Cross-country titles are so 2009

"Repeat" was the word of the day at the Division I NCAA cross country championships. Well, that and "repetition."

The defending team champions, Oklahoma State's men and Villanova's women, defended their titles on a particularly windy afternoon in Terre Haute, Ind. Also repeating was the individual men's champion, Liberty's Sam Chelanga.

Repetition -- as in what you have to do when rehabilitating a serious injury -- was a key for women's individual champion Sheila Reid.

Two and half years after stumbling on a tree root during a training run and suffering a torn labrum on her right hip, Reid made it all the way back to the top of her sport.

A junior from Newmarket, Ontario, she was hurt in March 2008 and had to redshirt that outdoor track season and the cross country season the following fall. Villanova coach Gina Procaccio knew of a skilled surgeon who specializes in repairing this type of injury -- Dr. Marc Philippon of the Steadman Hawkins Clinic in Vail, Colo. -- and that's where Reid went. He's the physician who, a year later, operated on Yankees star Alex Rodriguez for the same injury.

"It was super painful, and I knew right away that something was really wrong," Reid said Monday via telephone of the accident. "At first, I thought I had maybe broken my leg, because the pain was excruciating. I was with my teammates, and a bunch of them sprinted off to go get my coach.

"It was so disappointing, because I was training to represent Canada in the world junior cross country championships, and I had to miss that. I knew that getting surgery was something so serious that there was no guarantee that I could get back to the athlete I was before the injury. But now I'm back and probably stronger than it was before it happened."

That's in part because of how hard she had to work to return to running, which she did for the 2009 track season. She was good enough by the '09 cross country season to win the Big East title -- which she repeated this year -- and help lead Villanova to the NCAA title last November.

"It's a long recovery," Procaccio said. "A lot of rehab. She had a machine in her dorm room and at first had to be on it about four hours a day. Then she was on the exercise bike. She didn't run for four months, then had to start again by running 10 minutes a day. We didn't rush her, though, which is why we redshirted her. We knew it had to be done right."

Reid, who finished the 6,000-meter course in 20 minutes, 6.9 seconds, won the race using her brain, though, as much as her legs. She paced herself expertly and knew she had the best kick of the other top competitors: Georgetown's Emily Infeld (second), Oregon's Jordan Hasay (third), UTEP's Risper Kimaiyo (fourth) and Texas Tech's Rose Tanui (fifth).

"You could feel every time we turned a corner, coming into the wind, and the whole pack would hit a wall and kind of bunch back up again," Reid said. "Because you just couldn't go fast. So I pretty much tucked in for the first 3-4 kilometers, and with about 2 kilometers to go, someone made a move and I didn't want her to get too far ahead so I reeled her in.

"Then Jordan and Emily went ahead of me going into the homestretch, and I kind of sat there behind them and thought of what my coach told me, 'Hold it until about 200 to go,' because it's a long way to go into the wind by yourself. The operative word was to race smart."

The Wildcats were the top-ranked women's squad all season, and cemented that with their performance Monday. Following Reid were teammates Amanda Marino (10th individually), Ali Smith (24th), Bogdana Mimic (27th) and Emily Lipari (94th). It was Villanova's ninth women's NCAA cross country team title. Florida State was second and Texas Tech third.

"When you come in ranked No. 1, you really want to live up to it," Procaccio said. "If you don't, I feel like I would look like I screwed up somehow."

Meanwhile, Oklahoma State coach Dave Smith felt his Cowboys just needed to follow their game plan, and that's what they did. All five Oklahoma State scorers finished in the top 40 in the men's 10,000-meter race, led by the trio of Girma Mecheso, German Fernandez and Colby Lowe, who were fifth, sixth and seventh. Tom Farrell was 29th individually and Johnathan Stublaski was 36th.

"The wind tightened up the pack," Smith said. "And that was a good thing for all our guys. I think we ran exactly the way we hoped we would run. We knew we had three guys who were as good as anybody in the country, and I wanted them in the top 10-15, staying right with each other the entire way. And they did that.

"You get a lot of confidence running with your teammates there with you, guys you train with every day."

Oklahoma State won the NCAA men's cross country title in 1954, but had not won it again until last fall. Now, the Cowboys have captured back-to-back championships.

"Winning one might be lucky, it might be lightning striking," Smith said. "Winning two in a row, I think, solidifies us as one of the top programs in the country."

Speaking of which, Liberty's Chelanga won his second consecutive NCAA title, but this race had a different look to it than last year's.

Chelanga, a senior from Nairobi, Kenya, blew away the field in 2009, winning by 25 seconds. This year, with the wind blowing away, he conserved his energy more and raced close to second-place finisher Stephen Sambu for most of the course.

Then Chelanga, like Reid, won on his kick in the final straightaway. His time of 29:22.2 was just under 4 seconds better than Sambu's. Oregon's Luke Puskedra was third, followed by Iona's Leonard Korir and Stanford's Chris Derrick.

Last outdoor track season, Chelanga also won the 10,000 meters at the NCAA championships. He was the runner-up at the 2008 NCAA cross country meet.

"The difference from last year was strategy," said Chelanga, whose older brother, Joshua, is a marathoner. "Last year, I was able to run away from everyone. This year, the wind just made it difficult. It was like running uphill the whole way, so it was quite a bit of a challenge.

"I have to tell you, this is really a great achievement for me, and I'm really grateful I got the opportunity to do this again."

Mechelle Voepel is a columnist for ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

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