Levelland—After being crowned national champions a season ago, the South Plains College men's Half Marathon team defended their title, capturing the 2015 NJCAA Half Marathon National Championship Saturday in Levelland.
The Texans' Hassan Abdi earned All-American honors after he finished first overall in the men's division with a final time of 1:04:55.67, eight seconds ahead of Iowa Western's Sylvester Barus.
"I felt good today, and I'm just proud of my team for pulling this off," Abdi said. "I was really worried about the wind, but I had a good day today. For the first 11 miles I was just running with the guys, and after the 11th mile I knew I had a chance to win the race and just moved on. Our mindset was that since we got third in cross country, this was the one to win.
"We've been working really hard all year, and we wanted to win this and make our coaches proud. This means a lot to us because we prepared for this race all year, and I'm just really proud of all of my teammates. I really can not believe this just happened, and I still can't believe I won it."
South Plains had three runners place in the top 10 overall, including Kelvin Keter and Nicholas Rotch, who finished with final times of 1:08:58.68 and 1:09:17.79, respectively. Jose Silva and Connor Hughes placed 20th and 21st for the Texans, giving SPC a final total team time of 3:23:12.14, with an average time of 1:07:44.05.
With Saturday's championship performance, South Plains head coach Chris Beene won his 31st national championship while coaching for SPC.
"I was really proud of both of our teams," Beene said. "We always strive to compete at the highest level possible. I was very excited that Hassan Abdi from Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, Texas not only won the half marathon, but ran the fastest time since 2003. The rest of our men's team really competed well.
"They represented SPC with their absolute best today. It is always huge for SPC when any of our athletic programs can win nationals. Our women are more of a middle distance group but really ran well today. I'm very proud of both our teams."
Along with Abdi and Barus, four other athletes earned All-American honors with their performances on Saturday. Iowa Central's Andrew Ronoh placed third with an overall time of 1:05:17, while Gillette's Festus Lagat and Erick Rotich finished fourth and fifth with times of 1:06:07 and 1:08:00, respectively. South Plains Kelvin Keter's time of 1:08:59 was good enough for sixth place, giving the Texans their second All-American on Saturday.
Overall team finishes included Gillette College who placed second overall with a time of 3:24:52, followed by Allen County Community College who finished third with a final team time of 3:31:43. Iowa Central Community College took fourth overall with a time of 3:30:27, with Iowa Western Community College placing fifth.
El Paso Community College's final time of 3:37:22 was good enough for sixth place, followed by Ranger Junior College, Vincennes and Spartanburg Methodist College.
In the women's division, South Plains placed fifth after finishing with a total team time of 4:50:26. Gillette College took gold with a total team time of 4:27:34, with El Paso Community College placing second with a time of 4:22:11. Iowa Central's final time of 4:28:12 was good enough for third place, followed by Vincennes who recorded a final time of 4:38:25.
South Plains' Kassidy Jones placed 15th overall with a final time of 1:33:06 for the Lady Texans, while Sasha-Gay Whyte finished 20th with a time of 1:35:13 for South Plains. Iowa Central's Leanne Pompeani earned the top spot in the women's division with a final time of 1:17:41, finishing nearly three minutes ahead of Kayla Pallares from El Paso Community College, who recorded a final time of 1:20:33.
Also earning All-American honors in the women's division were Samantha Harmon from Gillette College, who's time of 1:27:16 was good enough for third place. Kelli Kirkpatrick from El Paso Community College finished fourth with a time of 1:27:24, while Iowa Western's Shanieke Watson and Kelly O'Shea from Vincennes placed fifth and sixth with times of 1:27:36 and 1:28:32, respectively.