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CROSS COUNTRY RUNNING

College Cross Country: UAF’s Kendall Kramer defends GNAC title; UAA men finish runner-up on home course

by | Oct 22, 2023 | Cover Story, Cross Country Running

UAF’s Kendall Kramer and Rosie Fordham celebrate 1-2 GNAC finish at Kincaid Park. Photo by Arielle Himelbloom/Alaska Sports Report

The stars aligned for UAF’s Kendall Kramer and Rosie Fordham, finishing 1-2 at the GNAC Cross Country Championships while UAA notched its highest team finishes in recent years.

Kramer, a Fairbanks native, felt right at home securing her second-consecutive conference title, covering the undulating 6-kilometer course at Kincaid Park in a blistering 20 minutes, 46 seconds — a pace of 5:34 per mile.

On a frosty Saturday morning with temperatures fluctuating in the high teens, some teams donned long sleeves and gloves. The sun peeked slightly from the clouds, signifying the bright day ahead for Alaskan teams.

The women’s race kicked off the meet. Runners lined up with their teams in the ski stadium before blazing towards the trails for the first lap of the two-loop course.

A pack consisting of UAF’s Rosie Fordham, Kendall Kramer, Seattle Pacific’s Annika Esvelt and UAA’s Nell Baker came through the first kilometer between 3:29-3:30, followed closely by WWU’s Sophie Wright of Palmer.

“I wasn’t too sure it was going to be a fast start because of how cold it was,” said Kramer. “[Esvelt] was really pushing the pace from the beginning which was good because it started so quick.”

The group was led by a lead biker, which was preceded by an all-terrain vehicle along with another biker to ward off any unanticipated wildlife at Kincaid. Three weeks ago, a moose interrupted a high school race on a similar trail at the park.

By the second kilometer, the small pack was still within eyeshot of one another, before diverging down to the Nanook duo followed by Esvelt one second back. While Kramer and Fordham maintained contact through the fourth kilometer, the pair separated shortly thereafter, with every woman running for themselves.

“I was feeling really good today,” said Kramer, who has raced at Kincaid both as a runner and a skier. “I love the cold, obviously, I’m from Fairbanks, so I felt really relaxed.”

Kramer’s pace was no match for the field, coming through the 5-kilometer mark in 17:17, recording her fastest kilometer of the day (3:22). The junior made her way into the stadium and up the final hill before speeding down towards the finish line in 20:46. Fordham finished nine seconds back in 20:55.

“I knew that she (Fordham) could get me the entire time — I never counted her out,” said Kramer. “I knew that I had to keep a really good pace and that brought us both to really quick times.”

The 1-2 finish is the second-consecutive showing from UAF, after Kramer and Naomi Bailey swept the top two spots last fall. And while Fordham and Kramer have raced on a multitude of courses, they felt at home with the conditions and the abundance of downhills.

UAF’s Kendall Kramer and Rosie Fordham run with SPU’s Annika Esvelt, followed by UAA’s Nell Baker. Photo by Arielle Himelbloom/Alaska Sports Report

“Me and Rosie (Fordham) can just absolutely sprint down hills,” said Kramer. “That was really an advantage, honestly, we could go pretty quick on those — it was a really fun course.”

Greeted by family and friends who made the trek to Anchorage for the meet, Kramer was appreciative of their support along with a chance to celebrate her achievements alongside them.

“All my family lives in Fairbanks so they could just come here,” said Kramer. “A bunch of people drove to see me and I’m very grateful — I definitely wanted to put on a good show for them.”

Bailey, also of Fairbanks, finished 12th (21:47), followed by teammates Delainey Zock of Anchorage in 24th (22:24) and Tabitha Williams in 55th (24:01), while Teegan Silva rounded out the squad in 60th (24:17).

The Nanooks finished with 86 points for third, tying their best GNAC finish with their 2021 showing, accruing six fewer points. Kramer also collected her second-consecutive GNAC Female Cross Country Athlete of the Year honor.

“We’ve been really excited about the girls team this year,” said Kramer. “Everyone’s doing the best they’ve ever done, and us three — me and Naomi (Bailey) and Rosie (Fordham) — are just a really good team.”

UAA’s Nell Baker was the top finisher for the green and gold, placing fifth in 21:18 — the highest finish by a Seawolf since Nancy Jeptoo’s third-place showing in 2019. Teammate Tressa Wood finished 31st (22:53), followed by Palmer’s Sofija Spaić in 33rd (23:00), Haines’ Avery Williamson in 39th (23:29), and Monica Ruelas in 43rd (23:40). Aunika Miller and Mallory McCarter rounded out the team, placing 61st and 70th respectively.

“I’m so excited for the women, we got some PRs (personal records) out of this,” said UAA coach Chas Davis. “Normally I don’t like to focus on times in cross country, but a lot of these women to run faster than they ever have on this course, is amazing.”

The Seawolves finished with 137 points to place fifth, earning their highest finish since 2019 when they took runner-up. Baker, a graduate student and former University of Idaho standout, collected the GNAC Newcomer of the Year honor.

“To finish fifth as a team, I did not see that coming,” said Davis. “Especially with our usual No. 2 (Jordan Strausbaugh), she was out today.”

