JOPLIN, Mo. – In their first appearance at the NCAA Division II Men's Cross Country Championships, Spencer Frantom and the King Tornado finished 27th overall as a team. Spencer Frantom led the men with a 43rd place individual finish at the Robert W. Plaster Sports Complex, home of Missouri Southern State University. Six out of seven King runners set new 10k personal bests in the event.
Spencer Frantom, a native of Morristown, Tenn., was the first King harrier to cross the finish line in Saturday morning's 10,000-meter championship race. The junior completed the course in 30:31.3 to finish 43 overall in a field of 245 runners.
At the halfway point, Frantom was in 58th position after finishing 5,000 meters in 14:53, 30 seconds off the pace of the leader at that point. He improved by 15 positions with a 15:37.8 time in the second leg of the race.
Frantom bettered his most previous 10k time from the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional Championship by more than one minute. The all-region selection shaved off 1:19.3 from his second place finish from the regional championships two weeks ago.
Despite such a strong performance, Frantom narrowly missed out from being named a NCAA All-American by three positions and just six seconds. The top-40 finishers at the national meet are awarded All-American honors. With his much improved 10k time, Frantom finished just 17 seconds behind the Southeast Regional champion, Pardon Ndhlovu (UNC-Pembroke), who placed 32nd overall as an individual (30:14.2).
The second half of the Morristown, Tenn. duo, Jordan Noe, put together another strong 10k performance. The sophomore also shortened his previous 10,000-meter time by nearly 20 seconds from the regional championship meet on Nov. 3. Noe finished 111th overall with a finish time of 31:37.5. He finished the first 5,000 meters in 15:15.4, almost a full minute better than his 5k victory at the Pre-Conference Championship meet time, where the all-region honoree was 81st at the halfway point.
Sophomores Dickson Kurgat (Naidi Hills, Kenya) and Jordan Smith (Lebanon, Tenn.) each finished in the top 200. Kurgat, an all-conference selection, matched his performance from the regional championship and placed 187th overall with a finish time of 32:36.5. Smith was just five spots behind his teammate and posted a strong final 5,000 meters (16:55.2), improving 18 spots to finish 192nd. He completed the 10k course in 32:45.1.
Both King freshmen set new personal bests in the 10k as Brent Swiney (Bristol, Va./John Battle H.S.) and Garrett Watts (Fort Blackmore, Va.) finished inside 34 minutes. Watts bettered his previous 10k time by six seconds, finishing 222nd in 33:21.9. Swiney finished six seconds behind his teammate (33:27.8) in 226th position but improved upon his last 10k time by 30 seconds for a new personal best.
Taylor Dix also ran for the Tornado and set a new personal best, breaking the 34-minute barrier. He finished 232nd with 33:54.7.
Of the 32 teams that competed in the Division II Men's Cross Country Championship, King placed 27th overall with 664 team points. The team's average finish time was 32:10.5.
King finished in front of Conference Carolinas champion Mount Olive (28th) by 23 points and an average finish time five seconds better than the Trojans. Southeast Regional champion Columbus State finished 24th overall with 606 team points.
"I am really proud of the team's performance today and all season long," said Head Coach Peter Dalton. "They really worked hard from start to finish and everybody gave everything they had. I think they have been rewarded well for their efforts."
Six of King's seven runners set new 10k personal records with Dickson Kurgat just missing his personal best set two weeks ago by one second.
"I am really impressed with how each person came out and did today," said Dalton of his team setting a host of new PRs. "They have done it all season long but doing it on a big stage such as this is a real feat."
Adams State (34) won the team overall championship, placing runners in second, third, and fourth place to pace the team. Micah Chelimo of Alaska-Anchorage won the individual championship, clocking in a 28:56.6 performance.
Though the season concludes, the men's cross country team may reflect on many successes from the 2012 season. King steadily improved over the course of the season in an array of 5-, 8-, and 10k events. Beginning with the UNC-Charlotte Invitational (Sept. 28) where two harriers clinched new personal bests. Two weeks later, King enjoyed a team victory at the Pre-Conference Meet on Oct. 5 where Noe took the individual victory. Noe continued his success with his second individual victory and was named Conference Carolinas Runner of the Year at the conference championships, helping the Tornado to a second place finish. After Spencer Frantom and Noe finished second and third, in that order, King placed third at the regional championship to advance to Nationals for the first time in program history.
"I am very optimistic for our team going into the 2013 season," said Dalton. "We return our entire team returns next year since we do not graduate anybody and we will only have two seniors. I think a top-15 finish at the national level is a very realistic possibility."