The UAA women’s cross country team got down and dirty at the NCAA West Region Championship and claimed the program’s first trip to the Division II national championships Nov. 6 in Bellingham, Wash.
And at first the team didn’t even know they had done it.
Led by junior Mandy Kaempf’s ninth-place finish on a muddy and messy 6-kilometer Lake Padden Park course, the UAA women edged Seattle Pacific by a mere four team points for third place after finishing fourth last year, missing the cut by only a single point.
With last season’s close finish on their minds and more than 20 teams competing, the team was convinced after the race that they hadn’t done enough to make the top three.
“We knew it would be a very tight race,” assistant coach Leslie Boyd said. “There were two or three teams that I was sure had us by a couple points. The way we approached it was, ‘Let’s see what happens.’ If we’re prepared for the worst, then we’re not going to be disappointed.”
After the last Seawolf had crossed the finish line, the agonizing wait began for all the results to be tallied up and announced over the public address system. They counted it down slowly from last place to first. UAA head coach Michael Friess couldn’t take it after a while.
“We were standing there waiting and Mike paces like a nervous father,” Boyd said. “Then he decided to just go sit in his car.”
So Boyd stood with the Seawolf men’s team. Waiting.
“When they got down to number four and announced Seattle Pacific, I couldn’t believe my ears,” Boyd said. “It was the most crazy experience. I don’t think I could have been more excited if I had been on the team. I darted back up to the car and Mike was flying down there and grabbed me and hugged me and spun me around.”
Meanwhile, the women’s team had left to go to on a cool down run. Boyd said the women were joking about cutting the cool down short since they thought they hadn’t made the cut and their season was over.
When they heard the announcement, senior Stephanie Myers, who finished 66th, couldn’t believe what she heard.
“No, that was the guys; they were talking about the guys,” senior Sarah Hansen said.
But it wasn’t the UAA men. The men had finished fourth for the second straight year, one spot away from qualifying for nationals.
The women had convinced themselves they couldn’t possibly be headed to nationals.
“Those stupid guys, they always beat us,” sophomore Danielle Pratt said aloud.
The UAA women were still in doubt when Boyd finally got to them. When the realization hit, the team went berserk, Boyd said, replete with tears and hugs from the coaching staff and the men. The fact that everybody was covered in mud from running on the rain-soaked trail didn’t matter to anyone.
“I am so proud of them,” Friess said. “They didn’t run their best race of the season but it was good enough.”
The Seawolves finished with 168 points, four fewer than fourth-place Seattle Pacific’s 172. Chico State captured the title with 49 points. Kaempf earned all-region honors with a time of 23 minutes and 31 seconds. Kamie Jo Massey (16th, 23:52), Nicole DeYong (41st, 24:42), Davya Baker (44th, 24:42) and Myers (66th, 25:16) rounded out the Seawolves top five runners. Hansen (26:15) and Pratt (27:44) finished in 95th and 124th, respectively.
Chico State also won the men’s portion of the race with 30 points. The UAA men, who finished with 180 points and raced only six runners, were paced by Brandon Stum, who finished 27th in 34:27 over the 10K course. Aaron Dickson (34th, 34:35), Leif Olson (36th, 34:38), Brent Knight (37th, 34:40), Nate Normandin (47th, 34:56) and Drew Dickson (58th, 35:09) also finished for the Seawolves.
The Seawolf women will now head to Evansville, Ind. Nov. 20 for the NCAA DII cross country national championships.