Seawolves, Clan To Battle Again For Women's XC Crown
Caroline Kurgat (left) is the defending GNAC champion, but Julia Howley has yet to lose to a GNAC runner all season. Photos by Nick Danielson
Caroline Kurgat (left) is the defending GNAC champion, but Julia Howley has yet to lose to a GNAC runner all season. Photos by Nick Danielson

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

BELLINGHAM, Wash. - Over the last six years, Alaska Anchorage and Simon Fraser have engaged in some epic battles for the GNAC women’s cross country championship.

This year’s meet is expected to be no different as the GNAC Women's Cross Country Championships return to Lake Padden Park in Bellingham, Wash.

The Seawolves collected their second straight title, and their seventh in the last eight years, in a close race that came down to each team’s No. 5 runner. Caroline Kurgat led the charge, winning her first GNAC title en route to a runner-up finish at the West Regional Championships and a third place All-American finish at the Division II Championships. Both Alaska Anchorage and Simon Fraser placed their top-four athletes in the top-14, but Kaitlin Maker’s 15th place finish secured the trophy.

The Clan turned the tables in the next two meets, placing second to UAA’s third at the West Regional Championships and sixth to the Seawolves’ eighth at the national meet.

Kurgat, who enters the meet with a best of 21:18.9 over 6,000 meters this season, leads an experienced team that also returns Tamara Perez (10th in 2016), Mariah Burroughs (16th) and Danielle McCormick (19th) from last year’s scoring seven.

While Kurgat has performed in superior fashion, twice earning USTFCCCA National Athlete of the Week honors, Simon Fraser has proven dominant when it comes to the team competition. The Clan has come up winners in all four meets this season, including against high-charged fields at both the Sundodger and Roy Griak invitationals. In the teams’ only head-to-head competition, as the Ash Creek Invitational on Sept. 8, Simon Fraser was the winner.

Julia Howley has led the charge for Simon Fraser. The senior and 2016 All-American has finished no worse than seventh in any of her four races this season and ran her season best of 21:22.9 at the Sundodger Invitational. She has yet to lose to another GNAC athlete this season. Backing Howley is senior Miryam Bassett (11th in 2016) and junior Addy Townsend (13th). The Clan is further bolstered by freshman Olivia Willett, who has consistently been in the top-four of the lineup all season.

Western Washington has finished no worse than fourth each of the last nine years and would love to score the upset on its home course. The Vikings put together a solid fourth-place finish at their own WWU Classic two weeks ago despite not placing any runners in the top-15. To score the win, the home team will need to have some lifetime best races from it’s talented, but young, group of runners. Senior Lillianna Stelling returns after a 12th place finish in last year’s meet and enters with a season best of 22:28.4. Sophomore Tracy Melville was close behind much of the season, turning in a season best of 22:29.2.

Seattle Pacific is expected to make a good team showing with a solid mix of veterans and young talent. Senior Mary Charleson is the top returning finisher from last year’s meet behind Kurgat, finishing fourth. She has run just one meet this season, clocking 22:14.2 at the WWU Classic. The Falcons have added a measure of talent in freshman Dania Holmberg, who has run 22:23.7 for 6,000 meters this season.

Central Washington’s Alexa Shindruk will be among those to watch at the front of the pack. The junior has posted no worse than a 11th place finish this season and enters the meet with a best of 22:09.1 over 6,000 meters.

Saint Martin’s senior Yadira Lopez is the only other returning top-10 finisher from last year’s meet. Lopez finished ninth in 2016 and enters this year’s competition with a best of 23:14.7. Other athletes to watch will include Western Oregon’s Kennedy Rufener (17th in 2016) and Northwest Nazarene’s Sierra Manzer (18th in 2016).