Inside the last three kilometers of the men's 10-K race Saturday at the NCAA Division II Cross-Country Running Championships, UAA senior Micah Chelimo delivered the decisive move runners call dropping the hammer.
He turned the rest of the 245-runner field into a sunken nail.
Chelimo blitzed the 6.2-mile course at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin in 28 minutes, 56.6 seconds to stamp himself a national champion, the Seawolves' first in cross country.
Chelimo's emphatic victory -- he beat the runner-up by 15.5 seconds -- made the Kenyan a two-time national champion. He won the men's 5,000 meters at the NCAA Division II Track & Field Championships last spring.
Chelimo joins nordic skier Mandy Kaempf as the only two-time national champions in Seawolves history. He captured the 13th individual national title in school history.
Chelimo's performance spearheaded a program-best, third-place finish for the men's team -- its previous best was eighth-place in both 2011 and 2010.
UAA junior Susan Tanui of Kenya also turned in an outstanding performance, finishing second among women in the 6-K race -- the best individual result in women's program history -- to help engineer a sixth-place team finish for the third straight year.
"We're definitely happy campers right now,'' UAA head coach Michael Friess said by cellphone.
With temperatures in the low 60s and a slight breeze blowing across the fast course, Chelimo, who last year finished 15th, ran in a pack at the head of the field, fulfilling his pre-race plan. As the lead pack began splintering with about three kilometers (1.8 miles) to go, Chelimo moved to the front.
Friess said he sensed Chelimo still held more speed and strength in reserve.
"You could tell,'' Friess said. "He was running so smoothly, you knew he had a different gear.''
When Chelimo made his big push, Friess said, he blew open the race.
"Big move,'' said Friess. "It wasn't gradual. The course was fast, as evidenced by the times. He was up with the front pack, running extraordinarily relaxed.
"We always say you'll know when to go, and he did.''
Friess said he believed before the race that Chelimo, the two-time West Region champion, had the stuff to finish in the top five and perhaps even win. Chelimo's pre-race demeanor only encouraged his coach.
"He just looked confident,'' Friess said. "Even in the warm-up, he looked calm, like he's been there before, and he has.''
Chelimo claimed All-America status -- given to the top 40 finishers -- for the fourth straight year. Between track and cross country, he has bagged eight All-America honors.
Sophomores from team champion Adams State (Colo.) claimed the next three spots behind Chelimo -- Kevin Batt finished second (29:12.1), Tabor Stevens earned third (29:12.2) and Matthew Daniels took fourth (29:16.2).
Two other UAA men -- senior Alfred Kangogo and sophomore Dylan Anthony -- joined Chelimo as All-America runners. Kangogo finished 14th (29:56.5), an enormous improvement over his previous best at nationals, which was 71st last year. And Anthony took 23rd (30:09.4), moving up 11 spots in the second half of the race and improving dramatically from his 81st-place finish a year ago.
UAA's other scoring men were sophomore Kevin Rooke in 67th (30:55.3) and senior Jake Parisien in 72nd (30:58.9). Also competing for the Seawolves were sophomore Isaac Kangogo, who took 127th (31:47.0), and freshman Dominik Notz, who finished 189th (32:40.9).
A year ago at nationals, Tanui was last among UAA women and 98th overall. Saturday, she led at the halfway point and was at the front until the final 400 meters, when Alicia Nelson of Adams State pulled away to win in 20:03.3 to Tanui's 20:12.6.
"That's remarkable,'' Friess said of Tanui's improvement. "That shows you just how far she's come.
"She led much of the way and maybe extended herself a little. Hey, she got beat by a pretty great athlete.''
Tanui is now a three-time All-America -- she was All-America on the track twice last spring.
UAA's other scoring runners were junior Ivy O'Guinn, who moved up 21 spots in the second half of the race to finish 48th (21:34.5); senior Miriam Kipng'eno in 50th (21:35.9); freshman Sarah Freistone in 62nd (21:46.9); and junior Susan Bick in 93rd (22:10.6). Sophomore Bryn Haebe took 100th (22:20.9) and senior Katie Krehlik finished 170th (22:57.8) in a field of 249 runners.
The Seawolves last season at nationals competed during an emotionally draining time. The meet occurred the same week UAA All-America runner Marko Cheseto had his feet amputated after suffering frostbite. A despondent Cheseto had been missing outside for more than two days -- the Kenyan had taken an overdose of prescription medication and passed out in woods surrounding UAA -- before stumbling into a hotel on the edge of campus.
"That was a very heavy-hearted time for the squad,'' Friess said.
A year later, the Seawolves on Saturday celebrated Chelimo's national championship, Tanui's runner-up finish, the best men's team finish in program history and the co-best women's team finish in program history.
"I'm really happy for the kids,'' Friess said.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
NCAA Division III Cross-Country Running Championships
Missouri Southern State University, Joplin, Mo.
Men's 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) race
Team scores (top 5) -- 1) Adams State (Colo.) 34; 2) Colorado Mines 102; 3) UAA 148; 4) Augustana 182; 5) Chico State 183.
Individual results (top 5) -- 1) Micah Chelimo, UAA, 28:56.6; 2) Kevin Batt, Adams State, 29:12.1; 3) Tabor Stevens, Adams State, 29:12.2; 4) Matthew Daniels, Adams State, 29:16.2; 5) Alex Monroe, Lock Haven, 29:18.6.
Other UAA runners -- 14) Alfred Kangogo, 29:56.5; 23) Dylan Anthony 30:09.4; 67) Kevin Rooke, 30:55.3; 72) Jake Parisien, 30:58.9; 127) Isaac Kangogo, 31:47.0; 189) Dominik Notz, 32:40.9.
Women's 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) race
Team scores (top 6) -- 1) Grand Valley State 101; 2) Augustana 104; 3) Adams State 109; 4) Western State 172; 5) Chico State 200; 6) UAA 202.
Individual results (top 5) -- 1) Alicia Nelson, Adams State, 20:03.3; 2) Susan Tanui, UAA, 20:12.6; 3) Katie Spratford, Shippensburg, 20:22.4; 4) Jessica Jenecke, Grand Valley State, 20:23.2; 5) Sophie McNeely, Western State, 20:25.0.
Other UAA runners -- 48) Ivy O'Guinn, 21:34.5; 50) Miriam Kipng'eno, 21:35.9; 62) Sarah Freistone, 21:46.9; 93) Susan Bick, 22:10.6; 100) Bryn Haebe, 22:20.9; 170) Katie Krehlik, 22:57.8.