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CROSS COUNTRY RUNNING

College Cross Country: UAA runners primed to host GNAC Championship for first time in 22 years

by | Oct 18, 2023 | Cover Story, Cross Country Running, Running

For the first time in 22 years, the GNAC Cross Country Championships will be held in Anchorage, bringing fans and competitors together at Kincaid Park.

More than 70 runners representing 10 teams are slated to face off on the undulating terrain, with countless prepared to compete.

UAA has worked hard to create a course that captures the true essence of Alaska: challenging, yet tactical. Of those competing, an assortment are homegrown athletes, with some donning the green and gold.

The GNAC Cross Country Championships are slated for Saturday, Oct. 21 at Kincaid Park. The women’s 6K race will start at 11 a.m., followed by the men’s 8K race at noon. Live results and athlete tracking will be available via Skinny Raven.

For Palmer’s Sofija Spaić, the opportunity to showcase Alaska’s trails with the best in the GNAC is priceless. The UAA junior will make her third appearance at the conference meet, after a career-best performance at last season’s championships.

“I think it’s super exciting,” said Spaić, a former Colony High standout. “Especially growing up in Alaska, it’s really amazing to see all these teams come to Alaska and we get to show them what Alaska is all about.”

Sofija Spaić

Compared to previous seasons, the Seawolves got an early start, ramping up the intensity and training on the course throughout the season, including a pair of races against UAF to kick off the campaign.

“This year our training has been a lot more intense,” said Spaić. “From Day 1, we’ve been on it doing workouts. It’s definitely helped us, especially for the GNAC course, it’s prepared us a lot to get into that mindset.”

In hosting the championships, UAA runners will get the luxury of sleeping in their own beds — a rarity as the team contests most of their meets on the road, adjusting to time zones and weather conditions.

“Just not having to worry about traveling is amazing,” said sophomore Avery Williamson. “The fact that we can go to bed in our own dorm, we can eat what we’re comfortable eating, we can do everything we would usually do before practice just takes off a lot of the stress of competing and will help us perform.”

Williamson, a former Haines High standout and 2019 cross country state champion, is proud to represent the 49th state along with her roots. For Williamson, the decision to stay in-state while having the opportunity to compete in front of a home crowd is second to none.

“I’m really excited to represent my hometown,” said Williamson. “When you say, ‘I’m from Haines’ and see the cross country championships we’ve received, we’re a small town but we’re just as competitive as the big schools.”

Avery Williamson

While most college cross country races are run on golf courses or manicured grass fields, the chance to compete on the ski trails will be a new experience for many, though Alaskans will not be taking the opportunity for granted.

“Being able to show that off to the rest of the [teams] is going to be exciting,” said sophomore Jordan Strausbaugh, a former Soldotna High star. “[Colleges] always claim that their trails are the hardest and I don’t think they really, truly know what a hard trail is, and we’re excited for that.”

The route features a handful of hills throughout the two-loop course, which will vary depending on the race. Women will complete two 3-kilometer loops, while the men will face two 4-kilometer loops.

“We have a bit of a home-field advantage being at Kincaid, just being able to train there and seeing what the conditions are going to be like,” said redshirt freshman Ty Elliott, a former Grace Christian standout. “I have a lot of experience racing at Kincaid; I definitely see that as a confidence booster because I know the area. It’s unique and it’s exciting.”

Runners to Watch

Among those competing will be UAF’s Kendall Kramer and Naomi Bailey — multi-time state champions while at West Valley. The dynamic duo finished hand-in-hand for the win at last year’s conference meet, before also going 1-2 at West Regionals en route to Kramer’s eighth-place finish at the NCAA Division II Championships.

Kendall Kramer

While UAF boasts the defending champion on the women’s side, UAA’s Cole Nash will be looking to defend his title. The Colorado native and three-time All-American has two wins under his belt, in addition to holding the quickest 8-kilometer time in the conference this season at 24:15 — a sizzling pace of 4:52 per mile. Also vying for the title will be Western Washington’s Kevin McDermott who finished one second behind Nash in 24:16 at the Lewis Crossover, and Central Washington’s Johan Correa, who comes into the meet undefeated after converting his middle-distance speed into a season-best of 24:23.

