and sixth in the last seven years. Grand Valley State (Mich.), which moved past Adams State to No. 1 in the final USTFCCCA Top 25, finished second.
Mount Olive entered the championship ranked No. 23 in the Top 25 and had been ranked as high as No. 10 during the season. The Trojans finished second to Mars Hill at the Southeast Regional two weeks ago, but was the top finisher among the three Southeast Region teams Saturday.
"Finishing 19th wasn't our goal, but considering the conditions today, it could have been worse," said van Lierop.
The UMO men's cross country team was making its fourth consecutive appearance in the National Finals, the most by any Trojan team in any sport. Kitagawa joined former men's cross country runner Erasmo Ordonez (2011-13) as the only Trojans in any sport to compete in the National Finals in three consecutive years.