Simply Dominant: Kurgat Wins GNAC Year-End Awards
Caroline Kurgat not only won the NCAA Division II cross country title, but also the 5,000 and 10,000-meter titles at the NCAA Outdoor Track Championships. Photo by Chris Oertell.
Caroline Kurgat not only won the NCAA Division II cross country title, but also the 5,000 and 10,000-meter titles at the NCAA Outdoor Track Championships. Photo by Chris Oertell.
Caroline Kurgat
Caroline Kurgat

Thursday, June 14, 2018
by Blake Timm, GNAC Assistant Commissioner

PORTLAND, Ore. – Kubwa.

Kubwa is a Swahili word for dominant, a word that simply describes the season for Eldoret, Kenya product and Alaska Anchorage distance-running standout Caroline Kurgat.

That dominance on the cross country course and on the track has been recognized by conference athletic directors with not one, but two awards. Kurgat has been named the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s 2017-18 Female Athlete of the Year and shares the Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year award with Montana State Billings’ women’s basketball standout Alisha Breen.

“This has been a great season. I am honored to be receiving both of these awards,” Kurgat said. “They mean so much to me. I find it to be a better way of giving back to all who have supported me this season: my family, my great coaches, my teammates, my friends and my school.”

Great may be an understatement for a season that arguably establishes Kurgat as one of the top female distance runners in NCAA Division II history. The junior collected three national championship trophies, two GNAC Athlete of the Year awards, a bevy of regional awards and the respect of many runners who spent their time trying to catch her.

On Tuesday, it was announced that Kurgat has been named the Division II Honda Athlete of the Year, which annually honors the top female athletes in collegiate sports.

While dominant when lacing up her spikes, Kurgat did not sacrifice academic success for national dominance in sports. She maintains a 3.52 cumulative grade point average as a major in nursing and medical laboratory science.

“School always comes first,” Kurgat said. “I have learned to work on my schedule early in the semester and communicate with my coaches and professors. I have had amazing support from both my coaches and professors. It is overwhelming sometimes but I have to keep my focus intact.”

During the cross country season, Kurgat lost just one race. That was on Sept. 2 at the University of San Francisco Invitational where she finished in fifth place, just eight seconds behind of a quartet of USF runners.

From that point on, Kurgat couldn’t be touched. At October’s GNAC Championships, Kurgat won the championship by an amazing 56 seconds, clocking a time of 20:49.42 over 6,000 meters despite blustery conditions at Bellingham, Washington’s Lake Padden Park. While not a meet record time, it was one of the largest margins of victory and just one five winning times in meet history under 21 minutes.

The dominance continued on the regional stage, where Kurgat coasted to a 30-second victory over the field in 20:26.1 at the NCAA West Region Championships. The winning margin at the NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships was not as large, but still significant as Kurgat ran 20:32.3 to take the individual title by 20 seconds.

For her efforts, Kurgat was not only named the GNAC Women’s Cross Country Athlete of the Year, but also the USTFCCCA West Region Athlete of the Year, Division II Athlete of the Year and Division II Scholar-Athlete of the Year. She was also named the Division II cross country finalist for the Honda Award, honoring the top female college athletes in the nation.

Fast forward to the outdoor track and field season, where Kurgat only seemed to get better and faster. The GNAC Women’s Outdoor Track and Field Athlete of the Year, Kurgat ran the second-fastest time in Division II history in the 10,000 meters, clocking 32:33.24 at March’s Stanford Invitational. She returned to Palo Alto a month later and ran the third-fastest 5,000-meter time in Division II history, 15:41.21, at the Payton Jordan Invitational.

Kurgat won both the 5,000 meters (16:53.43) and 10,000 meters (34:49.33) at the GNAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships and placed a close second in the 1,500 meters, earning the meet’s Female Track Athlete of the Meet award.

An automatic qualifier for the NCAA Championships in all three events, Kurgat competed in the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters and was just as dominant on the national stage as she was during the cross country season. Kurgat won the 10,000 meters by 36 seconds, pulling away with a winning time of 34:13.80 before collecting an 11-second victory in the 5,000 meters with a time of 16:22.62. The dominance helped earn Kurgat selection as the USTFCCCA’s West Region Female Track Athlete of the Year.