Western Oregon’s Caitlin Heldt currently holds the quickest 6-kilometer in the conference this season at 21:15 (a pace of 5:42 per mile), though she was later outpaced by UAF’s Rosie Fordham of Australia who took the win at the San Francisco Invitational in 21:25. With two wins and a third-place to her name, Fordham will also be vying for the title as one of the few athletes undefeated against GNAC competition this season. Saint Martin’s Cassidy Walchak-Sloan and Western Washington’s Ashley Reeck will also be in contention, having both clocked 21:40 during the season.

Other Alaskans to watch will be Western Washington’s Sophie Wright (Palmer), Seattle Pacific’s Anna Prussian (Sitka) and Silas Demmert (Sitka), UAF’s Kona Atkins (Gustavus), Josh Baurick (Fairbanks), Nolan Earnest (Fairbanks), Finn Morley (Juneau), Ryan Owens (Palmer) and Delainey Zock (Anchorage).

Story made possible by:

Family of Sponsors

Alaska Airlines | Nicole Johnston | Richard Mize | Advanced Diagnostics, INC | Aktive Soles | Alaska Oil and Gas Association | Aspen Endodontics | Black-Smith, Bethard & Carlson, LLC. | BOSCO's | Coho Financial Group | Continental Auto Group | Don Clary & Judy Besh | Glen Bailey | Invisalign-Ben Ward | JL Properties | Joey Caterinichio & Ja Dorris| Kathleen Navarre | Midas Alaska | Moose's Tooth, Bear Tooth and Broken Tooth Brewing | Perkins Coie - Sarah & A.J. Schirack | R&M Consultants, Inc. | RE/MAX Dynamic Properties Kevin Taylor | Residential Mortgage | Seth Wickersham & Alison Overholt | Taylored Restoration | Korndrop Family Foundation | Arctic Slope Regional Corporation | Replacement Glass | Zareena and Allen Clendaniel | Foley & Pearson | UAA Seawolves | Tony and Carla Slaton Barker | Sportclips Haircuts | Alliance for Support of American Legion Baseball in Alaska | Alice & Gunnar Knapp | Amy and Jason Miller | Burgerfi | Charles Fedullo | Dan Rufner | Darren Lieb | Don Winchester | Donley Family | Dr. Justin Libby, DDS | Firetap | Harlow Robinson | Jason & Shannon Metrokin | Jim & Michelle Hajdukovich | Joe Alston | Kathie Bethard | Krispy Kreme | Kristopher Knauss | Loren Kroon | Mark and Jamie Johnson | Mark Silverman | On the Border | Pete Robinson | Rick Mystrom | Team Heat | Team Moriarty | The Conway Family | Todd Whited | Moria Smith | In memory of Drs. John & Elizabeth Tower | Peter Pounds | Multisport Training of Alaska/Lisa Keller | RSA Engineering

Family of Sponsors

Alaska Airlines | Nicole Johnston | Richard Mize | Advanced Diagnostics, INC | Aktive Soles | Alaska Oil and Gas Association | Aspen Endodontics | Black-Smith, Bethard & Carlson, LLC. | BOSCO's | Coho Financial Group | Continental Auto Group | Don Clary & Judy Besh | Glen Bailey | Invisalign-Ben Ward | JL Properties | Joey Caterinichio & Ja Dorris| Kathleen Navarre | Midas Alaska | Moose's Tooth, Bear Tooth and Broken Tooth Brewing | Perkins Coie - Sarah & A.J. Schirack | R&M Consultants, Inc. | RE/MAX Dynamic Properties Kevin Taylor | Residential Mortgage | Seth Wickersham & Alison Overholt | Taylored Restoration | Korndrop Family Foundation | Arctic Slope Regional Corporation | Replacement Glass | Zareena and Allen Clendaniel | Foley & Pearson | UAA Seawolves | Tony and Carla Slaton Barker | Sportclips Haircuts | Alliance for Support of American Legion Baseball in Alaska | Alice & Gunnar Knapp | Amy and Jason Miller | Burgerfi | Charles Fedullo | Dan Rufner | Darren Lieb | Don Winchester | Donley Family | Dr. Justin Libby, DDS | Firetap | Harlow Robinson | Jason & Shannon Metrokin | Jim & Michelle Hajdukovich | Joe Alston | Kathie Bethard | Krispy Kreme | Kristopher Knauss | Loren Kroon | Mark and Jamie Johnson | Mark Silverman | On the Border | Pete Robinson | Rick Mystrom | Team Heat | Team Moriarty | The Conway Family | Todd Whited | Moria Smith | In memory of Drs. John & Elizabeth Tower | Peter Pounds | Multisport Training of Alaska/Lisa Keller | RSA Engineering

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