By Chris Fish
BREVARD -- While they didn't take home the first-prize finish, the Florida Tech Men's Cross Country team stood out among the other teams in its region during the NCAA Division II National Championship.
This was the team's first time attending the national championship, which took place in Joplin, Mo. On Nov. 17. The team placed 29th and finished with 791 points in the 10K race at Missouri Southern State University's cross country course.
Florida Tech's finish was the best among the other schools from their region, which included Alabama-Huntsville and Nova Southeastern.
Nova Southeastern won the South Region Championship earlier in the month, Alabama-Huntsville was the runner-up and Florida Tech took third place.
While the Panthers finished 29 out of the 32 teams competing in the national championship, Ryan Jones, assistant athletic director for athletic communications at Florida Tech, said the true victory lies in the team's domination over its neighboring schools.
"Finishing 29 out of 32 doesn't sound the best, but finishing first among the teams in our region is tremendous," he said. "Coach Pete Mazzone has put together a great team. There are 286 teams in the Division II level, and, for us to be one of the 32 teams competing in the championship and to finish 29th, is a huge accomplishment."
In a press release, Coach Mazzone said he was also proud of the team's performance at the event.
"We had a very good race against an exceptional group of runners. Nearly all of our runner recorded a personal best by 30-50 seconds. That was the reason why we beat Alabama-Huntsville and Nova Southeastern," he said. "One of our goals was to be No. 1 in the South Region and record personal bests. We achieved both of these goals today. We're extremely proud of how our runners competed, and we're looking forward to building on this accomplishment."
Moses Kirui made his second consecutive appearance in the National Championship this year after appearing as a singles' competitor last year. Moses was the first runner from the South Region to finish this year, placing 76th out of 245 runners. Sunshine State Conference Runner of the Year Chris Cacciapaglia, also a Panther's runner, was the third runner from region to finish and placed 151st.
Panther Cross Country member David Boiywo finished 173rd, Justin McMaster finished 218th, Ezekiel Zauner finished 224th, Jordan Halleib finished with a time of 34:25.1 and Ross Russell ended with a time of 34.50.1.
Adams State from Alamosa, Colo., won the team championship at the event.