The whole package of cross country and track and field success, combined with her academic ability, also puts Kurgat in unique company. A three-time GNAC All-Academic Team selection in both cross country and track and field, Kurgat was selected to the Google Cloud/CoSIDA Division II Academic All-District 8 Track & Field/Cross Country Team and is a solid candidate to be an Academic All-American. The Academic All-America team will be announced next week.

In addition, Kurgat was selected as Alaska Anchorage’s 2017-18 Bill McKay Athlete of the Year.

Kurgat’s success, however, has not come without its struggles. One of a number of Kenyans who have matriculated from the east African country to Anchorage, injuries nearly derailed Kurgat’s career before it began.

“I attribute my success to Coach (Michael) Friess and TJ (Garlatz),” Kurgat said. “They didn’t give up on me during my freshman year when I couldn’t run. Instead, they took the initiative to coach me to be the athlete I am today. They have worked with me for the past years and each time I have learned more about running. That training and experience has built my confidence.”

While Kurgat has exhausted her collegiate eligibility in cross country, she is far from through. She will be back to defend her 5,000 and 10,000-meter titles on the track outdoors and has one more season of eligibility indoors. She placed third in the 3,000 meters at the 2017 NCAA Division II Indoor Championships and won both the mile and the 5,000 meters at that year’s GNAC Indoor Championships.

So what will she do for an encore? Kurgat thinks she still has room to improve. An impressive statement considering she is already kubwa.

“For the upcoming season I would like to represent my school and the GNAC to the best of my ability,” Kurgat said. “I think I can improve from this season. I believe in what I do with my coach and I am excited to see what my final track season has for me.”

Other nominees for the 2017-18 GNAC Female Athlete of the Year Award included Sabrina Wheelhouse of Central Washington (volleyball), Christina MacDonald of Concordia (track and field), Alisha Breen of Montana State Billings (basketball), Madi Farrell of Northwest Nazarene (volleyball), Deanna Avalos of Saint Martin’s (track and field), Suzie Van De Grift of Western Oregon (track and field) and Abby Phelps of Western Washington (volleyball).

Also nominated for the 2017-18 GNAC Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award was Alexa Shindruk of Central Washington (cross country/track and field), Ana Delgadillo of Concordia (soccer), Ellie Logan of Northwest Nazarene (track and field), Lindsay Miller of Saint Martin’s (softball), Jordan McPhee of Seattle Pacific (basketball), Sophie Dodd of Simon Fraser (cross country/track and field), Sara Madden of Western Oregon (track and field) and Jasmine McMullin of Western Washington (track and field).

2017-18: Caroline Kurgat, Alaska Anchorage (Cross Country/Track and Field)
Sierra Shugarts, Western Washington (Soccer)
Megan Mullings, Alaska Anchorage (Basketball)
2014-15: Lindsey Butterworth, Simon Fraser (Track and Field)
2013-14: Bobbi Kundsen, Montana State Billings (Basketball)
2012-13: Helen Crofts, Simon Fraser (Track and Field) & Ali Worthen, Seattle Pacific (Track and Field)
2011-12: Hanna Johansson, Alaska Anchorage (Basketball)
2010-11: Sarah Porter, Western Washington (Cross Country/Track and Field)
2009-10: Jessica Pixler, Seattle Pacific (Cross Country/Track and Field)
2008-09: Jessica Pixler, Seattle Pacific (Cross Country/Track and Field)
2007-08: Courtney Schneider, Western Washington (Volleyball)
2006-07: Jessica Pixler, Seattle Pacific (Cross Country/Track and Field)
2005-06: LeAnna McGahuey, Central Washington (Volleyball)
2004-05: Danielle Ayers-Stamper, Seattle Pacific (Track and Field)
2003-04: Liz Bishop, Western Washington (Volleyball)
2002-03: Kerie Hughes, Seattle Pacific (Basketball)
2001-02: Stephanie Huffman, Seattle Pacific (Track and Field)