On Saturday, Nov. 11, the Seawolf cross country team both made history and reaffirmed history while giving themselves the chance to set even more.
The NCAA Division II West Regionals in Fresno, Cali., played host as Stacy Edwards became University of Alaska Anchorage first-ever All-region woman runner. To top it off, the men’s team continued its magical season by finishing in the top three for the second straight year, and by doing so, clinching a trip to nationals.
“This is a hall-of-fame team,” head coach Michael Freiss said, referring to the men. “Today validated everything they’ve done throughout their career.”
It was definitely validation for seniors Sean Rivers and Andy Elvester, who now have a chance to become national champions in their final year of eligibility. They also have the distinction of being members of the only two squads to ever have this opportunity. The two finished first and fourth respectively for the Seawolves, which was fifth and 41st overall in the 90-man field.
In between was junior Eric Strabel who finished 21st with a time of 33 minutes and 53 seconds in the 10-kilometer race and Tobias Schwoerer who followed up last year’s second place finish in 13th place. They helped to anchor the team that edged rival San Diego by eight points.
“It was a better team effort than even last year,” Schwoerer said, “especially the back of our pack.”
The final efforts of the back of the pack helped win the race for UAA. Strabel and sophomore Nate Normandin had strong finishes and were passing runners right and left near the end.
“Without their efforts there we weren’t going to go anywhere, including nationals,” assistant coach Vernon Campbell said. “Nate and Eric clobbered at least nine guys in the final quarter mile.
At the beginning of that final stretch, Campbell said that Cal Poly Pomona’s fifth place runner Matthew Rainwater was just ahead of Normandin. At the finish line, he was six places behind.
“Somebody shot Nate out of a cannon there at the end,” Campbell said, laughing. “And he closed the deal.”
Speaking of closing the deal, that’s exactly what happened during the women’s race for Stacy Edwards. Throughout the race she had a solid grasp on 15th place before slipping two spots as she neared the finish line. Then, she kicked in the afterburners.
“In those last 20 feet, it was all anaerobic,” she said.
She sprinted past those runners and into the history books as the first All-Region runner in the history of the 3-year-old women’s program.
“Of my accomplishment as a runner, this one is the biggest so far,” she said after the race.
The race was a big accomplishment for the whole team as they came in with a third-place ranking and a reputation to protect.
“We were a little more nervous than last year,” Campbell said. “Even though we had a target on our backs, no one was intimidated; they ran trying to protect something.”
“And what struck me the most (about the team today) was their appreciation of these moments. These are rare moments in their careers and the history of this program,” he said.
It remains to be seen what magical moments and history have yet to be made at nationals beginning Nov. 23.