Five years ago, did anyone truly believe that Campbell could be a Top 25 team? The program was just another small school on the east coast that was simply too small to contend with some of the biggest and best teams in the nation.
Fast forward to now and that narrative has drastically changed. Campbell has found grand success at some of the country's biggest meets thanks to their Kenyan recruits. The incredible 1-2 punch of Amon Kemboi and Lawrence Kipkoech has electrified this program and made them one of the most interesting storylines outside of the Power Five. However, they aren't content with having just a handful of talented individuals. Coach Kelly has seemingly made every effort this summer to turn Campbell into one of the most feared squads in the NCAA. More on that later...
For now, it's best to discuss the Camels 2017 season. It's the best way to emphasize how far they've come in just a short period of time.
The Camels started last fall at the Panorama Farms Invite where they would face-off against host Virginia. There was no denying that Kemboi and Kipkoech were favorites to lead the race, but the rest of their roster wasn't given much thought.
Early in the race, it was clear that Campbell had control of the front pack. Kemboi and Kipkoech dominated the field, finishing 1st and 2nd overall. However, no one expected to see their teammates so close behind them. New recruits Meshack Kipruto and Kelvi Kirui had a pair of strong performances. Kipruto secured a 4th place finish overall while Kirui rounded out the top 10. With a pair of new Kenyan recruits in their lineup, it looked like Campbell was going to crush their competition.
Unfortunately, that did not happen. Campbell's final scorer was simply not strong enough. He dropped to 45th overall and surrendered a lead to Virginia. The Camels would finish 2nd overall by four points.
There were plenty of mixed emotions to be had if you were Campbell. On one hand, you had a lethal top four who could battle against some of the top runners in the NCAA. However, the lack of a reliable fifth scorer was looking like a significant road block for the future.
Pre-Nationals would be the perfect challenge to see if Campbell had a solid enough scoring five to be a national contender. As expected, Kemboi put together a terrific 3rd place finish while Lawrence Kipkoech and Meshack Kipruto held their own, placing 23rd and 26th overall. Kevlin Kirui was their 4th scorer in 38th.
Through four runners, Campbell was in 3rd place overall behind only BYU and Colorado. That, however, wouldn't hold. Their fifth man would drop to a gut-wrenching 260th place finish. The Camels would walk away with 340 points, finishing 8th in the team standings.
Despite the fifth man woes, Campbell still had a lot to be proud of. They earned a win over Arkansas and clearly finished in the upper echelon of teams. Still, it was clear that their issues with the final scorer weren't going away anytime soon.
The pressure would continue to build against Campbell at the BIG South Championships as they went head-to-head against conference rival Liberty who looked like a strong, well-rounded squad. To the surprise of no one, Coach Kelly's squad took four of the top five spots, relinquishing second place to eventual All-American Azaria Kirwa. However, a 25th place finish from their final scorer left Campbell with a team score of 38.
Luckily, 38 points would be enough to sneak by a Liberty team who had five in the top 12. The Flames would have to settle for runner-up with a score of 42 points.
There were a handful of encouraging performances from the Camels all season. Nonetheless, Campbell was still in a difficult position when it came to Kolas points at their regional championship. They were projected to have only one point, meaning that they would need to earn an automatic qualifier or eventually get pushed into the national meet (two scenarios that required a lot to happen).
The Southeast Regional Championships has been known for being one of the deeper regions in the NCAA. Despite Campbell having (easily) the best low-sticks in the entire field, their fifth man would understandably come back to haunt them. A 1-2-18-24 finish from the Camels put them in the second automatic qualifying spot through four scorers. However, a 143rd place finish from their fifth man quickly erased any progress made at the front.
After finishing 10th in 2015 and 7th in 2016, Campbell continued their progression by ending the season as the 5th place team at the Southeast Regional Championships. There was no doubt that this team was trending in the right direction, but Coach Kelly needed to address the backend of his lineup.
And that's how we got here today. The Campbell men are set to return their entire top seven from last year and maintain their position as one of the top contenders in the Southeast region. From a development standpoint, their final three men could greatly benefit from another year of training and big-meet exposure.
There is no denying how talented the top four of Campbell are. Kemboi and Kipkoech are two elite scorers while Meshack Kipruto showed flashes of brilliance. It's very possible that Kipruto elevates his fitness to another level this fall and creates a wicked scoring trifecta for the Camels. Even if that doesn't happen, he'll still be plenty valuable as long as he replicates his performances from last fall.
The same can be said for Kelvin Kirui. He may have some room to improve, but as long as he repeats his 2017 finishes he'll still be a reliable fourth man from last year.
Now comes the final lineup spot under question. Who will Campbell's fifth man be and can they become a legitimate contributor this fall?
That answer is (most likely) yes.
Earlier this summer, Campbell made two huge roster additions. Ronald Cheserek (no relation to Edward) and Godwin Kimutai are two Kenyan natives with exciting potential. Together, they could help turn Campbell into a program that threatens even the best national powerhouses.
Ronald Cheserek, a rising senior transfer from St. Leo, will be a key name to watch this fall. The two DII XC national qualifier is a strong cross country runner with multiple wins under his belt. He may not be a superstar scorer (yet), but he'll be able to keep the overall point totals far lower than what the Camels were originally seeing.
Godwin Kimutai is a freshman recruit coming straight from overseas. Admittedly, we don't know much about him, but an inside source has suggested that Kimutai has run around the 8:30 mark for 3000 meters prior to his arrival. If that's true, he'll be a huge addition to the Camels this fall.
Although they brought in two major recruits, we opted to keep Campbell just outside of our top 10 (for now). We still aren't entirely sure what to expect from these new recruits and we don't know if they'll be able to match the consistency we saw from their top four in 2017.
That said, Cheserek or Kimutai don't need to be breakout superstars. They just need to run their own race and put together a respectable effort. If they do that, then this team will easily qualify for the National Championships.
Who knows? If everything goes according to plan, maybe we could see them on the podium in November...