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Welling, Kebenei Win First National Titles at USATF 15 km Championships


JACKSONVILLE, Florida -- For the second time in as many USATF Running Circuit races, the winners of Saturday’s USATF 15 km Championships won their first national titles, as Tara Welling and Stanley Kebenei both beat deep and talented fields to earn victories in Jacksonville, an event hosted by the Gate River Run.


The USATF Cross Country Championships are the third stop on the 2016 USATF Running Circuit. Next up on the circuit, the USATF Half Marathon Championships take place in Columbus, Ohio on April 30.


From the start Saturday, Welling took the lead and pushed the pace. In the early stages, she was joined up front by Hillary Montgomery, Lindsey Scherf, Alisha Williams and Katie Matthews, while a chase pack led by Stephanie Bruce and Sarah Pagano kept the lead group within sight.


Just before the three mile mark, Welling surged ever so slightly, gapping the field by 40 meters, maintaining the pace and building up a 100 meter lead by the six mile mark.


Behind Welling, Scherf pushed the pace, as Williams and Matthews hung with her. As the race progressed toward the halfway point, Williams started to fade off the pace, while Bruce caught the chase pack.


Welling continued to turn up the pace, never looking back, ultimately building a lead that was too large for the chase pack to bridge and cruised home to victory over the 15 km course in 50:34. Welling’s victory was her first national title, showing her best fitness since 2012 and 2013.


Bruce, who has worked herself back into prime shape after having a baby last September, was able to put some distance between herself, Scherf and Matthews over the final two miles, finishing second in 51:13, ten seconds ahead of Schert and 21 seconds ahead of Matthews. Pagano ran a nice second half of the race to finish fifth in 52:04, thirty seconds behind Matthews, but nearly a half minute ahead of sixth.


Rounding out the top ten, Williams held strong over the final miles to place sixth overall in 52:32, while Maddie Van Beek and Katrina Spratford placed seventh and eighth running 53:00 and 53:47. Hillary Montgomery and Mattie Suver both struggled a bit over the final miles to place ninth and tenth in 54:44 and 54:48.


Unlike the women’s start, the men’s field saw a lead pack of a dozen athletes push the pace early and held relatively in tact until the final mile of the race.


From the gun, Craig Lutz, Christo Landry, Shadrack Kipchirchir and Tim Ritchie led the charge, running even splits mile after mile, but ultimately the pace was tame enough to where the lead pack could maintain form.


As the leaders passed through the half way mark, ten men were still in contention, each sizing each other up and readying themselves for whenever the first major move took place. That move came with one mile to go.


The race to the finish was fierce, with Landry making the break first with just under a mile to go, as only Stanley Kebenei and Kipchirchir able to maintain the surge. As the finish line came into sight, Kebenei put in a surge of his own, pulling away from the others and sprinting to the line, crossing first in 44:37, his first national title.


Behind Kebenei, Kipchirchir was able to hold off Landry over the final stretch of the race, placing second in 44:40, while Landry finished third in 44:42, showing the finished he showed last year when he finished second overall in Jacksonville. Lutz grinded out the final mile better than the rest of the field, placing fourth in 44:49.


Abbabiya Simbassa couldn’t quite finish with the top four, but finished fifth, just holding off Martin Hehir by one second, finishing in 45:00, while Hehir placed sixth in 45:01. In a similar battle to the finish, Alex Monroe placed seventh in 45:12, just ahead of eighth place finisher Reed Connor and ninth place Ritchie, who ran 45:14 and 45:21 respectively. Erin Finan rounded out the top ten with a 46:07 time.


About the USATF Running Circuit


The USATF Running Circuit is a USATF road series featuring USATF championships from one mile through the marathon and consistently attracts the best American distance runners with more than $500,000 to be awarded in total prize money. A total of $53,000 in prize money is awarded at the USATF 15 km Championships.


The first ten U.S. runners earn points at each USATF Running Circuit race. For the USATF 15 km Championships, scoring is set as 22.5 for first, 18 for second, 15 for third, 10.5, 9, 7.5, 6, 4.5, 3 and 1.5, with those earning the most points receiving prize money at the end of the series.


The mission of the USATF Running Circuit is to showcase, support and promote U.S. runners. Since its inception in 1995, the USATF Running Circuit and its races have provided over $7 million to U.S. distance runners.


Contributed by Scott Bush

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