Haskell Men’s Cross Country Team wins school’s first NAIA conference title

By Rhonda LeValdo-Gayton
Special to News From Indian Country

(L to R)Dion John, A. James, 
Becenti,Dwight Carlsten,
Harlan Harvey, Matt Grant,
Thomas Zunie

It was a fitting end for Leo Becenti (Navajo), the lone senior harrier, on the Men’s Cross Country team at Haskell Indian Nations University.  Going into their conference meet, the tribal college had often come in second or third in the team standings and for Becenti, they had their sights set on this title.

“It was our main goal, to win (the) conference, that’s been our goal for the past five years that I have been here, and it’s kind of cool we did it my final year.”

When the team results came in, Haskell’s Men’s Cross Country team was on top and they made history by winning the University’s first Midlands Collegiate Athletics Conference (MCAC) title since moving into the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) from the Junior College level.

Freshman runner Thomas Zunie (Zuni Pueblo) led the men in every race this year, and finished second overall in the eight-kilometer race. Zunie says the dedication of Becenti and advice helped him this year.

“ He was a good role model, telling us how to run, and being a team leader.”

Leo Becenti, Senior in
Elementary Education

Both the men and women traveled around the Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma area, with only one home meet at Haskell. They competed right along Big 12 Universities to NAIA division runners culminating in their conference meet in St. Louis, Missouri. The Haskell women placed 3rd overall with their first runner Lenora Loretto being named to the second team all conference.

If you ask their Coach Al Gipp (Hunkpapa Lakota) what it felt like to finally win a title, he gives the credit to the sportsmanship of Becenti.

“Having had Leo be on our team for the past five years, it was a bittersweet moment, yeah we won the conference but on the other hand we were losing someone who had brought our team leadership, work efforts, and someone who brought that character to our team.”

Becenti will be graduating in the spring with his Bachelors degree in Elementary Education.  He is also currently serving as Haskell Brave, a student ambassador representing all the men at the school.

With the recent success of the cross-country team, all the runners look forward to showing recruits that they can succeed on the field at a tribal college. Coach Gipp is also looking forward to the next season,

“We can build on this, and the team is looking to repeat, we worked hard to get to the top, now we are working hard to stay there.”