East Central brings home pair of GAC cross country titles

Oct. 25—RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. — The East Central University cross country teams made it a clean sweep Saturday at the 2023 Great American Conference Cross Country Championships.

The East Central's men became the first team at a GAC championship meet to record a perfect score — the Tigers owned each of the Top 5 spots — during the men's race held on the campus of Arkansas Tech University.

The ECU women's team placed three of its runners in the Top 5 to coast to the GAC women's title.

"What a day for both squads," said East Central head coach Steve Sawyer. "I am so very happy for both our women and men — not because we won the GAC title — but more so for the hard work we put in day in and day out. Six days a week these teams are up and done before sunrise, grinding for moments like this. It is special when all those mornings of blood, sweat and tears come to fruition. I am more than proud of my teams and cannot wait to see what we can do in two weeks at regionals in Joplin."

The remarkable achievement marks only the fifth time in 13 years that one school has won both the men's and women's GAC races. The women's team clinched the program's third GAC Championship title, its first since 2016, amassing 45 points while the men's team took home their ninth title as the first team in GAC history to earn a perfect score of 15.


The victory gives the Tigers back-to-back team titles and nine in the 13-year history of the Great American Conference.

Aspel Kiprob bested teammate and 2022 GAC Champion Amos Pkiach for the individual crow in the 8K race. Kiprob crossed the line in 23:52.14, the fastest time in GAC Championship history. He broke the record by more than 26 seconds.

All five of the Tigers' scoring runners — Pkiach (23:57.59), Peter Kipkemboi (24:02.07), Paul Korir (24:11.91) and Oliver Kiptoo (24:15.21) broke the record established by former Tiger Will Baldin in 2015, 24:18.34. Two additional ECU runners, Michael Iyali (24:37.54, 7th) and Melvin Kipkemboi (24:56.93, 9th) earned Top-10 finishes.

ECU set a championship record with a 59-point margin of victory while Steve Sawyer garnered his ninth Coach of the Year award.

Oklahoma Baptist was runner-up with 74 points and Harding finished just behind OBU in third with 75 points. Ouachita Baptist was fourth with 90 points.

Maxamillian Wheeler (24:26.72), paced Oklahoma Baptist with a sixth-place result — the third Top-10 finish at the GAC Championships in his career. OBU's Emory Crayton (25:17.87) took 10th and scored the league's Freshman of the Year accolade.

Luke Walling (24:48.77) led Harding as he took eighth for his third-straight GAC Championships Top-10 finish.


The Tigers finished 17 points ahead of last year's champion, Ouachita Baptist, who had 62 points. Arkansas Tech was third with 67 points, followed by Oklahoma Baptist with 77 and Harding with 96.

East Central's three Top 5 runners included runner-up Naomy Limatukei (17:58.2), third-place Aurelia Japkorir (18:10.6) and fourth-place Sheilah Cheruiyot (18:12.3).

Abigael Kemboi (18:29.7) added an 11th-place finish, while Sharon Jesang (18:57.6) completed the Tigers' scoring in 25th place.

Head coach Steve Sawyer earned his third Women's Coach of the Year award.

Oklahoma Baptist's Sophia Strange repeated as the individual champion with a time of 17:33.8.

In total, the ECU men's and women's teams garnered 10 All-GAC First Team selections (Limatukei, Jepkorir, Cheruiyot, Kiprob, Pkiach, Kipkemboi, Korir, Kiptoo, Iyali and Kipkemboi), one All-GAC Second Team member (Kemboi), one GAC Elite Scholar Athlete (Madison Ham), and two GAC Distinguished Scholar Athletes (Maverick Stephenson and Peter Kimaiyo).

The ECU cross country teams will now have two weeks off before traveling to Joplin, Missouri, to compete in the 2023 NCAA Division II Central Region Cross Country Championships on Nov. 4, hosted by Missouri Southern State.

Note: ECU Sports Information Director Sydney Dungen contributed to this report.