Photos of Paige Rankin and Dessie Demlew by Walter Pinion.
A first-time entrant and another returning for the first time since 2009 nearly gave the Shumake/Walker HBCU Challenge two new team champions Saturday at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary – as well as an individual record-setter. In the women’s 5k, Alabama State U. dominated its Challenge debut as Paige Rankin became the first to break 18:00 in the event and led a 1-2-3 finish. In the men’s 8k, however, Morehouse couldn’t quite turn its first trip here in five years into a win as defending champ North Carolina A&T State prevailed. Meanwhile, Dessie Demlew was the only runner to break 26:00 as he cruised to the individual win.
A recap of these two races, held in partly sunny, 65-70 degree conditions with little wind.
HBCU Challenge Women (Individual): In the first five years of the Challenge, the fastest women’s 5,000 we saw came from Aurora Scott in the inaugural year as she clocked an 18:27. That stood until Saturday when we saw Alabama State junior Paige Rankin blast under the 18:00 mark with a meet record 17:53.0. Paige is one of the Lady Hornets’ top recruits ever, a 2012 grad from Luella, GA, where she ran 5:06 and 11:04 for 1,600 and 3,200. She was followed fairly closely by junior teammate Artrailia LeSane, who also crushed the old mark with an 18:03.7. The duo – which finished 2-3 in the SWAC championship last fall – were together at the 2k mark, but Rankin pulled away.
In a solitary but also fast 3rd-place was yet another ASU star, Shanita Wilson, who crossed in 18:57.0. She was followed by Ce’aira Brown of defending champion Hampton U. in 19:07.9. Brown was the top returnee from the 2013 race and paced her squad to a runner-up finish. In the race for 5th, Shauntel Smullen of Coker College edged Fanta Fofana of St. Augustine’s, 19:23.9 to 19:24.4.
HBCU Challenge Women (Team): As is clear from the individual recap above, first-time entrant Alabama State U. overwhelmed the field in the HBCU women’s team battle, scoring 1-2-3-8-12-13-14. They would have won even without their top two runners, the above-mentioned Rankin and LeSane, who each ran under the course record. Joining those two and Wilson in the top five were Santina Williams at 19:32.1 and Sade Lavallis at 19:45.6. ASU, the 3-time defending champs of the Southwest Athletic Conference (SWAC), put all seven of its runners under 20:00 and easily had the best team performance in meet history with their 26 points and 18:50.28 average.
While defending champ Hampton U. may have been 2nd, they finished even more overwhelmingly ahead of 3rd-place with their 78-point total. As mentioned above, Brown led the effort with her 19:07 in 4th, while Amanda Delacruz was the #2 runner scoring 10th at 19:44.3. The battle for the next four spots was tight: North Carolina A&T State had four in the top 40, but Coker College, Benedict College and Winston-Salem State U. all had significantly better 5th runners. So it was Coker in 3rd with 170, Benedict 172, Winston-Salem 180 and NC A&T 186 in the 17-team field.
HBCU Challenge Men (Individual): Benedict College soph Dessie Demlew had never competed at WakeMed, but that didn’t stop him from running a smart, evenly paced race and rolling to victory in 25:39.8. He was the only runner to break 26:00. It was the second straight invitational win for the Ethiopian native. Alabama State’s Bryont Brown was leading at the 2k mark, but faded to 11th.
The next five finishers reflected the team battle, as North Carolina A&T State’s top duo edged out the top two from Morehouse College. Darren White and Saeed Jones took 2nd and 4th for the Aggies with times of 26:01.3 and 26:21.7, while Dahir Mohamed and Shinaola Agbede from Morehouse finished 3rd and 6th with 26:08.7 and 26:31.0. Breaking up that group was unattached runner Joe LoRusso, who was 5th with 26:23.7. Second through 6th were all in a pack at the 2k mark behind Demlew and Brown before they sorted themselves out. Jones and White had finished 2-3 in 2013.
HBCU Challenge Men (Team): As hinted at above, the team battle was a dogfight between defending champ North Carolina A&T State and Morehouse College – which was making its first Challenge appearance since 2009. A&T had a 2-point lead after each team’s top duo, then another spirited battle took place between each team’s #3 man, as Perry Cabean of A&T edged Morehouse’s Gerald Jones for 10th, 27:05.7 to 27:07.3. The pattern continued for the 4-5 runners as the Aggies’ Steven Stowe and David Conner nipped their Morehouse counterparts, Chris Wilder and Michael Wooten. You could not have asked for a better team battle as A&T prevailed, 45-51. A&T was 3rd in the MEAC last year, while Morehouse – a DII school – is defending champs of the SIAC.
Finishing in a solitary 3rd was Virginia Union U., which scored 86 points and was paced by the 8-9 scoring finish of Donovan Mundy and Emmanuel Nelfrard. Coker College actually had a better top two than VUU, with Noah Cook and Dylan Bates scoring 6-7, but VUU’s depth was better. Coker wound up 4th with 118 points and Alabama State rounded out the top 5 with 135 in the 18-team field.