EVANSVILLE, Ind. -- Alaska Anchorage senior All-American Caroline Kurgat punctuated her stellar season by earning the first individual national title in women’s program history at the 2017 NCAA Div. II Cross Country Championships, Saturday in Evansville, Ind. The No. 4 women’s team finished fifth, making the top five for the third time in school history.

Senior Edwin Kangogo represented the UAA men’s program and garnered his third All-America performance with a 19th-place showing. Junior Zennah Jepchumba also became an All-American, finishing 32nd in the women’s race. 

Adams State swept the men’s and women’s team titles for the eighth time. The men earned their 13th title and the women tallied their 17th in program history. Tiffin University’s James Ngandu easily won the men’s competition.

Hannah Wolkenhauer of Queens University set a solid pace early in the women’s field, forcing Kurgat to change her strategy of holding off until 4K. Kurgat kept with the Queens junior runner, passed her a little less than three kilometers in and led the race until the finish.

“I was racing with (Wolkenhauer) at the beginning, but then she started to fall back and I didn’t want to fall back so I decided (it was time) to just focus on my own race,” Kurgat said. “I knew this was my last race and that I had to do something better than last year.”

Kurgat finished third a season ago, sixth in 2015, and 46th as a freshman at nationals. The weather was cloudy at Angel Mounds, but Kurgat made it clear the race was hers to win.  

“She won it in dominating fashion and went out for the lead,” coach Michael Friess said. “She didn’t want anyone to run away with it, so she went with it and just kind of established the lead and ran home strong.”

Kurgat covered the six-kilometer course in 20 minutes, 32.3 seconds, beating runner-up Sarah Berger of Walsh University (20:52.1) by nearly 20 seconds. Wolkenhauer finished in 19th place (21:27.5), which was a massive improvement for her from a year ago (139th at 2016 nationals).

Kurgat’s journey to the national title wasn’t exactly scripted when she first arrived at UAA.    

“It’s an awesome feeling and I’m really proud that I achieved (winning the national title),” she said. “When I came to Alaska I didn’t think I would run; I wasn’t even an athlete. I really appreciate what my coaches have taught me, like working harder to achieve things that I could not even think about.”           

The senior adds to her impressive 2017 cross country resume, having already won at the West Region Championship, GNAC Championship, and Lewis Conference Crossover. She also sports a 3.51 GPA as a nursing and medical laboratory science major.

Kurgat is the second GNAC woman to win at nationals, joining Seattle Pacific’s Jessica Pixler (2007, 08). Before Kurgat’s win, Pixler was the only GNAC runner to sweep the conference, regional and national meets.

Kurgat also joins UAA’s Micah Chelimo (2012) in winning a national title for cross country. Chelimo is also the only men’s national individual champion in conference history.   

The No. 3 Adam’s State women won the team title with 126 points, ahead of No. 5 U-Mary’s 137 points. The West Region comprised the remaining top five teams. Region champion and No. 1 Cal Baptist (3rd, 148 pts) bested No. 6 Chico State (4th, 179 pts) and No. 4 Alaska Anchorage (5th, 180 pts).  

UAA’s highest national placing was fourth in 2013. The team also finished fifth in 2009.

Junior Zennah Jepchumba earned her first All-America finish (32nd, 21:38.4). Sophomore Emmah Chelimo (44th, 21:48.4), Soldotna junior Danielle McCormick (45th, 21:49.9), and Wasilla senior Mariah Burroughs (81st, 22:18.9) completed the scoring for UAA. Senior Tamara Perez (106th, 22:33.7) and junior Kimberly Coscia (108th, 22:33.9) placed well in the field of 247 finishers.

Senior Edwin Kangogo became a three-time All-American and had his best showing at the national meet as the GNAC’s top finisher. Kangogo finished 19th, covering 10 kilometers in 31:32.5. He placed 34th in 2016 and 30th in 2015. 

“A top-20 finish at the national meet is really big,” Friess said. “For him to be the top GNAC runner is special because nationals is where you want to run your best at. Those are the trophies that really matter.”

Tiffin University’s James Ngandu won the national individual title by 34 seconds, crossing the line at 30:18.8. No.1 Adams State beat runner-up and No. 3 Grand Valley State, 44-64.

All of UAA’s runners now set their focus on the indoor track and field season, with competitions beginning in January.

UAA Results
Women
1.   Caroline Kurgat    20:32.3
32.  Zennah Jepchumba   21:38.6
44.  Emmah Chelimo      21:48.4
45.  Danielle McCormick 21:49.9
81.  Mariah Burroughs   22:18.9
106. Tamara Perez       22:33.7
108. Kimberly Coscia    22:33.9
247  Finishers

Team Score (Top 10)
1.   Adams State        126
2.   U-Mary             137
3.   Cal Baptist        148
4.   Chico State        179
5.   Alaska Anchorage   180
6.   Grand Valley State 185
7.   Hillsdale          279
8.   Cal St. San Marcos 288
9.   Western State      331
10.  Simon Fraser       332
32   Teams 

Men
19.  Edwin Kangogo      31:32.5
249  Finishers