Kenyan cross country runner an instant star at Siena

Evans Kibet is a 20-year-old freshman at Siena College who has already won a Metro Atlantic Athletic
Siena freshman Evans Kibet, a native of Kenya, is already emerging as one of the top cross country runners in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Siena freshman Evans Kibet, a native of Kenya, is already emerging as one of the top cross country runners in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

John Kenworthy, Siena College’s cross country head coach, had to work hard to sell Sarah Forman on the idea his school was the right one for her. An Altamont native who attended Guilderland High School, Forman initially needed some convincing not to stray too far from home.

“I wasn’t planning to come to Siena, at first,” said Forman, now a sophomore. “I didn’t want to stay at a local school.”

So that recruitment took some effort from Kenworthy, but it’s paid off, as Forman has become Siena’s top female runner.

Meanwhile, getting the guy from Kenya to come lead the Siena men’s team?

That was much easier.

“He fell into my lap. I didn’t recruit him,” Kenworthy said. “I did less work to get Evans in here than pretty much any other kid on my team.”

That’s Evans Kibet, a 20-year-old freshman who has already won a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference runner of the week honor this season. A native of Nandi Hills, Kenya, Kibet is already emerging as one of the conference’s top runners after leaving his home country for the first time just over seven weeks ago.

“He brings a special attitude and a special work ethic to our team,” said Forman, who also won a MAAC runner of the week award earlier this season. “He changes our dynamic.”

Kibet recruited himself to Siena. He said a friend of his living in the United States had told him about Siena and that the school had a Division I running program. Off that alone, Kibet said he applied and was accepted into Siena — and then he contacted Ken­worthy to see if there was a spot available for him on the Saints’ team, sending the coach an email to introduce himself.

At first, Kenworthy said he was wary. While Kenya is well-known for producing elite distance runners, that reputation has also led to many Division I programs bringing in runners from Kenya who never pan out.

“There are a lot more bad Kenyans runnings in America than good ones,” Kenworthy said.

Kibet has quickly proven why Kenworthy viewed him as an athlete worth taking. The sociology major took second place at the Rider Invitational, his 24:44.93 mark setting a new Siena freshman 8K record and putting Kibet’s time as the fifth-fastest in school history. That Sept. 16 race — which the Siena men won as a team — followed the Sept. 10 Nassaney Invitational, at which he took fourth.

Kibet said he keeps his sights set on the goals he has set for himself while at Siena: To prepare himself to attempt to qualify for the Olympics and to earn his degree.

“My mission here,” he said, “is to study and run.”

The focused Kibet is soft-spoken and nearly always wearing a smile. He credits his teammates and coaches for helping him gain a sense of comfort in his new environment, a role Forman said the Siena runners have enjoyed playing.

“We’re helping him get acclimated to college life — life here — because it’s so much different from his life in Kenya,” said Forman, who has won two of the three races she’s entered this season and set a new Siena women’s 5K record with an 18:09 mark at the Nassaney Invitational. “We’ve all helped him to adjust as best we can.”

Going from high school to college running was a major adjustment for Forman. The level of training, she said, was much tougher than expected.

“The committment is just different from high school,” she said. “The time you put into it is different.”

That’s especially true for Kibet, who only experienced light training while in Kenya. He competed on a club team that practiced for roughly a half-hour each day, and he’s relished the extensive training regimen at Siena as he’s gaining strength.

“The training he was getting [in Kenya] was very simple,” Kenworthy said. “I saw what he was doing every week and it was not complicated. He’s doing great with [our training]. The first week or two, there was a culture shock on every level, but he’s adjusting well.”

Both Forman and Kibet will lead the Siena runners into today’s Paul Short Run in Pennsylvania.

“I’m always trying to shoot for that next PR,” Forman said.

Kibet, who runs wearing a bracelet with his native country’s name spelled out and its flag pictured, agrees with that. His fast start, he said, is only a beginning.

“I came here to win,” Kibet said.

Categories: College Sports

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