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Knight leads Orange to 3rd place finish at NCAA XC Championships

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Justyn Knight took 2nd place to lead Syracuse to another podium finish

Cross Country: NCAA Championships
Justyn Knight with Edward Cheserek and Patrick Tiernan as they break away from the field
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into Saturday’s NCAA Championship race, most pundits selected Syracuse Orange star Justyn Knight as their pick to finish 2nd. Knight proved those predictions to be correct, but the man who beat him surprised everyone. Villanova Wildcats’ senior Patrick Tiernan shocked everyone by pulling away from expected winner Edward Cheserek of the Oregon Ducks. Tiernan took the 10k win in a time of 29:22 with Knight not far behind in 29:27. Cheserek took 3rd ahead of Northern Arizona Lumberjacks leader Futsum Zienasellassie.

The Lumberjacks won the team title scoring 125 points to easily outdistance the Stanford Cardinal (158 points) and Syracuse (164). It is the first National Title for NAU and the #1 ranked team heading into the meet delivered on a cold, windy day in Terre Haute. Syracuse was down 108 to 123 to Northern Arizona at the 8k mark, but unlike last year the Orange were unable to finish strong enough to win.

Along with Knight, Colin Bennie (17th), and Joel Hubbard (34th) earned All-America honors. Philo Germano (49th), Adam Visokay (108th), Kevin James (116th), and Iliass Aouani (128th) were the other Orange competitors. Hubbard, Germano, and Aouani entered the final 2k of the race together around 50th place, but the group couldn’t stick together until the finish. Had Germano and Aouani been able to go with Hubbard, maybe Syracuse could have squeaked out a win, but the Orange were still able to capture a podium finish.

For Hubbard, today was a great way to cap his Syracuse XC career. Many overlooked him since his track specialty is the mile, but he delivered an outstanding race. Syracuse will need to replace him and Adam Visokay next year, but with a group of young runners hungry for a chance, expectations will be high in 2017.

The big story of the day, as it has been all year, was Knight. He accomplished one goal in beating King Ches, but is still searching for his individual national title. I’ve talked all year about Knight’s development as a runner and that was again the case in Terre Haute. He’s become so confident is his ability that he can adapt to the race tactics, and he didn’t hesitate to put himself in position to win on Saturday.

Cross Country: NCAA Championships
Justyn Knight and Edward Cheserek after the race
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The junior continues to add to his already impressive resume with not only his accomplishments, but for his attitude and sportsmanship. All of those things were on display in Terre Haute on Saturday as Knight gave it his all in chasing a title, and then provided this gracious interview afterwards.

Knight will enter the 2017 XC season as the runner to beat, but I don’t think he’ll be bothered by the expectations. This Syracuse team was hungry to win another title and coming up short will motivate the returners to bring another trophy back to Manley Field House. Returning to Louisville next year will certainly help the Orange as the course plays to the strengths of the team.

Head Coach Chris Fox was pleased with how the Orange performed, but in this interview you can tell that he knows that there was an opportunity for the team to win. It just reinforces how difficult is to actually win a title, but as Fox mentions there is still a lot to celebrate about this year’s team, and a bright future ahead of the Orange.

Congratulations to the Orange on an outstanding season, and congratulations also to Northern Arizona for winning the title. Check out some photos from the NCAA Meet and stay tuned because Indoor Track gets going will be starting soon.