Nationally ranked cross-country team off to early success

Karolin Anders is a former UAA Track & Field athlete

The men’s and women’s cross-country teams are off to a great start for their 2017 campaigns. Entering the season, both teams are predicted to defend their Great Northwest Athletic Conference team titles and finish in the top-10 nationally. The highly successful men’s team comes off their sixth consecutive team title, while the women have two straight titles and seven of the last eight altogether.

According to the U.S. Track and Field & Cross-Country Association’s Div. II preseason polls, the men are predicted to finish fifth and the women seventh at the national meet on Nov. 18.

During their first two meets of the season, the Seawolves presented themselves in excellent shape. Both teams opened the season at the USF Invitational in San Francisco, California on Sep. 2 followed by the Ash Creek Invitational on Sep. 8 at Monmouth, Oregon.

Michael Friess, head coach of the Seawolf’s cross-country programs for 28 years, knows of his teams potential and expects them to exceed the expectations set for them.

“We are just getting rolling. Obviously, it is a very young season that’s part of a very young year and combine that with a lot of new athletes. We are excited. We are just getting rolling,” Friess said.

The UFS Inivitational, hosted by the University of San Francisco, featured a 6-kilometer course for the women and an 8-kilometer course for the men. The lone Div. II team in the field, finished in the top ten with the women placing third and the men placing fourth.

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Caroline Kurgat was the top Seawolf finisher placing fifth in 21:39.29 minutes. Her placing in the competitive field earned her USTFCCCA National Athlete of the Week and GNAC Women’s Cross-Country Athlete of the Week honors. Kurgat’s fellow teammate Emma Chelimo was the second Seawolf to finish the race in a time of 23:16.1 placing 18th. Kimberly Coscia successfully returned to action after a long streak of injuries. She finished third for the Seawolves, placing 20th in 23:20.3. Also scoring for the Seawolves were Zennah Jepchumba, 26th and Maria Burroughs, 27th.

I am so grateful to be back healthy and competing with my team. Injuries suck, and knowing that I couldn’t contribute to the success of the team was heartbreaking,” Coscia said.

Felix Kemboi, freshman, was the top finisher on the men’s side. Kemboi finished the course in 25:46.5 placing fifth. Kemboi was accompanied by Jorge Sanchez, who placed 26th in 27:03.6, Edwin Kangogo, 27:12.3 placing 30th. Also scoring for UAA were Kaleb Korta and Nathan Kipchumba.

Sophmore Korta of Galena, Alaska contributes to the team as a local powerhouse. Korta feels confident in the team’s success this season due to their support of one another and desire to successfully compete at the national championship.

“I think that we have a great opportunity to have a successful season. We’ve got a good group of guys that I know will be working hard, so I’m excited about the possibilities. The team is doing awesome together. I feel that the smaller size of our cross-country team, compared to others, allows us to have a pretty tight knit group and we love being around each other,” Korta said.

The second meet, Ash Creek Invitational, featured a 4.6-kilometer course for the women and a 6.2-kilometer course for the men. The Seawolves took this meet to gain race experience and practice some of their tactics for the big upcoming meets.

“Our focus this week was to work on some tactical strategies that we feel will help us in our more important meets later in the season,” said Friess.

The women’s and men’s team finished runner-up behind GNAC opponent Simon Fraser.

Kemboi was the top finisher for the Seawolves as he claimed his first collegiate victory in 18:41.8. Kemboi’s performance earned him GNAC Athlete of the Week honors. Kemboi was followed by teammates Kangogo (3rd), Sanchez (12th), Korta and Justin Carrancho.

The women’s team was lead by Jepchumba placing sixth in 16:53.8. Also scoring for the Seawolves were Mariah Burroughs (8th), Coscia (9th), Chelimo and Jordyn Block. Kurgat was not in action during this meet.

“The Ash creek Invitational went well, we had a strategy for the race and executed well,” Coscia said. “The main focus is still the more important meets like conference and regional, which will earn us a spot at nationals. It’s hard to predict anything so early in the season, but I trust in the process and the training coach [Michael Friess] has laid out for us the next few weeks. We have a strong group of ladies who are tough and willing to put in the work for a strong finish at the national meet among the best teams in the country.”

Korta agrees with Coscia on the progression of the next couple of weeks. The women’s and men’s teams’ focus is directed towards the ultimate goal of succeeding on the national stage.

“We’ve got a couple weeks where we’re not traveling ahead of us and it’s going to be a good time for us to focus in and train our butts off,” Korta said.

Both teams are preparing at home for their next meet on Oct. 7 at the Div. II Conference Cross-Over at Romeoville, Illinois. Before traveling to the GNAC Championships later this month on Oct. 21.