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Kemboi Shatters Meet Record, Chelulei Propels Upstate Sweep At Eye Opener

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Gilbert Kemboi shattered the meet record by 31 seconds to win the 2009 Eye Opener.

Gilbert Kemboi shattered the meet record by 31 seconds to win the 2009 Eye Opener.

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Sept. 5, 2009

Spartanburg, S.C. - Gilbert Kemboi broke the men's college meet record by 31 seconds to win the individual title and Carolyne Chelulei claimed the top spot on the women's side as USC Upstate swept the individual championships at the prestigious Eye Opener Cross Country Meet Saturday morning at the Milliken Research Park. Chelulei's performance helped lead a stout effort by the Spartans women's team as Upstate claimed the team championship as well.

Kemboi, a freshman from Eldoret, Kenya, was simply dominant in opening up an early lead and coasting to a record-smashing performance in the men's 8k meet. He turned in a time of 25:00, eclipsing the old record of 25:31 posted by Furman's Patrick Morgan in last year's meet.

"I pushed myself a lot in the race," said Kemboi. "I could have done more if I needed to, but there wasn't really anyone who was pushing me. It was a good race. Now I just have to work to improve on my times as we continue the season."

"Gilbert was an unknown when he came in here," said Upstate head coach Jimmy Stephens. "We recruited him and knew he was good, but international runners usually go through an adjustment when they come over here. Gilbert adjusted quickly and has really helped us improve as a team. I am excited to see what he can do this season. He went out like a rocket. I knew he would run fast, but I had no idea he would run that fast."

Kemboi's performance helped the men's team take third-place in the Division I team competition. Davidson took home the team title with three runners finishing in the top five. The Wildcats finished with 26 points. Furman was second, just two points ahead of Upstate, with 72 points. Upstate was third with 74 points. Charlotte came in fourth with 102 points and was followed by College of Charleston (105), Charleston Southern (149) and Wofford (165).

King College won the non-Division I portion of the college meet at the Eye Opener. Daniel Hamilton helped King's cause by finishing first among the non-DI members with a time of 26:23. Mars Hill, which has won the Eye Opener four times, finished second with 47 points. Anderson was third with 102 points and was followed by Spartanburg Methodist (114), Catawba (175), Limestone (194), Truett-McConnell (195), Brevard (217), Toccoa Falls (234), Carson-Newman (248), Belmont Abbey (266), Piedmont (266) and Newberry (290).

In addition to Kemboi, Christian Ritacco ran well, just missing a top 10 finish. He posted a time of 26:29 to finish 11th. Davey Dennison was third for the Spartans and 15th overall with a time of 26:43. James Jackson was fourth for the Spartans and 22nd overall with a time of 27:01. Matt Henderson and Cameron Thomas also ran well for the Spartans to help push the team into third.

"We are very young on the men's side and just wanted to use the meet to gain experience," said Upstate distance running coach Carson Blackwelder. "Our goal was to be in the top three and we did that. You can't say much more about what Gilbert did. His performance speaks for itself."

Chelulei started the day off for the Upstate cross country teams by taking the lead early in the race and holding her competition at bay. She picked up the pace after the first mile and went on to post a time of 18:12 in the 5k race. She finished three seconds ahead of Charlotte's Maria Ruiz and 14 seconds ahead of Spartan teammate Jemeli Sang.

With Chelulei and Sang taking the first and third positions and Charlotte's Ruiz and Sarah Willingham taking second and fourth, the Spartans needed the rest of the team to step up. They answered as Joan Tangwar came in 12th and Emily Tangwar finished 16th. Lauren Walker turned in a solid time and finished 17th to give Upstate five runners in the top 17 positions. The stout team performance was good enough to win the team championship, the first for the program in the eight-year history of the event.

"We really exceeded our expectations on the women's side," said Blackwelder. "We wanted a top-three finish. Carolyne and Jemeli set the pace and posted good times. Lauren ran close to her personal best. It was a great first meet and we have the ability to expand on that to be even better."

Upstate won the women's Division I portion of the Eye Opener with 49 points. Davidson came in second with 53 points and was followed by Furman (71), Charlotte (82), College of Charleston (89), Wofford (163) and Charleston Southern (198).

King College made it a sweep of the non-Division I meet by claiming the women's team title as well with 41 points. Carrie Nelson led the way for King, taking the individual championship with a time of 19:04. Anderson was second with 80 points and was followed by Spartanburg Methodist (84), Converse (91), Carson-Newman (108), Limestone (142), Brevard (196), Catawba (219), Belmont Abbey (256), Brenau (258), Salem (271) and Truett-McConnell (311).

"It was good to start off well," said Stephens. "Ultimately we are looking toward the conference meet and building toward competing for the A-Sun Championship. But, it sets a tone for the season and is a good way for us to start."

 
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