Led by Kimball, Jaguars finish runners-up in Peach Belt XC championships

AU’s Hunter Kimball en route to a third-place finish in the Peach Belt men’s cross country championship. Kimball led the Jags, who took home the runners-up trophy. (photo by Chase Slone)

By Leeroy Francis Jr. |
Sports editor

The Augusta University men’s cross country team took second in the 2018 Peach Belt Conference Championships Saturday, Nov. 3, at Redcliffe Plantation State Historic Site in Beech Island, S.C., finishing just four points behind UNC Pembroke in a very tight conference finale.

On a cool, sunny Saturday morning, UNC Pembroke was led by individual race winner Joshua Chepkesir and runner-up Silus Kipkoech. Behind the two Kenyans, the Braves won the team title with 36 points, while Augusta took second with 40 points, Flagler third (81), Georgia College fourth (87) and Columbus State fifth (95).

Kipkoech led the race early, but his freshman teammate came back to win with a time of 24:22.3. In addition to being the 2018 champion, Chepkesir was named freshman of the year for the league. Kipkoech finished in 24:41.4.

Ranked fourth in the NCAA Southeast Region, the AU men had finished in the top three in all four regular-season events this season, including back-to-back victories at the Jaguar Cross Country Invitational on Sept. 22 and at the North Georgia Invitational on Sept. 29. The second-place showing was the third runner-up finish in school history at the PBC finals.

Augusta had three in the top five in the PBC title race, led by sophomore Hunter Kimball. The integrated studies major stayed close to the two UNCP runners, Chepkesir and Kipkoech, and the Jaguar runner finished in third place, clocking in at 24:49.6.

“I think I performed well,” Kimball said afterwards. “I didn’t want to let the team down so I just had to go out there and put out what we been training for and I just went out there and did it for the team.
“I think the team did really well. A lot of guys stepped up. We have a really young team, and we all just did our best for our team and Augusta and just showed what we got.”

Sophomore Jacob Poston placed fourth in 24:57.9, and senior Noah Hulett was fifth  in 24:58.5. UNCP’s Logan Ward was sixth.

AU Coach Adam Ward nearly had his team defend its championship. The Jags countered the low team score Pembroke notched from winning the first two slots by sweeping three, four and five. Then the Braves’ Ward took sixth.

It all came down to where the fourth- and fifth-place finishers on each team would wind up. AU’s Chandler Kennedy ran a 24:43.2 for ninth place and freshman Kakeem Littles finished in 19th with a time of 26:10.4. Meanwhile, Pembroke’s Matthew Martin finished 11th and Ean Ormsby took 16th, producing the very narrow Braves’ victory of just four points.

“I can’t be more proud of our guys today,” AU Coach Ward said. “These guys laid it all on the line and did everything they could and put in a ton of work and they have one more shot in two weeks so we are hoping from there will pick things up. We did everything that we needed to do to win. It stinks that we didn’t. You need to be good, but you also need to be lucky and that is sports in general. I couldn’t ask them to do anything more.”

Augusta had raced at Redcliffe Plantation several times this season, as the Jaguars hosted the Jaguar Cross Country Invitational Sept. 22 where the Jaguar men placed first overall, while the women grabbed third.

“I loved this weather,” Kimball said of the crisp autumn morning. “It was a great day to run.”

Jacob Poston (left) and Noah Hulett charge to the finish line for the Jags. (photo by Chase Slone)

Coach Ward has established an outstanding program and now has seen his Jaguars finish in the top three in the PBC championships four consecutive seasons. Kimball sees nothing but a bright future for the Jag runners.

“We have a really young team and we did a lot of growing today,” he said. “I think Augusta is going to be a really strong team the next few years.”

The next event for the Jaguar cross country team is the NCAA Southeast Regional in Oakwood, Ga. on Saturday, Nov 17. The starting time will be announced soon. The regional is being hosted by North Georgia.

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