Women's Cross Country Team makes UAF history

The Women's Cross Country Running Team during the 2011 NCAA Cross Country Championship. Photo provided by Matthew Dunlap.

Rebecca Lawhorne/Sun Star Reporter
Nov. 22, 2011

On Saturday morning, with snow on the ground and the temperature around 25 degrees, the UAF Women’s Cross Country team competed in the national NCAA race. Ranked 19th going into the competition, they ran their way up two slots to finish 17th out of 24 teams.

Single team members have competed in the NCAA race before, but this is the first time the entire team made the trip to nationals, which were held in Spokane, Wash. this year. As they were cooling off after regionals, they found out that they qualified for nationals, said senior Theresia Shnurr, who finished in the top 10 at regionals. They began screaming, jumping and falling into each other’s arms, she said.

“Qualifying as a team was one of the greatest moments of my athletic career,” Shnurr said.

Three-year assistant coach Matt Dunlap stood back and let them have their moment, he said.

“It was really great to be there and see them going crazy, to see that all their hard work had paid off,” he said.

The team worked hard this year, Dunlap said. The team’s pre-season begins two weeks prior to the start of fall classes, with members meeting six days a week.

With three coaches and 29 athletes, the men and women train together. They run campus trails then hit the pavement once snow falls. They think of themselves as one team, Dunlap said.

“We are one big happy family,” he said.

The men’s season ended at regionals this year, on the 5th of November. They scored 17th place.

The team was in good spirits going into the 6k race on Saturday, competing with about 160 of the fastest girls in the country, Dunlap said. Two days before competing, Shnurr couldn’t wait. “I’m ready to take it on,” she said.

Though it was an improvement from the current Fairbanks weather, snow fell as the girls competed. Dunlap knew the weather predictions but said he knew the cold wouldn’t be a factor. “They’re used to the cold,” he said. Escaping the minus-40-degree cold helped put her in high spirits looking forward to the race, Shnurr said.

Twenty-two minutes in, senior Crystal Pitney lead the UAF pack, coming in 62nd. Sophomore Raphaela Sieber followed in 91st place. Theresia Schnurr was close behind in 97th place. At 24 minutes, Jana Benedix took 126th. Heather Edic crossed the line 13 seconds later with 138th place. Alyston McPhetres, Kryston McPhetres rounded out the UAF team at 150th and 170th.

The team returned home on Sunday and can now focus on cross country skiing, Dunlap said. Those who do both sports have split training time between the two. “It’s a good way to end the season,” he said. “The NCAA race has been a really good experience.”

Shnurr, who is majoring in biochemistry at UAF, says the team gets rid of pre-race jitters by listening to hip-hop and dancing. “I think our little pre-race routine made us famous,” she said. “The other racers are all nervous and quiet.”

Besides their winning streak, a favorite cheer of the women’s team reveals why they may be famous among their competitors: “Born in the woods, race without fear, you better watch out, ’cause Alaska is here!”

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