Updated: Jan 13
Written by John Cusick
Alaska Anchorage's 2018 cross country season ended with a 6th place finish along with three individual All-Americans leading the way. Despite losing their lead runner (Zenna Jepchumba), they still look to be in position to secure a top 10 finish when 2019 is all said and done.
* * *
The team is returning their second runner from last year, Emmah Chelimo, who is expected to be the main low-stick of this team. She finished last year’s national meet as the 23rd best runner in the country, but from a placing standpoint, that finish was her numeric finish of the year.
Prior to December 1st, Chelimo had won every single race she entered. It started at the Skinny Raven UAA/UAF Dual which happened on September 8th. Two weeks later it was the UNLV Cross Country Invitational before heading to Washington and winning the Western Washington Cross Country Classic.
She took home the GNAC title just two weeks later with a time of 21:25 and was six seconds better than 2nd place. She followed that performance up with a 20:57 at the West Regional Championships where she took home the individual title with an 11 second margin over her teammate Nancy Jeptoo.
Chelimo was expected to be a part of the national title conversation as we entered NCAA's. That, however, didn’t pan out, leaving us to question what happened. She didn’t participate in the track season, so we don’t have anything else to compare her season on, leaving us with more questions than answers. Still, if she's healthy, she can be a major contributor for this team over the next few months.
* * *
As for the other All-American returner, that’d be Nancy Jeptoo. She was the 38th place finisher at NCAA's in 2018, and like Chelimo, had a strong season leading up to that point. She put together a 2nd place finish at the UAA/UAF Dual early in September with another runner-up performance at the UNLV Cross Country Invite.
After a small hiccup at the Western Washington Cross Country Invite, Jeptoo was right back at it. She finished 5th at the GNAC Championships and then proceeded to finish 2nd at the West Regional Championships. Like Chelimo, she was expected to have a better race at NCAA's. Another year of racing should only help that going forward.
Also returning is Ruth Cvncara and Riley Burroughs. Both don’t necessarily fit the bill for being cross country runners, but their fitness is still very much there. Cvancara is an elite 800 meter runner who has run 2:10 and 4:35 before for 1500 meters. That strength for 1500 meters could very easily make her a reliable #3 option for UAA this fall. As for Burroughs, she'll be looking to build upon a respectable 2018 season as the team looks to add depth on their 2019 roster.
* * *
The driving force for the Seawolves in 2019 are going to be Jeptoo and Chelimo. They’ll both be the star low-sticks who keep this team competitive on any stage they toe the line for. However, the development on the backend is what we'll be watching. If their supporting scorers are good enough, this could be a very dangerous team come November.
Written by Garrett Zatlin
When you think of Western Colorado, you think of historical dominance. This has been a team that is always at the top of the D2 ranks regardless of what happens. Their ability to not only bring in top-tier talent, but develop them as well, has given the Mountaineers an edge amongst the top programs in the nation.
Despite a heavy number of roster casualties, the ladies in red and white will still be a major force in the D2 distance running community.
* * *
Upon first look of Western Colorado's 2019 lineup, it's understandable why some may be concerned. They lose four of their top five women from last year, three of which finished inside the top 20 at NCAA's in 2018. To go back and review what they did throughout the 2018 regular season and postseason seems slightly irrelevant given the turnover that they've had as of late.
The key returner on this team will be Bailey Sharon who is expected to be one of the better distance runners in the nation this fall. While many fans may think of her as a middle distance specialist (which she is), it's important to remember that she also finished 34th at last year's National Championships. The potential improvement that we could see from her as a low-stick is extremely encouraging.
However, it's the women behind her that leave us with questions. Malindi Congour will likely be the team's #2 after putting together a 2018 postseason that easily outweighed her performances in the regular season. Her 73rd place finish at NCAA's doesn't exactly standout like Sharon's result does, but in a year where so many top names are out of eligibility, her value to the team is better than some may realize.
After those two, the depth based on their returners admittedly becomes a bit sparse. Luckily for the Western Colorado women, they bring in a handful of key roster additions... Sarah Laverty is a transfer from New Mexico who owns a personal best of 35:35 for 10,000 meters. Her 39th place finish at the 2018 Mountain West Championships is enough to show that Laverty can be a top-tier scorer for this team in 2019. After training with a powerhouse program, it's clear that she can handle whatever the D2 ranks throws at her. Her 10k PR is also a very respectable mark which tells us that she has the potential to be an All-American come November.
And how about Alexa Rodriguez? The incoming freshman has a personal best of 10:39 for meters, a time that would make her a notable top-tier recruit for even the country's best Division One programs. If she isn't redshirted, Rodriguez could become an immediate impact scorer while bolstering the frontend of WCU's lineup.
Then we have Alexia Thiros a transfer from San Francisco State who was already on the Western Colorado roster this past winter and spring. Much like Laverty, her cross country experience (collegiately) is essentially non-existent (she only race one XC race last fall), but the 4th place 10k finisher at the 2019 RMAC Championships clearly has the potential to give this team a boost up front if she can run well on a consistent basis.
* * *
Just when it looked like Western Colorado was going to slip from the top of the D2 food chain, they found a way to find new pieces of the puzzle. They won't be perfect, and these new recruits will need to earn their spot on this team before we automatically put Western Colorado back in the podium conversation.
Still, given their history, it would be hard to imagine the Mountaineers not being at the top of the national meet results three months from now.