Caroline Kurgat donned a UAA track singlet for the first time in more than seven months Saturday in Seattle. In her previous race, in May, she won the 5,000-meter national championship at the NCAA Division II outdoor track and field championships.
No national title was at stake when Kurgat returned to the track for the season-opening UW Indoor Preview, but what she did there was perhaps more historic than capturing a championship.
Kurgat set a Division II national record in the 3,000-meter race, running a time of 9 minutes, 7.05 seconds in a race loaded with talent.
She placed third behind two professional athletes — Eleanor Fulton of Portland (9:02.84) and Shannon Rowbury of Eugene (9:03.00), the American record-holder at 1,500 meters — and was the only college runner in the top 10.
“(It) was certainly a good race for Caroline as it was her first one since the National 5K and with her nursing student commitments,” UAA coach Michael Friess said via text. “It’s been a little tougher coordinating her workouts.”
Kurgat, a senior from Kenya, carries a difficult class load as a medical lab tech and nursing major. She has said her emphasis is academics, and she finished the last school year with a cumulative GPA of 3.58.
She owns equally impressive stats as a runner.
In the 2018 outdoor track season, she ran the second-fastest 10,000-meter time in Division II history (32:33.24) and the sixth-fastest 5,000-meter time in Division II history (15:41.21). She staged a rare sweep of those races at the national championships, leading to her coronation as the Division II women’s athlete of the year for 2017-18.
Kurgat’s record time Saturday surpassed the previous-best Division II 3,000-meter indoor time of 9:09.50, set in 1983 by Cal Poly’s Amy Harper. The fastest Division II outdoor time is 9:39.50 (Amanda Farrough, 2016, Lewis University).
The Division I record was set at last year’s Millrose Games by Karissa Schweiger of Missouri, who blazed to an 8:41.60. Schweiger won last year’s Division I indoor national championship in 8:53.36 to beat Kenai’s Allie Ostrander, the runner-up in 8:54.35.
Friess said a sub-9:00 is within Kurgat’s reach.
“She’s a very talented athlete and if all goes well most certainly she can run sub-9 for the event,” he said.
The Seawolves have produced several national champions over the years — Kurgat is a three-time champ, with two on the track and one in cross country. But never before have they boasted a national record-holder, Friess said.
“They are rare,” he said.