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Colorado’s team wasn’t in evidence at the front in the early going, but were there when it counted. (MIKESCOTT)

Verona, Wisconsin, November 17—When race day dawned to reveal a healthy dusting of snow, the 255 women who woke up to compete in the NCAA Cross Country Championship quickly realized that things had just gotten a little more challenging.

Notre Dame’s Anna Rohrer moved to the point of a tightly-bunched lead pack that split the first kilo in just under 3:00. As is her custom, Rohrer continued to press the pace, to grind away on her competitors. Boise State junior Allie Ostrander made her first frontline appearance and pulled up next to Rohrer as the leaders split the first mile under 5:00. On the next major downhill, New Mexico soph Weini Kelati freewheeled her way into the lead.

While unable to force a meaningful break from the others, the leading trio pressed on: Rohrer forcing the tempo, Ostrander staying relaxed and Kelati contemplating her next move. The Oregon senior duo of Jessica Hull and Weronika Pyzik lurked within striking distance. Up front, Rohrer continued to exhibit heady racing technique by running the tangents and allowing herself to race frequently on grassy side sections of the course while the others in the middle continued to slip on the snow or splash through the slush.

15 frontrunners remained when the 3K marker was passed in 9:42. Ostrander was in the lead as Rohrer’s telltale facial strain showed she knew her fast-pace tactic was proving ineffective. Indeed it was, the front group was soon joined at the halfway mark by the defending champion, New Mexico’s Ednah Kurgat, and Wisconsin junior Alicia Monson, winner of this season’s Nuttycombe gathering, Big 10 and Great Lakes Regional.

Soon after Rohrer’s desperate move shortly after 4K (13:12) failed to drop any of her 8 remaining opponents, Kelati downshifted and threw in a strong surge up a steep grade on the race’s final loop. In short order, she strung out the bunched pack and forged a clear separation that eventually grew to 20m. Stanford’s Elise Cranny and BYU’s Erica Birk set sail in pursuit, but to no avail as the diminutive Lobo continued her drive to the line. With less than 2K remaining, was the race over? No. Colorado senior Dani Jones, a front-pack runner who had hovered just off the lead group for most of the race quickly left Ostrander, raced past Birk, and set her sights on the leader.

As the race hit the homestretch, Jones summoned new energy when she saw Kelati cracking. As the two attacked the subtle but deceptively difficult final 300m uphill climb that led to the finish, Jones flew by the broken leader for the win in 19:42.8. Kelati (19:45.3) held on for 2nd with the hard-charging Hull (19:50.4) grabbing 3rd. Monson (19:55.2), Kurgat (19:55.8) and Ostrander (19:56.9) filled out the top 6.

Jones’s victory was the highlight of a total team victory for the Buffaloes: 65 points for a runaway as 6 of Mark Wetmore’s squad earned All-America honors. New Mexico (103), Oregon (160) and Michigan (213) rounded out the top 4 teams.

“I am definitely very pleased with the way it played out,” said Rohrer, who had thrown down the gauntlet and dared the field to run with her before dropping back to 10th. Kelati, whose valiant bid to steal the race fell short, was candid about her shortcomings: “Things were not like I expected. I think it was pretty good. I know that somebody can come to me or I can seize the day. I am glad I did my best.”

Although Colorado was rated No. 1 in the USTFCCCA coaches poll for two weeks in October, in the days just before the championship competition, neither Jones nor her team factored into the prevailing conversations about premeet favorites. No matter. The jubilant victor gladly paid tribute to the Buff team victory and the program’s ingrained traditions. “At the end of the day, we put in every single thing in our body, And no other team has done that,” explained the new champion. “So before we got on the line, I brought the team together and told them, ‘No one deserves this more than us. We’ve been so consistent and we’ve prepared so well. Let’s go out and do this thing and show everyone what we’re made of.’ And we did. We finally did it.”

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

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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