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Ernest Cheruiyot places 4th in the 10K at the NCAA track and field championships

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Ernest Cheruiyot joined the Texas Tech track and field team in January. He already has a Big 12 title to his credit and, as of Wednesday, first-team All-America status, with a story to go with it.

The Kenyan freshman finished fourth in the 10,000 meters at the NCAA outdoor championships in Eugene, Oregon, running the final 900 meters barefoot after losing his right shoe. Coming out of a turn with just over two laps to go, Cheruiyot was leading when three runners directly behind him fell and another was thrown off course.

One of the three who went down, New Mexico freshman Habtom Samuel, rose to win the race in 28 minutes, 7.82 seconds. Cheruiyot kicked off his shoe shortly after the pile-up and continued, finishing in 28:10.81, his second best time of the season.

One of the other runners clipped Cheruiyot’s heel and he received medical attention after the race.

“They got him from behind and cut him pretty bad,” Tech coach Wes Kittley said. “We had to get (athletic trainer) Mary (Cyr) to pick it up, (butterfly) sew it up a little bit there at the end.

“That’s pretty impressive to get fourth place.”

The race was judged for about an hour before being made official with no disqualifications. Fourth place is good for first team status in all of America and the Tech men’s first five points.

Cheruiyot won the 5,000 meters at the Big 12 indoors in February.

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Wednesday was day one of the four-day meet, and it came with unexpected twists for the Red Raiders.

Senior Caleb Dean, attempting to win his second NCAA championship, continued his impressive postseason, running the 400-meter hurdles for the second straight time in a school-record 48.05 seconds. Just like in the quarterfinals two weeks ago in the West Regional in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Dean and teammate Oskar Edlund finished 1-2 in their heat.

Dean and Edlund, who ran 49.44, advance to the finals at 9:27 PM CDT Friday.

“I was really happy with Caleb, man,” Kittley said. “I was almost afraid he was running too fast in the preliminaries. He just looked like a million bucks.”

Dean, who won the 60-meter hurdles at the NCAA indoors in March, is trying to become the sixth Texas Tech track and field athlete to win more than one individual NCAA title. The others are Divine Oduduru, who won four, current Red Raider Terrence Jones, who has won three, and Kennedy Kithuka, JaCorian Duffield and Trey Culver with two each. One of Kithuka’s was racing.

The Red Raiders also advanced their 400-meter relay to the finals at 8:02 PM CDT on Friday. A revamped lineup of Shawn Brown, Jones, Jalen Drayden and Antoine Andrews ran a season-best 38.67 seconds.

An accident ruined the chances of Tech’s 1,600-meter relay when anchor Shaemar Uter grabbed his right hamstring and pulled up about 100 meters after taking the handoff. Uter wasn’t ready.

“Really shocked,” Kittley said, “because he hasn’t had any problems all year.”

The Red Raiders ran a school record 3:01.58 in the regional meet two weeks ago. That ranked seventh when they came in, so they had a chance to score in the event. Kittley said he would have put Dean on the relay if the team had qualified for the finals, assuming the lineup would finish at least fifth.

Earlier, Uter ran 46.31 in a semi-final of the 400 meters, not fast enough to progress.

Two other freshmen also made their NCAA championship debuts with pole vaulter Sean Gribble clearing 16 feet, 7 1/2 inches for 22nd place and shot putter Trey Wilson throwing 61-6 3/4 for 18th place. Neither were projected point scorers.

“They weren’t at their best,” Kittley said, “but it’s the first national competition for both of them. I’m really proud of them. At least they pulled it off and competed.”

The women’s competition will take place on Thursday and Saturday. The Tech women have the 400-meter relay on Thursday and six competitors in three individual events, all in semifinals.

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