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Kurgat’s Win Helps New Mexico Grab 2nd NCAA XC Crown In 3 Years

November 18th, 2017
Louisville, Kentucky

At the pre-race press conference, New Mexico head coach Joe Franklin stressed happiness, relaxation, and fun as essential ingredients for his team’s success. The following day his happy, relaxed women’s squad had fun as the Lady Lobos captured their 2nd NCAA cross country title in the last 3 years, posting 90 points to better hard-charging runner-up University of San Francisco by 15 points.

Shortly after the Churchill Downs bugler – in full equestrian regalia – trumpeted the national anthem and the call to the post, 255 of the nation’s top collegiate women runners bolted from the starting gate to attack the rolling 6K loop course in Louisville’s E.P. “Tom” Sawyer Park. Under chilly, dry, and blustery conditions, the competitors scrambled for early position with the leaders hitting 1 kilometer in 3:04 on the way to a 5:02 opening mile. At the 2K mark [6:20] the Missouri’s ’16 champion Karissa Schweizer and New Mexico’s Ednah Kurgat led a bunched pack. Flying by 2 miles in 10:12, the co-leaders were quickly joined by Boise State sophomore and West Regional runner-up Allie Ostrander.

After the 3K mark [9:41], Kurgat went to whip early, unleashing an uphill surge that that neither Schweizer nor Ostrander could cover. The acceleration pushed the Mountain Regional champion into the lead as she led the charge through the pine straw and into the forested climb to the course’s zenith. The Lobo leader never let up – steadily expanding her advantage to over 40 meters as she raced by 5K [16:04]. While Kurgat sailed to victory in a course record clocking of 19:19.42, the battle raged on among the top ten athletes. Washington senior Amy-Eloise Neale [19:26] closed the best to grab 2nd followed by San Francisco’s reigning NCAA 10,000 titlist Charlotte Taylor [19:28] and Ostrander [19:31] After surrendering her 2nd place position to Ostrander in the final kilo, the defending champion [19:47] simply unraveled, ceding 9 places over the final downhill rush to the line to ultimately finish 11th.

In a frenzied mixed zone, varied emotions prevailed. “It just wasn’t my day. Everyone has those days,” offered a disconsolate Schweizer, who just couldn’t get comfortable with the spirited early tempo. “I wanted to stop. But I kept pushing through and I’m really proud of myself for making it through.” Ebullient Neale – who mowed down a half dozen opponents over the final 400 meters – savored her unexpected runner-up performance. “After regionals, I definitely knew there was more in there,” said Neale who finished 3rd in the West Regional. “I just tried to catch as many people as I could. I wanted to put myself in a position to be in the top 10 with a mile to go, to have a shot be in the top 5.” And a poised Ednah Kurgat explained her winning race strategy. “I went to the lead in the beginning due to a lot of pressure behind me. But it wasn’t my plan to do that.” The Kenyan sophomore, whose win here capped off her undefeated season, focused on her crucial mid-race breakaway. “Breaking away from the group was so hard. I knew if I went all the way to the end, anything can happen. I don’t take anything for granted.” Only as she neared the line did she know she had the win. “I looked back just before the finish line to see how far they were. I knew the victory was mine.” And her national champion teammates? “They all helped me to run my fastest today.”

Later, Coach Franklin confirmed that the national championship was never specifically identified as a team goal. “We never talked about it as a team,” the Lobos leader explained. “I think they knew. So we didn’t have to tell them.” Before heading off to celebrate with his team, Franklin confided that he knew his athletes were chill and ready to roll when, during the team’s final shake out run on the course, Kurgat evoked teammate laughter as she spontaneously scampered off to chase a gaggle of geese. As it turned out, the next day she would be the one being chased.

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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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