‘Shewolves’ and ‘Hewolves’ place first and second at conference championship

Karolin Anders is a former member of the UAA track and field team.

UAA’s cross-country teams have a long history of success. Since joining the Great Northwest Athletic Conference in 2001, the men’s and women’s teams now have a combined 18 team titles and 107 All-GNAC honors after this weekend’s GNAC Cross-Country Conference Championships.

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The women’s cross-country team won their third consecutive team title and overall eighth title in nine years. Photo credit: Nick Danielson

The women’s team, having registered a league-record five straight titles from 2009-2013 and also won the 2015 and 2016 team titles, came away with the win. Led by senior All-American Caroline Kurgat, who won the individual conference title, the “Shewolves” used a strong team effort to cruise to victory over the remaining 10 GNAC teams.

Junior Danielle McCormick of Soldotna knows of her team’s strength and can now proudly call herself a three-time GNAC team champion.

“I think we all had confidence in our teammates and in our training and we’re excited to show all of the other teams what we’ve been working towards,” McCormick said. “The first kilometer or so of the course involved a lot of tight turns so our game plan was to get out hard and stay aggressive so we don’t get boxed in, and then just stay tough and hold onto our position for the rest of the race.”

The Seawolves did just that. In cross-country racing, the runners earn points according to their placing. The winner receives one point and the scoring continues higher accordingly to the racers’ finishes. UAA’s women’s team was able to register a point score of 28 points followed by runner-up Simon Fraser, which registered 65 points. A gap of 37 points is no casualty. Back in 2013, Simon Fraser edged out the Seawolves by only one point to capture the GNAC title.

The Seawolves’ domination of the field illustrates strong competitiveness. Kurgat took the individual win about a minute ahead of second place finisher Mary Charleson of Seattle Pacific. Kurgat covered the 6-kilometer race in 20 minutes and 49.42 seconds. Also scoring for the Seawolves were Zennah Jepchumba (fourth, 21:53.66), McCormick (fifth, 22:06.72), Emmah Chelimo (eighth, 22:11.26) and Kimberly Coscia (10th, 22:12.28). All five of them earned All-Conference honors, while Kurgat was named Female Athlete of the Year and Chelimo was voted GNAC Women’s Newcomer of the Year.

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Caroline Kurgat leads the pack to a strong team finish during their Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship in Bellingham, Washington. Photo credit: Nick Danielson

“The team we have right now is such a great team. Everyone has so much individual talent,” McCormick said. “This is my third year and we have won the cross country conference title all three years. I have one year left and I hope we can keep the streak going.”

Assistant Coach T.J. Garlatz was very pleased with his women’s team performance and considers them a strong competitor for the regional meet.

“The women ran awesome. It was the best race we have run in a long time,” Garlatz said. “Everyone in the top seven ran well. It is a testament to their hard work and passion. As a coach I was proud to see their commitment to on another. They ran for themselves, their teammates and their university. From now until regionals, we will continue to keep focused, train smart and prepare to have another great race.”

The men’s team, which collected a league-record seven back-to-back titles from 2010-2016, was unable to continue their streak after graduating a great amount of their athletes last year. Still, the “Hewolves” managed to collect a strong runner-up finish.

“Before the race, we were really focused,” junior transfer Jorge Sanchez said. “As far as being excited none of us showed it but deep inside we were. The key in racing is to be calm and that’s what we tried to do as we ran our warmup.”

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Junior transfer Jorge Sanchez was named GNAC newcomer of the year after his finish at the conference championship in Bellingham, Washington. Photo credit: Nick Danielson

Senior All-American Edwin Kangogo led the Green and Gold with his individual runner-up finish. He covered the 8 kilometer course in 25 minutes and 3.63 seconds, only 9 seconds behind winner David Ribich of Western Oregon. Also scoring on the men’s side were Felix Kemboi (third, 25:18.59). Nathan Kipchumba (12th, 25:51.52), Sanchez (23rd, 26:11.93) and Justin Carrancho (24th, 26:18.25). Kangogo and Kemboi earned All-Conference honors. Kemboi was also voted GNAC Men’s Freshman of the Year, while Sanchez became the GNAC Men’s Newcomer of the Year.

The men’s team scored 64 team points – only 13 points behind first place finisher Western Oregon (51 points).

“The men ran okay. We wanted to win but came up a bit short,” Garlatz said. “Edwin [Kangogo] and Felix [Kemboi] ran really well but we need the rest of the group to continue to improve. We are training hard and preparing to have our best race of the season at regionals.”

Being unsatisfied with a runner-up finish at a conference meet, indicates the team’s great potential and thirst for success. The upcoming regional meet will give the Seawolves time for revenge.

“’For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.’ This was a quote shared to us by Coach Friess and it was the plan we tried to follow,” Sanchez said. “The race has just added more fuel to our tanks and all we have in our minds is the race – regionals.”

The women’s and men’s cross-country team will be back in action on Nov. 4 at the NCAA West Regional Championships in Monmouth, Oregon.