The UAA men finished in second place and the women third at the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Cross Country championships in McKinleyville, Calif. Oct. 23. But that’s not even half the story.
Three runners crashed on the muddy Beau Pre Golf Course, one didn’t finish, three were sick and numerous others injured as the squad gritted their teeth and gutted their way to the finish line. The men finished with 80 points as a team in the 8-Kilometer race, only nine points away from what would have been their second conference title in three years. The women were 31 points away in third place, one spot below where they finished last season
Had both the teams been healthy, they might be celebrating.
“In one respect, we’re disappointed,” head coach Michael Friess said by telephone. “But on the other hand, it shows us how far our program has come when we finish second and third but we’re not happy.
“We expected a title, and we are upset we didn’t get it.”
Even though there were fair skies for the race, the course had been rained on for more than a day and a half. And it caused havoc for the men. The first victim was junior Leif Olson.
“Halfway through the race, he was close to the front of the pack, and then just fell and landed on his hip,” Friess said. “I just thought he had a bad race when I didn’t see him forever. Somehow, he still finished second.”
With the crash, Olson was only two hundredths of a second behind fellow Spokane Community College transfer Brandon Stum. Stum kept his streak alive of finishing as UAA’s top runner in every race this year. The senior clocked in at 26 minutes, 52 seconds.
He stayed on his feet but was fighting a severe stomachache from medication he had taken for an injury earlier in the season.
Stum was part of a pack of UAA runners who finished within 32 seconds of each other and took five of the eight spots from 12th to 19th place. Senior Nate Normandin, who has had a difficult season so far, had his best race of the year, ending third out of UAA runners in 26:54. Junior Brent Knight was two seconds behind Normandin and brothers Aaron and Drew Dickson came in 19th and 29th. Aaron hadn’t trained in a week and a half after an upper calf strain.
Dual athlete Benjamin Sonntag, who has been kept in reserve all season long in anticipation of Regionals and Nationals, ran his first race of the year to a 59th-place finish.
“We expect him to be in our top five runners; he has the talent to do that,” Friess said.
But talent can’t stop you from falling. Sonntag also crashed during the race but gutted his way across the finish line with a bruised and scraped hip in 28:44.
If the ground was the men’s biggest enemy, sickness was the women’s
Junior Sarah Hansen was too weak to even run. Ditto for Jenn Grover. And Kamie Jo Massey, who had been the women’s top runner for most of the season, was also sick but still finished third among Seawolf women in 24.37.
For the women, their saving grace was dual athlete Mandy Kaempf who duplicated her 5th place finish from last year to lead the women and earn All Conference honors for the second straight year, even though it was only her second race of 2004.
Davya Baker finished second in 24:28. Nicole DeYong, Stephanie Myers, Anjuli Haydu and Danielle Pratt rounded out the women’s finishers.
Seattle Pacific and Central Washington took the men’s and women’s team titles, respectively.
Friess still sees thinks his squad has a legitimate chance to finish among the top three at Regionals in two weeks. And that would mean a trip to Evansville, Ind. for the NCAA Division II Cross Country National Championships.
“We still haven’t run our best race of the season,” Friess said. “Because when they are out there and running, we have some pretty good athletes.
“Hopefully we can toe the line with a lot of healthy bodies.”