By Brent Cahwee, NDNSPORTS.COM
The first collegiate championships of the season finished up on Saturday afternoon and when it was all over with Native American athletes were a part of championship teams at the NCAA Division 1 level, NAIA and the NJCAA level.
At the NCAA Division 1 championships, the No. 3 ranked Colorado Buffalo’s men’s cross country team won their fourth overall cross country title on Saturday at La Vern Gibson Championship cross country course in Terre Haute, Indiana. Among the Buffalo’s team representing Indian country is Dillon Shije, from the Zia Pueblo, who won his first national title with the Buffs.
Dillon, a senior, who has ran all four years for the Buffs, did not compete in this particular race but he was an integral part of the Colorado program this season that also won its second consecutive PAC-12 championship as well. Dillon said, “I would like to thank everyone for the support as I progressed through this fall cross country season… I am proud to have come this far and am sure that greater events are in my future. Thank you all for wishing me the best.” Dillon will graduate in the spring with his college degree and he continues to volunteer as a running facilitator throughout the New Mexico and Arizona Indian reservations.
At the NAIA level, the No. 5 ranked Oklahoma City University Stars claimed their first ever National Cross Country Championship in school history at the historic Rim Rock cross country course in Lawrence, Kansas on Saturday. In a season’s of firsts for the program, the OCU Stars made their first ever school appearance at the NAIA championships by winning the school’s first ever Sooner Athletic Conference Championship, which gave the Stars an automatic bid.
A member of the Stars team representing Indian Country is Mackenzie Wahpepah-Harris, a freshman form Norman, Oklahoma and a Kickapoo tribal member, who also earned All-American status by placing 25th overall at the championships. Mackenzie said, “We’ll we knew going into the race that we had a shot to win it all, as long as we all ran to the best of our ability… In the end I passed two guys and couldn’t believe my time. I had no idea I was going that fast, I hit a 30 second personal record. All my training over the season finally paid off.”
At the NJCAA level, the No. 1 ranked Central Arizona College, successfully defended its National Championship from last season making them back-to-back champions at the 2013 national meet held at Lakeside Golf Course in Fort Dodge, Iowa back on November 9th. With this win, the Vaqueros now claim their sixth national championship for the program which has had numerous Native Americans running for the program over the years, both on the men’s and women’s teams.
This season, the Vaqueros had two Native American runners on the squad, Jackson Thomas and Binahni Curley, both members of the Navajo nation. Jackson is a sophomore at Central Arizona and finished 6th place overall making him a member of the NJCAA All-American Second Team for the second year in a row. Last year, Jackson finished 9th overall at the championships. Binahni, a freshman for the Vaqueros, finished 54th overall and was only 22 seconds from being the last scorer for his team. Look for him to continue to be an important part of the team next year as the sophomore’s graduate and move on.
Michael Daney, CEO of the Sports Warrior Track Club, said “It was such an exhilarating feeling to see Native runners contribute to three National Championships in the sport of Cross-Country running. I truly feel that there is a resurgence in the number of Native runners, both male and female, who have made a commitment to the sport of running and the results are paying off for them. I also think this coincides with the increased number of Native coaches who are also understanding that running has a defined set of leaning and knowledge skills you have to have to assist their athletes.”
Congratulations to all of these runners on an outstanding season for all of them. Now that the cross country season is finished, these seasoned runners will take a few weeks off and start preparing for the indoor/outdoor track season.