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Junior makes second appearance on NAIA’s biggest stage Friday afternoon

GOSHEN, Ind. — The Goshen College cross country travel party hit the road Wednesday morning, bound for the NAIA national championship meet for the eighth consecutive year.

Junior Vincent Kibunja will represent the Maple Leaf men’s team for the second year running when the race gets underway on Friday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Kibunja paced the Maple Leafs in all five of his events this season and finished among the top seven individuals in every race he ran. His best time for 8 kilometers (4.97 miles) was 24:54.6 at the Greater Louisville Classic on September 28, which was the second-fastest mark in school history.

The NAIA’s qualification standards call for each conference to send at least one school, usually its champion, with individual qualifiers coming from teams that do not receive automatic or at-large berths. With those regulations in force, Kibunja qualified automatically on November 3 when he was the top Crossroads League runner on a team other than Indiana Wesleyan. His time that day was 26:29.3, which would have been good enough for the individual title in at least three NAIA conferences.

Kibunja set a personal collegiate record at last year’s national championship, clocking a time of 26:13.0 to finish 96th at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. Thirty-two of the runners that finished above him graduated.

While the national course has changed, moving from Washington state to eastern Iowa as part of a four-year alternating cycle, Kibunja still sees last year’s trip as a positive.

“The first time I went to nationals, I saw how it was going to be (as I did it),” he told a crowd of teammates and well-wishers. “Now I am going back for a second time and I have a task to accomplish. It is a big race, but it is also just like any other race.”

“I know several of the top runners very well from having run with them in various meets,” he said. “I have beaten some of them, but I still want to beat all of them. Running with that competition just makes me run faster.”

Mount Mercy University serves as the host institution for the first NAIA cross country championship to be held in the state of Iowa, with the Seminole Valley Cross Country Course hosting both the women’s 5-kilometer race and the men’s 8-kilometer event. The women race first at 11:30 a.m. EST, followed by the men at 12:30 p.m.

A live stream of the awards ceremony is tentatively set for 2:30 p.m. Eastern on the NAIA Network presented by Stretch Internet.

The field will consist of more than 300 runners, including 21 conference champions, 15 other teams and 83 individuals. The top 30 finishers will earn All-American honors.

Additionally, the national championship serves as the venue for the announcement of Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athlete awards. That individual honor is given to any NAIA student-athlete who is a junior or senior with a grade-point average of 3.00 or higher. Winners are set to be announced Thursday afternoon.

Goshen College is an affordable, nationally-ranked Christian liberal arts college in Northern Indiana known for leadership in intercultural and international education, sustainability and social justice.

The Maple Leafs compete in 14 varsity sports in the NAIA’s highly competitive Crossroads League and Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference, continuing a tradition of intercollegiate athletics that dates to 1956 and included women’s competition nearly a decade before Title IX. For more information on GC athletics, visit www.GoLeafs.net and follow the Maple Leafs on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @GCMapleLeafs.