That's Ahl: SFU Distance Standout Is Male Athlete Of Year
Aaron Ahl was the GNAC men's cross country champion, the indoor champ in the mile and 3,000 meters and the outdoor champion at 800 meters. Photo by Jacob Thompson.
Aaron Ahl was the GNAC men's cross country champion, the indoor champ in the mile and 3,000 meters and the outdoor champion at 800 meters. Photo by Jacob Thompson.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

PORTLAND, Ore. – In a year where the conference was spoiled by incredible middle-distance talent, Aaron Ahl was right at the top of the list – both alphabetically and on the descending order list.

The Male Athlete of the Year during the cross country and indoor track and field seasons and a national meet competitor during all three seasons, the Simon Fraser junior has been selected by athletic directors as the 2021-22 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Male Athlete of the Year.

“I am very grateful to receive this award, especially considering the quality of athletes within the GNAC,” Ahl said. “Just looking at GNAC cross country and track and field alone, there is so much success. To be named the Athlete of the Year across all sports makes it an even greater honor.”

Ahl provided many highlights in an exciting cross country and track and field year. The efforts were particularly record-setting on the track, where Ahl set the conference record in the indoor mile and was part of SFU’s distance medley team that ran under the Division II record in the event. He was also among the athletes that provided 16 new marks on the GNAC all-time list, both indoors and outdoors, between 800 meters and 3,000 meters.

“The GNAC is home to so many incredible programs and athletes. We are very thankful and proud that the conference is honoring Aaron for his accomplishments,” said Simon Fraser had cross country/track and field coach Brit Townsend. “Aaron has been a great leader over the last four years of his athletic career at Simon Fraser. He has broken new ground for the program on the men’s side and provided something for all of our younger athletes to aspire to.”

With Ahl’s selection and the selection of teammate Alison Andrews-Paul as the Female Athlete of the Year, Simon Fraser becomes the first school since 2011 to sweep the GNAC’s top honors.

Ahl’s outstanding year began during the cross country season where he finished no worse than third in his first four races of the season. At the GNAC Championships, Ahl outdueled Alaska Anchorage’s Coleman Nash, the GNAC Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year, pulling away over the final 300 meters to win the title in a time of 24:21.8. The performances carried with it the Male Cross Country Athlete of the Year award and helped carry SFU to its first men’s cross country team title.

The cross country season ended with All-West Region honors thanks to a 23rd-place finish at the NCAA West Regional Championships, covering the 10,000-meter course in 31:35.7.

The spotlight shined brightest for Ahl during the indoor season, which began with a pair of record-setting performances at the John Thomas Terrier Classic in Boston in January. Ahl combined with Ephrem Mekonnen, Callum Robinson and Aiden Good to run under Western Oregon’s Division II record in the distance medley relay with a time of 9:38.04. The team was third in a race that saw American International set the Division II record in 9:36.62 and Division I Northeastern run 9:37.93.

The next day, Ahl proceeded to etch his name in the GNAC record book himself with a time of 3:57.95 in the mile. The second person in conference history to run under four minutes in the mile, Ahl broke the previous conference record of 3:58.88 set by Western Oregon’s David Ribich in 2018 with the third-fastest time in Division II history.

At the GNAC Indoor Championships, Ahl led the way in two of the most exciting races of the meet. In the mile, Ahl pulled ahead in a race where the top four athletes all ran under the meet record, winning in a time of 4:01.78. He then edged out Nash and Jacob Moos of Alaska Anchorage in the 3,000 meters to win in a time of 8:21.23 in a race that saw the three separated by four-tenths of a second. All three were again under the meet record.

The two victories earned Ahl selection as the Male Track Athlete of the Meet and his win in the mile was selected as the Male Performance of the Meet.

At the NCAA Championships, Ahl used an impressive kick over the final quarter of the race to place fourth in the 3,000 meters in a time of 8:00.64, earning All-America honors after shockingly failing to advance to the finals in the mile. Ahl also played a big role with Simon Fraser’s DMR, which cut two seconds off its own GNAC record in a second-place time of 9:36.05.

At the end of the season, Ahl was named both the GNAC Male Athlete of the Year and the USTFCCCA West Region Male Athlete of the Year.

Ahl did not slow down once he made the transition outdoors. He ran a season-best time of 3:39.97 in the 1,500 meters at the Bryan Clay Invitational, the second-fastest time in GNAC history. Two weeks later, Ahl ducked under 1 minute, 50 seconds in the 800 meters with a time of 1:49.01 at the SFU High Performance #2 meet.

At the GNAC Outdoor Championships, Ahl was the winner in another close title battle in the 800 meters, clocking a time of 1:50.23 as the top-three finishers finished within a second of each other. The battle was even closer in the 1,500 meters where Ahl placed third in a time of 3:48.38 as the top three finished within three-tenths of a second from each other.

Ahl closed his season with a 10th-place finish in the 1,500 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, running a time of 3:51.51. He ran a season-best 1:48.75 in the preliminaries of the 800 meters, which moved Ahl to No. 3 on the GNAC all-time list. He initially came in sixth in the finals but was later disqualified.

By the time the season ended, Ahl owned the GNAC record in the indoor mile, ranked second on the GNAC all-time list in the indoor 3,000 meters and outdoor 1,500 meters and ranked third on the all-time list in the outdoor 800 meters. During the indoor season, Ahl ranked No. 2 in Division II in both the mile and the 3,000 meters. Outdoors, Ahl ranked No. 2 in Division II in the 1,500 meters and 13th in the 800 meters.

Ahl gives much of the credit for his success to the support network that Simon Fraser provided. “Being able to travel and compete surrounded by great competition and teammates allows you to elevate your own game and get the best out of yourself,” Ahl said. “I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of coach Brit Townsend, my teammates and all of the support staff at SFU.

“When I came to SFU, I was nowhere near the level I am at today. The environment and coaching at SFU allowed me to grow and achieve some great accomplishments,” Ahl said.

Other nominees for GNAC Male Athlete of the Year included Alaska basketball senior Shadeed Shabazz, Alaska Anchorage cross country/track and field sophomore Coleman Nash, Central Washington football senior Donte Hamilton, Montana State Billings basketball junior Carrington Wiggins, Northwest Nazarene track and field freshman Steven Schmidt, Seattle Pacific soccer senior Alex Mejia, Western Oregon football senior Jaylin Parnell and Western Washington cross country/track and field senior Mac Franks.