XC: Men's team, Ojeda win Sun Belt Championships

Eric Ojeda won the Sun Belt Conference individual championship.

Nov. 1, 2015

SBC Championship Results

By Drew Harris | UTAMavs.com

ATLANTA - The UT Arlington men's cross country team came through to claim its third league title in the past four years and senior Eric Ojeda also was crowned the individual champion at the Sun Belt Conference Championships on Sunday.

All five UTA point scorers placed among the top 20 as the men finished with a total of 52 points. Appalachian State was second with 66 points.

The Mavericks went into the final checkpoint (7k) trailing by seven points, but made a huge push over the final 1,000 meters. One of the heroic efforts came from Grayson Birka, who passed five runners, including three from runner-up Appalachian State, in the final 800 meters.

"The men's race was off the charts," UTA coach John Sauerhage said. "It truly was one of the best cross country efforts in UTA history. Our depth won us a championship."

Ojeda netted a time of 25:17.8 to win the race by 13 seconds. He was in third place three-quarters through the race before pulling away. As a result, the senior became a first-team All-Sun Belt Conference pick for the second consecutive season.

"Eric really came through," Sauerhage said. "I'm so happy for him to be able to win as a senior. He set the tone for the whole team. This weekend I could tell that he was stepping up as a leader in every way. He inspired us and led us."

"Winning the conference race was an amazing experience, and it was made more special by the fact we won as a team," Ojeda said. "It's been a great year and a solid way to finish my senior campaign of cross country with some of my closest friends."

A pair of Mavericks, Christopher Myers and Grant Copeland, were named to the second team. Myers placed eighth in 26:01.3, while Copeland was 10th (26:04.7).

Tyler Forde was named to the SBC's third team after placing 15th in 26:23.7. Birka (18th, 26:34.2) was the team's final point scorer.

The Mavericks were victorious despite being without Michael Guerrero, the team's top runner four times in five earlier races this year, who was unable to compete due to injury.

"Our guys really stepped up," Sauerhage said. "They knew they had to come through with great performances and they did. This group is special. They just had so much heart and wanted it so badly. They were a band of brothers that came through in the clutch."

The UTA women, the 2014 conference champs, placed third with 84 points, behind South Alabama (46) and Appalachian State (66).

Senior Gabriela Alfonzo earned first-team all-conference accolades after finishing fourth by cross the line with a 5k time of 18:13.2. The three-time all-SBC honoree enjoyed her best-ever finish at conference.

Katelyn Hayward also closed her conference career in fine fashion, taking eighth to wrap up second-team all-SBC mention. She had a clocking of 18:21.2.

UTA's other three point scorers, Tori Shelton, Tamerah Gorham and Penny Taylor all finished inside the top 30. Shelton ran a 19:20.5 to finish 21st, while Gorham (25th, 19:33.5) and Taylor (26th, 19:34.9) finished back-to-back a short time later.

The women were without the services of senior Ashly Wright, a previous all-conference runner, due to illness.

"I'm proud of the way we competed," Sauerhage said. "Gabriela and Katelyn were outstanding once again, just like they have been their whole careers. And our young runners really were impressive as well."

The races took place on Sunday morning at Nash Farm Battlefield in Atlanta.




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