Nanook Cross-Country Teams Open Strong

Mickey Wilson sprints into the finish Saturday in the men's cross-country race at West Ridge. Wilson was seventh among Nanook runners and fifteenth overall.

Tom Hewitt

Sun Star Contributor

The Nanook cross-country runners opened their season at West Ridge last weekend in a tri-team meet with conference rivals Seattle Pacific and Northwest Nazarene.  The women took first and the men second on both days of racing.

Alaska coach Scott Jerome said that he was proud of the team. “When you bring people up, you never know whether their best runners will come, but we knew they were going to bring some solid people. I was very pleased with how they performed.”

The Alaska women’s domination of their Great Northwest Athletic Conference foes was particularly noteworthy, as the team sprinted to decisive victories in both the six-kilometer and four-kilometer races.  “To beat both of those teams, especially Seattle Pacific, was a really big deal,” said junior Kinsey Laine, citing SPU’s strong performance at the NCAA national championships in 2009.

Both Jerome and Laine cited a deep roster as fundamental to the team’s progress. “The team showed depth, and that’s something we didn’t have a lot of last year,” Jerome said Sunday. Laine concurred, pointing to Thursday’s race, in which UAF’s top five female finishers placed in the top eight. Having several strong runners instead of a few phenomenal ones is important, Jerome said, because the placement of the five strongest runners is what makes up the team score at a meet. The best possible finishing score (lower is better) is 15, and on Thursday Alaska’s women scored 27, far ahead of second-place Seattle Pacific’s 42 and Northwest Nazarene’s 63.

In addition to the strong team performances by the Nanooks, several individuals distinguished themselves. On the men’s side, Tyler Kornfield was the top Alaska runner in both races, placing fourth in Thursday’s race and third on Saturday. “Tyler has improved a ton with his running this year,” Jerome said, mentioning an increase in Kornfield’s overall fitness as being key to his improvement. For the women, sophomore Raphaela Sieber turned in a strong performance, finishing second Thursday and notching her first-ever collegiate meet victory Saturday morning.

The Nanooks also benefited from the speed of a trio of young Fairbanks locals. Jana Benedix, a 2008 graduate of Lathrop High, placed fourth among Alaska women, and Heather Edic and David Norris, both 2009 Lathrop graduates, placed third and second among the team’s women and men respectively. As sophomores, Edic and Norris will still have a full two seasons of eligibility after this year, portending a strong future for the UAF team.

Alaska’s runners were buoyed by the support of a larger-than-expected crowd at West Ridge. “I’ve been at running meets before where there have only been about ten people show up,” Laine said. “It was fun to come around the corner and have the whole basketball team cheering us on.” Coach Jerome said the crowd, numbering between 50 and 100, was the largest he had seen in his seven years coaching the team. As runners traversed the course, cheers from pockets of fans could be heard echoing around the West Ridge trail complex.

Many of the assembled fans were athletes of other Alaska teams. “Last year was the first year I [came to a cross-country meet], and it was fun,” said junior rifle team member Ida Petersen, who shares an apartment with Sieber. “It was awesome to see Raphaela do so well and win on Saturday. Our whole apartment came out.”

The races were the only home meet for the Nanooks, who will travel to Hawaii later this month for an invitational hosted by Chaminade University in preparation for GNAC Regionals in November.

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