Azaria Kirwa came in 22nd in Friday's NCAA men's 5K final. (Photo Courtesy Phil Johnson/athleticsPix.com)
Making his NCAA Division I Outdoor Track & Field Championships debut, Liberty sophomore Azaria Kirwa placed 22nd in the men's 5K final, Friday evening at Hayward Field.
Kirwa's official time was 14:59.12 as he earned honorable mention All-America recognition in the first appearance by a Liberty male athlete at this meet since 2013 (Ryan Smith and Isaac Wendland).
The pace dawdled early on, as the runners covered the first mile in around 5:10 and reached the halfway mark in just under eight minutes. That played right into the hands of Stanford sophomore Grant Fisher, who went on to win his first NCAA national title on the strength of a devastating kick. He covered the last lap in 55.76 seconds, the final 800 in 1:58.68 and the last 1,600 in 4:05.75, ending up with a time of 14:35.60.
Kirwa ran much of the race near the back of the tightly-bunched 24-runner pack. With four laps remaining, the spread from first to last place was only 1.7 seconds.
However, Kirwa had to stop and hurdle a fallen competitor just before the speedy final mile began and could not answer the strong surge of the leaders. Kirwa clocked 4:28.12 for his final four laps, passing Oakland's Bryce Stroede and Butler's Euan Makepeace during the last 800 meters.
Friday's race closed out a year of significant improvement by the Eldoret, Kenya native. Thirteen months after wrapping up his freshman season with an eighth-place finish in the Big South 5K final, Kirwa came in 22nd in the NCAA 5K final.
Up Next With Kirwa's race, Liberty's 2016-17 athletics season has now officially concluded. However, the Flames will be represented at the USATF Junior and Senior Outdoor Track & Field Championships, which will begin on June 22 at Hornet Stadium in Sacramento, Calif.
Rising sophomore Markus Ballengee will compete in the junior men's decathlon on the meet's first two days of competition (June 22-23). He will be looking to earn a spot at the 2017 Pan American Junior Championships, slated for July 21-23 in Trujillo, Peru.
Meanwhile, former Liberty standout Sam Chelanga will race in the senior men's 10K on June 22, with a berth in the 2017 IAAF World Championships on the line. That event will be held Aug. 5-13 in London, United Kingdom.
Chelanga was the last Flame to race in the NCAA Division I outdoor 5K men's final prior to Kirwa on Friday, capturing the national title in his final race in a Liberty uniform in 2011.