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Kimtai Feels Right at Home on the Palouse

Oct 8, 2021

PULLMAN, Wash. -- There are a staggering 8,725 miles between Pullman, Washington and Endebess, Kenya; the hometown of Washington State women's cross country star freshman Neema Kimtai.

Despite the distance between her two homes, Kimtai views her opportunity in Pullman as a blessing and certainly doesn't regret the decision to make the long trip in 2020.

"It's the best decision I've ever made coming here," Kimtai said. "If, for example, someone wants to come here, I would just say 'you'll never regret coming here.'"

Kimtai attended St. Mathews High School in Cheptais, Kenya, before her time at WSU. It wasn't until she participated in a training camp in Kenya before she received her offer to come run in America. Kimtai wasn't the only Kenyan athlete to receive that email from WSU Director of Cross Country and track and field Wayne Phipps, men's team freshman Brian Barsaiya received a similar email from Coach Phipps.

"WSU texted my coach in Kenya and after two days Brian and I received an email from Washington State. He came here first, and then after two weeks I came [to Pullman]."

Kimtai had never heard of WSU before Phipps reached out to her, but once she heard about Washington State's long history of accomplished Kenyan runners, she knew she wanted to become a Coug.

Although Kimtai has admitted her transition from Kenya to America hasn't been easy, she credits her teammates for accepting her and making her feel welcome at WSU. She states that some of the complications that she has encountered since moving to America has been the food, learning names and dealing with the language barrier, but with each day she gets more comfortable in a new culture.

"I am more comfortable with my teammates than ever," Kimtai said. "I feel like I just belong here and I am happy being here with them."

After arriving in Pullman, it didn't take long for Kimtai to etch her name into the WSU record book. She broke the school's freshmen record for both the women's 1,500m (4:20.69) and 5,000m (16:31.13), while also being one of the top runners for the WSU women's cross country program since her arrival.

Kimtai has started the 2021 season off on the right note as well, as she set the course record at the WSU Open back on Sept. 1 with a time 13:35.5. Kimtai said it was a good feeling but still feels she has more to prove.

"Being first feels so good, but sometimes you feel that pressure of having to improve the next time," expressed Kimtai. "I was so happy, but I feel like I can do more than that."

Kimtai's main goal for this season is to make it to the NCAA Championships, but it would mean even more to her to make it with her team.

The Cougar continue the 2021 season with their fourth meet of year at the Nuttycombe Invitational in Madison, Wisconsin. The cross country season will continue over the next few week, with the NCAA Championships taking place on November 20. After that, Kimtai will transition into the track season, which is set to begin this January, where she hopes to once again set a WSU record.