November 18, 2001 11:00 pm

By The Observer

KENOSHA, Wis. Eastern Oregon came home from the national cross country meet with a trophy, just not the one it really wanted.

The Mountaineer men had the highest team grade-point average of the 28 teams at the national meet, but they finished 10th in Saturdays race at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

Eastern was ranked third going into the meet and had aspirations of finishing in the top four and bringing home one of those trophies.

I feel pretty bad for them because they worked so hard, Eastern Oregon coach Ben Welch said. We know we were a legitimate top four contender if we had the day we needed to have.

A combination of factors led to the lower-than-expected showing. First off, Tim Riley, Brian Crowl and Sean Williams started too fast the trio were in the top eight three-eighths of a mile into the race, not where they wanted to be.

They got out a lot too hard, Welch said. The first half-mile goes uphill, and that punishes you if you go out too hard.

After two miles of the 8,000-meter (five miles) race, Riley wobbled on his legs and got dizzy. The same thing happened last spring at the NAIA national outdoor track and field meet.

How he finished is beyond me, said Welch, who shadowed Riley the final 350 yards, which took the runner about three minutes to cover.

Riley had a cold last week he also had one last spring but the connection between that and the dizzy spells is unknown, Welch said.

Weve got to figure out whats doing that, the coach said. Its baffling because the guy was running so well. I have very little doubt that he would have finished in the top 30.

Riley finished 210th in 29 minutes, 8 seconds. A top-30 finish would have put Eastern in about sixth place.

Sophomore Eric Griffiths led the Mountaineers, finishing ahead of two teammates who were seven seconds within each other. Griffiths was 54th in 26:32, with Crowl in 56th at 26:36 and David Terry in 58th at 26:39.

Griffiths went out conservatively, as did Ian Schroeder and Terry, who was nursing a hip injury. He ended up running a real good race, almost identical to what he did last year when he was healthy, Welch said of Terry.

Schroeder was 117th in 27:20, one place and one second ahead of Williams. Dallas Kinch was Easterns sixth runner, taking 171st in 28:14.

Life of Georgia won the national title, with Daniel Kibungei of Malone (Ohio) winning the individual title in 24:17.

Terry and Kinch were named Academic All-Americans, a consolation Welch wasnt disappointed with. Easterns top five at nationals had a 3.77 gpa.

Im extremely proud of them for all the things they did this year, Welch said.