National champion Kurgat leads ‘Shewolves’ to fifth-place finish

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

Caroline Kurgat became UAA’s first cross country national champion on Nov. 19th, 2017. The senior ended her career as a three time All-American. Photo credit: @GoSeawolves

On Nov. 18, Caroline Kurgat made history by winning the 2017 NCAA Division II Cross-Country Championships in Evansville, Indiana. Kurgat, who placed third a year ago, became the first female national champion in cross-country, indoor or outdoor track and field. She also helped the women’s team to a top five team finish. The senior from Eldoret, Kenya finished the 6-kilometer course in 20 minutes, 32.3 seconds, about 20 seconds ahead of second place finisher Sarah Berger of Walsh University, and secured the triple of winning the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship, the West Regional championship and the National championship title all in one season.

“It’s an awesome feeling and I’m really proud that I achieved [my goal of winning the national title],” Kurgat said in a press statement. “I really appreciate what my coaches have taught me, like working harder to achieve things that I could not even think of.”

Kurgat’s teammates know about the uniqueness of having a national champion on their squad and appreciate Kurgat’s dedication to the sport, but also to her team.

Caroline is exceptional. Having such a champion is eventually what every team dreams of having,” senior Tamara Pérez said. “I am beyond proud of her performance today, and especially proud of who she is and who she has become since the day she came across to world to run in Alaska.”

The women’s team, which was ranked fourth going into the meet, collected a fifth place team result and an additional All-American honor for junior Zennah Jepchumba. Jepchumba placed 32nd, out of the 247 competitors, finishing the race in 21 minutes, 38.6. Also scoring for the ‘Shewolves’ were Emma Chelimo (44th, 21:48.4), Danielle McCormick (45th, 21:49.9) and Mariah Burroughs (81st, 22:18.9).

Seniors Tamara Pérez, Mariah Burroughs and Caroline Kurgat after their fifth-place team finish and the last cross country race of their careers. Photo credit: @Tamara Pérez

The Green and Gold had only limited time to adjust to the four-hour time difference between Alaska and Indiana. The meet schedule required them to wake up at 1:30 a.m. Alaska time on race day.

- Advertisement -

The weather held up for the racers. At about 60 degrees Fahrenheit and only a slight sprinkle of rain, the women took on the flat two loop 6-kilometer course.

“This race was definitely more difficult than most of the other races this year, partially because the competition is really intense at nationals,” McCormick said. “We were all positive before the race and stayed strong and ran our hardest.”

The women scored 180 points to finish fifth overall, only one point behind fourth place finisher Chico State University, which scored 181 points. Adams State won the team title with 126 points.

A fourth place finish would have earned the team members All-American status and it was not out of reach. Jepchumba and Abby Hoover of Oklahoma Baptist University were both timed at 21 minutes, 38.6 seconds with Hoover finishing ahead of Jepchumba. A point that could have made the difference, but also other UAA’s racers were only 0.6 seconds away from finishing a spot ahead to secure the necessary point for a fourth place team finish.

The top 40 finishers at the DII NCAA National Championship meet earn All-American honors, including UAA’s national champions Caroline Kurgat and Zennah Jepchumba. Photo credit: @RMAC

“One point away [from the podium] at the national meet is the most defeated feeling after a long season,” Pérez said. “Lots of miles, effort and hard work we put in to achieve our best. The team wanted a better finishing, but fifth in the Nation isn’t a defeat at all. We take what we did as a big team reward, personals win and excitement for more.”

Senior Edwin Kangogo held his own in the field of 249 competitors by placing 19th for All-American honors. After the highly debated team selection, which disfavored the Seawolves’ participation in the NCAA Championship meet, Kangogo was the lone Seawolf to represent the men’s cross country team in Indiana. It was the first time since 2007 that UAA did not qualify a men’s team to the NCAA National Championship. Kangogo’s finish was the strongest among other male GNAC competitors. He raced the 10-kilometer course in 31 minutes, 32.5 seconds and ends his cross country career as a three time All-American.

“This team is loyal to positivity and keeping adversity small,” Pérez said. “We were confident and ready to give our best one last time this season. The coaches told us to embrace the work we had put on all this and open our minds to what was possible. I am happy about the journey and every opportunity this team has given me in the last four years racing for this school and training with incredible teammates.”

The cross-country team will take a couple of weeks off before the end of the semester and then start their preparations for the indoor track and field season. Their season will kick off at the Ed Jacoby Invitational & Multis in Nampa, Idaho and at the Washington Review in Seattle, Washington on Jan. 12-13, 2018.