UTEP’s Koech picks school over NCAA Track and Field Championships


UTEP track and field star Lilian Koech qualified for the NCAA Championships in the women’s 800 meters at Regionals last weekend, but Koech will not compete for a title at the finals in Austin, Texas.

Koech is a student in UTEP’s pharmacy school. The rigorous nature of the program makes it difficult to miss any time. According to a UTEP spokesperson, since Koech would have to leave class for a few days to run at the national meet, the school gave her a choice: run in the meet, but withdraw from the course and re-enroll during the university’s 2019 Wintermester, or skip the meet entirely and keep her standing with the pharmacy program.

It was a very tough decision for Koech, but one she made on her own to put her academic future first. On Saturday, after KTSM’s initial reporting on Koech’s choice, UTEP track and field head coach Mika Laaksonen released this statement on Koech’s decision to KTSM

We in Athletics and with the Track program are extremely proud of Lilian Koech and her accomplishments on the field and in the classroom. She is a special young lady, achieving her undergraduate degree from UTEP in 3.5 years and now already finishing her first year as a student in one of our premier post-graduate programs, at the UTEP School of Pharmacy. While she accomplished all of this as a student, she also performed at an outstanding level as an athlete for us, winning several individual conference titles along the way and leading our women’s teams to multiple C-USA titles.
During this past academic year she has not missed a meet since UTEP Pharmacy School has accommodated all her travel requests. As a result of being such a high-level academic and athletic performer, she recently had a difficult decision to make: to defer taking an off campus practical training pharmacy school course or skip the NCAA Outdoor Championship competition. We (UTEP Track/Athletics) are fortunate that with the help of MAAC (Miner Athlete Academic Center) and UTEP Pharmacy School, Lilian actually had this choice, an option to choose that at times is difficult to provide in the environment we operate in.
“Lilian decided to miss NCAAs and attend the class at this time, so that she can go back home during 2019 UTEP Wintermester/Christmas Break (the other timeframe to attend this class in question) to see her parents, siblings, and relatives that she has not seen in person since she left home to attend UTEP in December 2014. We as coaches and department support her decision 100 percent.” 

UTEP initially told KTSM that Koech would have to pay for the course in question if she withdrew. The academic side of the university was covering the cost of the course in the summer, but with the start of a new fiscal year at the beginning of the new academic calendar, the pharmacy program would no longer be able to cover it. However, Laaksonen said athletics would have been able to provide funding on behalf of Koech, had she chosen to take the course during the Wintermester, so the course in question would’ve been paid for.

KTSM reached out to the UTEP School of Pharmacy and heard back from Founding Dean Jose Rivera on Saturday afternoon.

We are always going to work with a student to provide accommodations, and in this particular case we presented two options and we were planning on supporting the student to do it in December, Rivera said. It was up to the student ultimately to make the final decision.

Koech wrapped up her five-year collegiate career with a strong showing at the NCAA Regional meet. 

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