Seattle Pacific’s Anna Prussian of Sitka finished 36th in 23:12 — a significant personal best — crossing the line as her team’s third runner in her GNAC Championship debut.

Western Washington topped the women’s field with 49 points by putting all five scorers in the top 14. Palmer’s Sophie Wright was the Vikings’ fifth scorer, placing 14th in 21:52.

GNAC Women Top-10 Finishers
1. Kendall Kramer, UAF, 20:46
2. Rosie Fordham, UAF, 20:55
3. Annika Esvelt, SPU, 21:04
4. Ashley Reeck, WWU, 21:16
5. Nell Baker, UAA, 21:18
6. Cassidy Walchak-Sloan, SMU, 21:20
7. Gabi Davis, WWU, 21:30
8. Alisha Saucedo, SMU, 21:40
9. Sara Sabra, SMU, 21:42
10. Elke Wijkmans, SMU, 21:43

GNAC schools will compete next in two weeks at the NCAA West Regional Championships in Monmouth, Oregon on Nov. 4.

On the men’s side, UAA’s Cole Nash made a valiant attempt to defend his GNAC title, leading the Seawolves to a runner-up team finish.

The junior was defeated by Western Washington’s Kevin McDermott, who outkicked Central Washington’s Johan Correa in the home stretch to conquer the 8-kilometer course in 24 minutes, 43 seconds — a pace of 4:58 per mile.

Immediately after the starting gun sounded, a large pack of around 20 runners formed, which included five Seawolves navigating the first few turns spread throughout the group. The leading runners came through the first-kilometer mark between 3:01-3:02.

The hot pace continued through the second kilometer, dwindling the pack down to a dozen runners by the third kilometer. By the time the runners made their way into the stadium for the first time, the group tapered to seven.

UAA’s Cole Nash and WWU’s Kevin McDermott lead the men’s pack mid-race. Photo by Arielle Himelbloom/Alaska Sports Report

The quartet of Simon Fraser’s Sebastian Brinkman, Nash, McDermott and Correa came through the 5-kilometer mark in a swift 15:30, followed closely by Northwest Nazarene’s Brody Kemble, Western Washington’s Andrew Oslin and UAA’s Michael Zapherson.

“I was just going to hang with them as long as I could,” said Nash. “Try and just score as little points as I could for the team.”

McDermott and Correa were neck-and-neck for the lead, pulling away from Nash and Brinkman over the next two kilometers.

Correa, a middle-distance talent, competed like a veteran in his first GNAC cross country championships, pulling ahead of McDermott — a two-time GNAC champion on the track — on the final climb before being reeled back in during the race’s closing stages. McDermott let out a roar after crossing the line in first, clocking 24:43.

Nash powered down the last hill towards the finish shortly after in 25:01, narrowly outlasting a fast-closing Brinkman.

“Most of the time I just run out in front and run as hard as I can,” said Nash, who has been nursing injuries. “I did what I had to do to get out here and run for the team.”

Michael Zapherson crossed the line nine seconds later in 25:10, to put two Seawolves in the top six and match his GNAC placement from last fall. John Peckham was barely outdueled for a top-10 position finishing 11th (25:22), followed by George Payne in 13th (25:48) and Anchorage’s Ty Elliott in 18th (25:56). Wyatt Matyas (24th), Ries Tveit (39th) and Stephen Zukowski (65th) rounded out the Seawolf squad.

“The goal from the beginning was to win a team championship today,” said Davis. “We fell a little bit short of that, but it’s still a very good day for the program.”

The Seawolves finished with 51 points to place runner-up, assembling their best GNAC finish since winning in 2018.

“To see our usual No. 4 (George Payne) and usual No. 6 guy (Ty Elliott) really step up big today, that really helped seal that highest team finish we’ve had in a good number of years,” Davis said.

The Nanooks were led by Ben Dolhby who placed 32nd in 26:36 — the best finish by a UAF runner since Jacob Walsh’s 26th-place showing in 2019.

Philipp Moosmayer finished 44th in 26:57, followed by Koen Ross (52nd), Juneau’s Finn Morley (57th), Jace Peters (60th), Palmer’s Ryan Owens (68th), Fairbanks’ Nolan Earnest (76th), Gustavus’ Kona Atkins (79th) and Fairbanks’ Josh Baurick (80th).

The Nanooks finished with 220 points for ninth place.

Seattle Pacific’s Silas Demmert of Sitka finished 38th in 26:44, crossing the line as his team’s second runner in his GNAC Championship debut.

Western Washington completed their second-consecutive team title sweep with 37 points, putting all five scorers in the top 12.

GNAC Men Top-10 Finishers
1. Kevin McDermott, WWU, 24:43
2. Johan Correa, CWU, 24:47
3. Cole Nash, UAA, 25:01
4. Sebastian Brinkman, SFU, 25:02
5. Andrew Oslin, WWU, 25:07
6. Michael Zapherson, UAA, 25:10
7. Brody Kemble, NNU, 25:12
8. Isaac Cortes, SMU, 25:16
9. Ryan Clough, WWU, 25:21
10. Jeret Gillingham, WWU, 25:21

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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