Kramer Repeats, Vikings Defend Women’s XC Title
The WWU women hoisted the team trophy for the second straight season, on Saturday at Kincaid Park.
The WWU women hoisted the team trophy for the second straight season, on Saturday at Kincaid Park.

Saturday, October 21, 2023
by Evan O'Kelly

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Alaska’s Kendall Kramer became the sixth woman in Great Northwest Athletic Conference history to win back-to-back cross country titles while Western Washington defended its team title on Saturday morning at Kincaid Park.

Kramer cruised to a time of 20:46.2 on the 6k course, leading the race from start-to-finish to earn GNAC Female Cross Country Athlete of the Year honors. “We had really good preparation and coming here was a treat,” said Kramer, a Fairbanks native. “We have been training in the cold so we are really used to it. It’s a really fun representation for Alaska to perform well and our team has been underestimated for a long time,” Kramer said.

Rosie Fordham earned all-conference for the second straight season, finishing close behind her teammate in second place with a time of 20:55.5. “It’s really fun to be up in front with your teammates,” Fordham said. “Today when Kendall and I were leading it just felt like we were at training with our friends. Seeing that she was going to win and knowing I was going to come in second was an awesome feeling.”

Fordham’s performance came amid a season that saw her record a pair of individual race victories, including at the Seawolf Throwdown in Anchorage on Aug. 26 “Definitely,” Fordham responded when asked if she felt she is at her peak form. “I just ran my fastest time by 10 seconds in this weather, and I feel like I’m in the best form I’ve probably been in. It is definitely better than last season.”

Naomi Bailey placed 12th among the field of 78 runners, helping the Nanooks claim 86 points to finish third in the team standings. Kramer led the way from the very start, coming through the first kilometer leading in 3:30 with teammate Fordham on her hip en route to a second-place finish. The pair stayed close through the 4K mark before Kramer began to pull away, finishing the 6K race averaging 5:34 per mile. “It’s a big difference,” Fordham said on venturing across the globe from her hometown of Sydney, Australia. “It’s a big, hot city with beaches going to a small, ski-focused town. I love it in Fairbanks. It’s my third year and it has been an awesome time, and I love the outdoors and the people.”

The Vikings claimed the team title with 49 points, and were led by fourth-place finisher Ashley Reeck who ran a time of 21:16.9. “Coming into it, that was something we definitely wanted to achieve again,” Reeck said on the Vikings defending their title and winning their third in program history. “We knew we had the talent and fitness to do it today, but the whole GNAC is incredibly talented this year. We knew it was going to be a big challenge, but everybody put in the work for it.

“I felt really good today,” said Reeck. “I am really stoked to be in Alaska, and the course was so much fun. I really enjoyed the hilly part of it and I feel like it is a very pure cross country course.”

Reeck paced a Vikings squad that placed all seven of their scoring runners in the top 20. Reeck was followed by sophomore Ila Davis in seventh with a time of 21:30 and senior Marian Ledesma in 11th with a time of 21:46.3. Ella Edens cemented her place as the GNAC Freshman of the Year with a 15th place finish in 21:54.7 to score valuable points for WWU. “That race gave everyone on the team so much confidence coming into this year, and it really showed us that we are all so close together,” Reeck said on the team’s dominant performance in the season opener going 1-through-14 at the PLU Invite in September. “We all have the fitness this year to compete with each other and with everyone in the region.”

“It was a great start to the day,” said WWU coach T.J. Garlatz on the women’s performance. “We knew coming into it that it was going to be a tough battle with a couple of those teams up front. We knew we needed some good up-front power to step up, and we have a really deep team. They really embraced a tough course, and watching our 4-5-6 runners come up the hill determined to win the title for the team was really special.”

The Vikings entered the meet ranked 15th in the latest USTFCCCA Division II poll and ranked second in the NCAA Division II West Region. “It’s very reassuring knowing we can compete within the conference, and going into the regionals it will help us knowing we have seen that level of competition before,” Reeck said. “We know regionals will be really tough and we are going to have to fight for it.”

Saint Martin’s finished runner-up to the Vikings with 71 points and was led by junoir Cassidy Walchak -Sloan in sixth place. Walchak-Sloan was a mainstay in the top-10 throughout the race, coming through the 1K mark in ninth before making moves up the field. The Saints’ second-place effort was secured by a trio of junior runners to complete the top 10.  Alisha Saucedo, Sara Sabra and Elke Wijkmans came through in eighth, ninth and 10th, respectively, all finishing within three seconds of each other.

Hometown harrier Nell Baker was named the GNAC Newcomer of the Year, after finishing fifth on her home course with a time of 21:18.5. “I felt really confident coming into this meet, and it is really nice to host GNAC and have the championship at home,” Baker said. “I really felt the love of Anchorage today, and it was awesome having the community here to support us. I think that really pulled me through.”

Baker made her debut for the Seawolves on the track last spring, after an injury kept her out of cross country last year. “It has been an emotional season,” Baker said on her first season of cross country at UAA. “A year ago I was on crutches, and I would have never guessed that I would be here right now. I’m really happy with my first cross country season as a Seawolf and I have one more, so I’m really excited to do this all over again next year.”

Baker’s Seawolves finished in fifth place as a team with 137 points. “I am in a better spot going into postseason racing than I have ever been before in college athletics,” said Baker. “I’m super excited to see what’s to come in the next month or so.”

Seattle Pacific star Annika Esvelt earned all-conference honors with a third-place finish, following the pair of Nanooks with a PR time of 21:04.5. Esvelt’s best cross country performance yet comes at the crux of a season that saw her win the title at the Emerald City Open and post PRs in the 4k, 5k, and 6k distances. She ran most of her race in third place, keeping within four seconds of Kramer and Fordham through the 4k mark. Seattle Pacific finished seventh as a team with 153 points.

Also finishing in the top half of the team race was Simon Fraser, which totaled 103 points to take fourth place. Sophomore Rachael Watkins was the Red Leafs’ top finisher in 17th place with a time of 21:58.6. Grace Chalk placed 22nd in 22:23.0, Charlotte Prangley was 23rd in 22:23.9 and Alicia Ranahan took 25th with a time of 22:28.8.

Senior Caitlin Heldt paced the Western Oregon women, checking in with a 21st-place finish with a time of 22:12.6. Sophomore Riley Smith was close behind in 26th place, finishing with a time of 22:32.1. The Wolves placed sixth as a team with 141 points.

Northwest Nazarene standout sophomore Morgan Erler led her team with a 16th-place finish in a time of 21:57.3. Erler was the lone Nighthawk to finish in the top-30, as NNU placed eighth with a team score of 184. Central Washington finished in ninth place with 272 points, and was led by freshman Hannah Mikkelsen who placed 47th with a time of 23:45.0. Montana State Billings placed 10th with a team score of 273, with Carey Berendsen being its top finisher in 50th place with a time of 23:46.4.