Seawolves win everything at GNAC cross-country championships

Beth Bragg

Run, win, repeat. That's as good a mantra as any for the UAA cross country team.

For the fourth year in a row, the Seawolves swept the team titles at the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championships, triumphing Saturday in Monmouth, Ore., behind individual victories from Susan Tanui and Isaac Kangogo.

The championship was the fifth straight for the women and the fourth straight for the men -- both GNAC records.

The women, ranked fifth in the nation among NCAA Division II teams, scored 36 points for a 13-point win over second-ranked Simon Fraser. The eighth-ranked men scored 32 points for a three-point win over 22nd-ranked Western Washington.

"We run in a competitive conference with teams that are well-coached and take the sport seriously," UAA coach Michael Friess said. "When you've got teams like Simon Fraser and Western Washington, those guys are never gonna just give you a championship.

"They came in today and gave it a good shot and we stood strong. Our depth was not what we usually like, but we haven't been racing a ton and I don't think we're really as sharp as we can be. But we won it, we defended our titles."

UAA produced the top three finishers in the men's race -- Kangogo, Victor Samoei and Dylan Anthony, in that order. In the women's race, UAA went 1-3-4, with Ivy O'Guinn third and Joyce Kipchumba fourth.

Saturday's titles didn't come easily for the Seawolves, who were racing for the first time since Oct. 6.

"For the women to come in and beat such a high-ranked team like Simon Fraser, to win five in a row? That alone contains a bit of pressure," Friess said. "You're trying to win five straight, nobody's ever done it, against teams that are really, really good. They're not just these slouch teams. So I think they had some pressure coming in, and we were trying to get them to run for something rather than to run not to lose. That's why winning streaks are hard to maintain -- you start losing that focus."

The men faced pressure in the form of Western Washington.

"Their coach told me afterwards, 'We just totally focused on you. Everything was about you today' -- and they ran that way," Friess said. "I think we ran like a team that hasn't competed in three weeks. We know we can run better."

In winning for the second straight year, Tanui registered the fastest women's time in the 13-year history of the GNAC championships. Her time of 20 minutes, 24.74 seconds in the six-kilometer race bettered her winning time of 20:37:29 a year ago. Tanui, a senior from Kenya, was the runner-up at last year's national championships.

O'Guinn, a senior from Soldotna, clocked 20:32.67 and Kipchumba, a sophomore from Kenya, finished in 20:35.05. Joining them in the top 20 were Jessica Pahkala (12th in 21:10.60), Bryn Haebe (16th in 21:17.84) and Susan Bick (19th in 21:23.02).

Kangogo, a junior from Kenya, became the sixth straight UAA man to capture a GNAC individual championship. He showed exquisite timing in the eight-kilometer race at Western Oregon University -- the victory was the first of his college career.

The 1-2-3 finish by Kangogo, Samoei and Anthony proved pivotal in UAA's 32-35 win over Western Washington. The Vikings placed all five of its scorers in the top 10 while UAA had three.

"It was very, very important that they go 1-2-3," Friess said. "They needed to do that based on where our No. 4 and No. 5 (runners) finished."

Kangogo beat Samoei by less than a second. He finished in 24 minutes, 51.27 seconds; Samoei, a freshman from Kenya, clocked 24:52.14. Anthony, a junior from Kodiak who had won every previous race this season, was right behind in 24:54.09.

"Dylan Anthony was in front virtually the whole race," Friess said. "There was a battle between Isaac and Victor as well as the first guy from Western Washington and they kinda formed a chase group. When they broke the guy from Western Washington, Dylan was right there, and they were on a roll."

Running what Friess said were their best race of the season were junior Kevin Rooke of Toronto (12th in 25:18.65) and freshman Michael Mendenhall of Kenmore, Wash. (14th in 25:35.72).

Friess said he expects both Anthony and Bick, the women's No. 4 runner until Saturday, to enjoy better results at the NCAA West Regions in Spokane, Wash. The Seawolves have two weeks to get ready to defend their region titles -- and to savor their extended GNAC reign.

"These are not easy wins," Friess said. "We're not going to win every single thing forever. I know we've been performing at a very high level and we're certainly going to try to continue to do that, but we've got to appreciate these as if they were the first championships we've ever won."

Reach Beth Bragg at or 257-4335.