ENMU’s Rotich finishes sixth in Division II

STAFF REPORT
ST. LEO, Fla. — Eastern New Mexico University junior Mercy Rotich didn’t know what to expect in Saturday’s NCAA Division II women’s national cross country competition.

Suffice it to say, everything turned out quite well.

Rotich, a transfer from El Paso Community College who hails from Eldoret, Kenya, earned All-American honors with a sixth-place finish in the race, easily surpassing her previous best with a six-kilometer time of 20 minutes, 36.6 seconds.

Mercy Rotich

Mercy Rotich

She became the first ENMU women’s cross country runner to earn All-American honors since the program entered the NCAA in the mid-1980s. The top 40 finishers were accorded All-American status.

ENMU coach Danielle Kcholi said she and Rotich weren’t sure what to expect.

“We kind of figured anything was possible,” Kcholi said. “Each race, (Mercy) has just been getting better and better.”

Rotich was the South Central Region champion on Nov. 5 at Denver, finishing the course with a then-personal record 21:46.5 in much higher altitude.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” Rotich said of the sixth-place finish. “I knew it could be really tough in the nationals. I just wanted to run under my time in the regionals.

“I’m really happy with my time.”

Kcholi said Rotich didn’t have many options after two years at El Paso, noting that she ran times which essentially beat all of ENMU’s times two years ago as a freshman but then struggled last year due to being anemic. Once she was treated for that, she began to take off for the Hounds late in the season.

“I think that’s what (hurt) her last year,” Kcholi said.

Rotich raced four times for the Hounds this season, clocking 23:02.3 to finish second in West Texas A&M’s Buffalo Stampede, and 22:07.1 to finish second in the Lone Star Conference championship.

Senior Kendra Foley of Grand Valley State easily won the event in 20:01.8, nearly 25 seconds in front of runnerup Alexis Zeis of Mary (N.D.). If Saturday’s finish is any indication, though, next year’s national competition could be exciting — the Nos. 2 through 6 runners on Saturday are all juniors, and were separated by just over 10 seconds.

“I’m looking forward to the nationals next year,” Rotich said. “I’m sure I’ll want to do better.”

Grand Valley State captured women’s team competition with 116 points to 139 for defending champion Adams State. On the men’s side, Adams State held off Grand Valley to capture its 12th Division II team title since joining the NCAA in 1992, and its seventh championship in the last nine years.