Senior Arjun Jha finished 176th as Indiana cross country’s lone representative at the NCAA Championships in Tallahassee, Florida, on Saturday.
The 10K race featured over 250 runners and Jha finished with a time of 30:55.1. Jha said he was hoping to place better in the race but despite how he performed, he will use the meet as a growing experience after competing with the nation’s best runners.
“I wasn’t imagining 176th as a success coming into this, but I’m still proud to be out here competing with the best,” Jha said. “Everybody in that race belongs and it shows. If you don’t have your best day a lot of people will beat you.”
Jha made it to nationals thanks to a top-10 performance at the Great Lakes Regional Championships. Neither the men’s or women’s Indiana teams qualified for the meet. The last time Indiana failed to qualify either team was 2016.
Because Jha was the only Hoosier to qualify, he traveled, warmed up and competed on his own. Jha said the experience of running alone was difficult, particularly in such a big race.
“The best part about these meets and the trips is just spending time with the guys, so I miss that for sure,” Jha said. “Especially when you’re not having your best day out there in the race, if you’re running for your team, you’re able to reach down and get a little extra something just because you know your performance is directly tied to the success of the guys out there.”
Jha said this race was the first time in his cross country career, including high school, where he ran without teammates. While he said running alone was a big factor, he still wanted to go out and represent Indiana well.
“It was still a race for sure, but I definitely missed the squad,” Jha said. “Hopefully we'll all be out there next year.”
Along with the challenges of running alone in a competition for the first time, Jha also had to overcome the fast course at Apalachee Regional Park. Because the course is relatively flat and the conditions were optimal for running, the race began quickly.
“It was a suffer-fest from the gun and to have a successful day today, you had to be ready for that for sure,” Jha said Saturday. “It hurt a lot early on. After talking to some of the guys from other teams I know afterwards, I think everybody was kind of feeling that and that's just kind of how it goes when you run the first mile in under 4:30 and everyone’s getting after it from the gun.”
In the men’s team championship, Northern Arizona University secured the title for the fifth time in six seasons and North Carolina State University won the women’s team championship in the 6K race.
Conner Mantz of Brigham Young University won his second straight individual championship in the men’s race and Whittni Orton, also of BYU, finished first in the women’s race. The only other time both individual national champions were from the same school was 1988, when Indiana runners Bob Kennedy and Michelle Dekkers both won.
This tournament marks the end of the NCAA cross country and Indiana will now transition to indoor track and field. The season starts with the Hoosier Open on Dec. 10 in Bloomington.