Both the men’s and women’s cross-country squads have flourished throughout the season thus far. With yet another extraordinary finish over the weekend, the Seawolves will enter the upcoming GNAC championships with heightened confidence.
UAA XC came out of the gates this year with two first place finishes at the Notre Dame de Namur Argo Invitational, as Edwin Kangogo and Caroline Kurgat took individual titles. Ranked No. 4 in the nation at the time, the men’s team scored a perfect 15 points by establishing all seven of their runners in the top 10. The title did not come as easily for the women, however, as they were able to squeak by Stanislaus State, in large part due to Kurgat who led the second place runner by an entire 40 seconds.
Fast forwarding to the middle of September, the Seawolves were ready to take on a larger field of teams at the University of Washington Sundodger Invite. Kugart led the charge for the women’s team once again, but this time it was Michel Ramirez who was the first man to cross the finish line wearing green and gold. Kangogo, who was the next Seawolf to place, and Ramirez have been trading first and second place finishes for the Seawolves for some time now. The friendly competition has brought out the best of them not only during the actual races but in practice as well.
“Having teammates like Edwin [Kangogo] make the race, and especially training, a lot easier,” Ramirez said. “Champions are made when no one is watching, and having strong teammates push you makes the journey a whole lot more memorable.”
The women’s team wound up placing sixth at the UW Sundodger, while the men sat contentedly in second by the end of the invitational. Taking the crown was for both genders was Trinity Western, a school out of the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS). With two races down, UAA had just one more invite before the GNAC championships. There was a three-week gap in-between invites though, something the Seawolves want to use to their advantage.
“The extra time between races is beneficial in the way that it allows us to get some really solid training in, as well as letting us absorb the hard workouts and get the most out of them,” senior Michael Mendenhall said via phone.
Heading into the Western Washington Classic Invitational, the men’s group was ranked fifth nationally among Division II schools, while the women were sitting in sixth. This time around, there were about twice as many teams at this invite then they have challenged in any race this season. But, the sloppy conditions and the amount of teams did not seem to play a factor for either side. The women edged out Trinity Western for first place, and the men finished runner-up out of 76 teams. All five of UAA’s female racers found themselves in the top 30 out of 154 total athletes. Kurgat once again finished first for UAA, while the men were led by non other than Ramirez and Kangogo, who both cracked the top five overall. Ramirez and Kangogo understand that the season is far from over, and are not satisfied with where they are individually at this point in the season.
“Personally the race was a good reflector of the things I need to improve on come championship season,” Ramirez said.
“I think I should have done better. The race started well but the rainy conditions made it relatively slow, but it was good race to prepare for GNACs,” Kangogo said.
After three races, the men have first, second, and second place results respectively, while the women have taken victory twice, and have a sixth place finish. On Oct. 22, both squads will be taking on conference rivals at the GNAC championships in Bellingham, Washington.
“Right now, our team has total confidence that we will be ready for GNAC, but we also know that winning it is not the main goal,” Mendenhall said. “It is important that we are assertive and run the way we know we can.”
The men’s team has six seniors, including Ramirez, who knows this is his last shot at the conference championship.
“Come GNACs, it is an ‘in it to win it’ mentality. I will give it the biggest effort I possibly can, and expect the same of all my teammates.” Ramirez said.
These conference championships will feature the women’s group running the 6-kilometer, while the men will run the 8-kilometer.