Riding an unprecedented string of success into the 2013 season, the Alaska Anchorage men’s and women’s cross country teams will again be among the favorites in both the Great Northwest Athletic Conference and the NCAA West Region.
In his 24th year at the helm, head coach Michael Friess will sport an extremely experienced women’s squad that is ranked No. 7 in the national preseason poll, while the men’s team is No. 9 despite losing some key runners.
Having qualified his last five men’s and women’s teams for the NCAA Championships – including a combined eight top-10 results – Friess knows this year’s challenge will be to duplicate the depth that his Seawolves have displayed in past years.
“In general, both teams are a little thin,” said Friess, who lost 2012 NCAA men’s champion Micah Chelimo and three-time women’s All-American Miriam Kipng’eno to graduation. “We are going to need to be healthy and really focus on being at our best physically and mentally when it counts most – and that’s in November.”
On the women’s side, UAA’s anchor again should be reigning GNAC and NCAA West Region champion Susan Tanui. The Eldoret, Kenya, native went unbeaten a year ago until finishing a narrow runner-up at the NCAA Championships. She will be joined by fellow seniors Susan Bick (Anchorage/Bartlett HS) and Ivy O’Guinn (Soldotna/Skyview HS), and reigning GNAC Freshman-of-the-Year Sarah Freistone (Anchorage/Dimond HS), all of whom earned All-GNAC and All-Region honors last fall.
“Susan Tanui is certainly going to help us to be competitive up front,” said Friess. “Her abilities will help the core of the squad at big meets like regionals or nationals. Ivy O’Guinn and Susan Bick are also going to be very important for our goals of retuning to a top-10 national performance.”
Friess is looking to several other veterans – junior Bryn Haebe (Evergreen, Colo.), sophomore Jessica Pahkala (Wasilla) and senior Christi Schmitz (North Pole) – to boost their contributions, along with the squad’s lone newcomer, American International transfer Joyce Kipchumba.
“We are expecting big things out of Bryn, Christi and Jessica,” he said. “We need two out of those three to perform at their best for us to be able to accomplish our team goals.”
On the men’s side, Kodiak’s Dylan Anthony is the lone returning All-American from a 2012 squad that earned UAA’s first-ever podium finish at NCAAs. The junior also claimed All-West Region and All-GNAC honors his first two seasons, as did classmate Isaac Kangogo (Eldoret, Kenya). Yet another junior, Kevin Rooke (Toronto, Ontario), narrowly missed all-league and all-region finishes a year ago.
“We are going to need leadership out of Dylan Anthony, as well as Victor Samoei, Kevin Rooke and Isaac Kangogo,” Friess said. “We’ll need them to help us in order to return to the national meet, which will be a challenge.”
Samoei – who made his Seawolf debut on track last spring – will compete as a freshman in cross country, leading a five-man rookie class.
The sophomore trio of Dominik Notz (Dettingen, Germany), Andrey Ionashku (Delta Junction) and Jesse Miller (Juneau) will also get a chance to prove themselves when UAA opens the season Aug. 31 and Sept. 7 with meets in Hawaii.
After nearly a month break from competition, UAA will compete at the Willamette (Ore.) Invitational on Oct. 5, followed by the GNAC Championships on Oct. 26 in Monmouth, Ore. The NCAA West Regionals – the lone qualifier for nationals – will be Nov. 9 in Spokane, Wash., with the NCAA Championships set for Nov. 23 on the same course.