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Rotich sees double at NCAA championships

photo courtesy utep athletics
Rotich is the third Miner in the program’s history to win consecutive titles in the 3,000-meter steeplechase

He did exactly what was expected from him and his head coach—win.

Anthony Rotich made NCAA and UTEP history, when the seven-time All-American became the first male athlete in Division I history to win both the indoor mile and 3,000-meter steeplechase in the same academic year. 

Earlier in the year, the native of Nairobi, Kenya, won the NCAA indoor mile championship with a time of 4:02.54.

He defended his title in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and now has three national titles to hang his running shoes on.

The race came down to a two-man showdown. Arkansas’ Stanley Kebenei was neck-and-neck with Rotich. It came down to the final barrier. The Razorback representative ran with Rotich in the waning moments until he did not complete his leap over the final barrier, which Rotich was able to clear and press forward to cross the finish line alone.

“I get and feel stronger every time I win a title,” Rotich said.

Kebenei and Rotich are from the same village in Kenya. They have been running together and met in each of the heats leading up to the final bout.

“He is like a brother to me. The last 200 meters I really felt sorry for him when he fell down,” Rotich said.

Rotich has said this was going to be a head-to-head finish because they were jumping the barriers at the exact same moments. In the final barrier, Rotich and Kebenei switched their strides so they both leapt with their right leg. The rest is history.

It was a little bit of déjà vu for Rotich in the final stretch. Rotich was the favorite in last year’s competition and was head-to-head with Texas A&M’s Henry Lelei, who failed in the final leap of the final 200 meters.

“I felt really good,” said Rotich after the race. “This race was really tough compared to last year. I felt my energy drop in the fourth lap so I really had to push myself in that last three laps. But overall I am extremely happy. It’s not easy to defend a title but I worked through it.”

Rotich is the third Miner in the program’s history to win consecutive steeplechase titles, joining Jim Svenoy 1994-95, and James Munyala, 1975-77.

“There was a big difference with everybody seeing if I would defend the title. Although I did not feel pressure, my main goal was to defend the title and bring it back to El Paso,” Rotich said. 

On the women’s side, El Pasoan Jallycia Pearson took third in the long jump, with a leap of 5.18 meters. She competed in the javelin throw and claimed a 10th-place finish with a personal best of 40.27 meters.

Injuries hampered the women’s team chance at making a mark at the NCAA Championships.

“The ladies’ day was not so sunny due to a couple of unfortunate injuries,” head coach Mika Laaksonen said. “Jallycia (Pearson) hurt her back in the high jump and had a rough time performing after it, but she fought through it admirably. Janice (Jackson) may have fractured her foot, which obviously hindered her performance today. This is very unfortunate, especially with this being her last race for us, but she had an outstanding career.”

Right from the start the women got off on the wrong foot, with the 4×100-meter relay team underperforming in the qualifying rounds. Laaksonen lamented the struggles after day one.

“It was a rough start for the ladies,” Laaksonen said. “These four girls were definitely capable of running sub 44-second race and 44.17 made the final today. We had a really bad first exchange and no chance after that. You can’t make mistakes here at this level and expect to advance.”

UTEP had three women make second team all-American honors. Jackson made it in the 100-meter hurdles, Nickevea Wilson in the high jump with 12.84, and Jallycia Pearson in the Heptathlon.

UTEP finished tied for 24th place with fellow Conference USA squad Middle Tennessee.

UTEP finished the season as indoor Conference USA champions and finished second to the University of Texas San Antonio.

“They (UTSA) stole our trophy,
|we have to get it back next year,” Rotich said.

Coach Laaksonen called Rotich’s semifinal run the highlight of the day. Rotich was the only Miner to advance to a final.

The NCAA championships might not have been an overall success for the Miners, but there are some bright spots heading into the future. Four of the juniors competing in the championships will return for the senior season and freshman sensations Florence Uwakwea and Aiyanna Stiverne will headline.

Luis Barrio may be reached at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Luis Barrio
Luis Barrio, Staff Reporter
Luis Barrio is a staff reporter specializing in Sports. He is also the co-host of the Prospector News Weekly, a weekly broadcast that covers all of the top stories at UTEP. He is a Senior graduating in December 2014. Luis is a product of El Paso, TX. He enjoys being outdoors and being physically active. His family comes before anything else. He is a big sports enthusiast and a fan of good movies. Luis spent the summer of 2013 interning for ABC-7 KVIA. Upon graduation Luis aspires to work for CBS as a sports broadcaster. “I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever a having felt sorry for itself.” D.H. Lawrence
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Rotich sees double at NCAA championships