Caroline Kurgat of UAA unleashed a ferocious finish to capture her second national championship of the school year Thursday in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Kurgat, a junior from Eldoret, Kenya, took command of the 10,000 meters in the final five laps of the 25-lap race to win by more than 35 seconds.
Her time of 34 minutes, 13.80 seconds easily topped the field of 22 runners. Leah Hanle of Mount Olive was second in 34:49.50.
"It feels great," Kurgat said by phone Thursday evening. "I'm motivated to do more to see what else I can do."
The victory came a little more than six months after Kurgat ran to the Division II national championship in cross country on Nov. 18.
Kurgat and Hanle battled for the lead for much of the opening 8,000 meters of Thursday's race. With five laps to go, Kurgat led by four-hundredths of a second; with four laps to go, she led by nearly three seconds.
On each remaining lap, she extended her lead. She ran the final lap in 1:16.61, her fastest split of the race.
"That wasn't with a hard kick, either," UAA coach Michael Friess said by phone.
Friess said the pace was relatively slow. Despite her fast finish, Kurgat was well off the personal-best 32:33.24 she recorded last month, a time that ranks as the second-fastest in Division II history.
After about 3,200 meters, Hanle made a move and Kurgat followed, and together they put a gap between themselves and the rest of the field.
"It was a really slow pace and nobody was taking it out," Friess said. "I was happy when the Mount Olive girl did take it out, because then it was a two-person race. Then I felt a little more comfortable."
Kurgat briefly took the lead with about nine laps to go, but Hanle regained it on the next lap and remained in the lead until Kurgat poured it on with five laps to go.
"I wanted to go with the leader and see what happens at the end. I thought that it was time to make a move," she said.
Once she did, she looked great, Friess said. Kurgat recorded sub-1:20 times on seven of the 25 laps, including each of the final five.
"I got a little nervous when she got into the lead for a lap and then the other gal retook it," Friess said. "You just wonder if an athlete's gonna respond to that. She kept responding and when she did take the lead (for good), she was focused and very assertive and decisive.
"Caroline was just strong enough to break away, and then it was all over."
Kurgat's victory marks the 10th time the UAA track and cross country teams have produced a national champion. Three of them have come this school year — the two by Kurgat and an indoor championship in the 800 meters from Soldotna's Dani McCormick. McCormick will run in the 800 preliminaries Friday at the Irwin Belk Complex in Charlotte.
For Kurgat, Thursday's win continues a dominating track season during which she has posted historic times in two events. Besides the 32:33.24 in the 10,000 meters, her time of 15:41.21 in the 5,000 meters is the third-fastest in DII history.
Kurgat, who will race again Saturday in the 5,000 meters, said it doesn't matter that she didn't come close to her personal best on Thursday.
"It wasn't about the time," she said. "I was going for the win."
UAA track and field national champions
2018 — Caroline Kurgat, 10,000 meters (outdoors)
2018 — Dani McCormick, 800 meters (indoors)
2017 — Caroline Kurgat, cross country
2016 — Cody Thomas, decathlon (outdoors)
2014 — Micah Chelimo, 3,000 meters (indoors)
2013 — Cody Parker, javelin (outdoors)
2013 — Micah Chelimo, 5,000 meters (indoors)
2012 — Micah Chelimo, 5,000 meters (outdoors)
2012 — Micah Chelimo, cross country
2008 — David Registe, long jump (outdoors)