Two out of three ain’t bad, the New Mexico cross-country women can tell you.
Behind the record-setting performance by the unbeatable Ednah Kurgat, the Lobos raced to the NCAA championship on Saturday at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park, in Louisville, Ky. — the same course coach Joe Franklin’s UNM women won on in 2015. The school’s only other national title in any sport was in skiing, in 2004.
With four runners scoring in the top 11, the No. 2-ranked Lobos got in their final runner — freshman Alondra Negrón Texidor, scoring 63rd — in time to score 90 points, ahead of runner-up San Francisco’s 105 in the low-score-wins format. Top-ranked Colorado, the team that had beaten UNM at two races this season, finished third in the 31-team women’s race at 139 points.
“Such a great day,” Franklin said.
It was especially great for Kurgat, UNM’s first individual champion, who won all five races she entered this season and finished emphatically. She ran out front of the 255-athlete field from virtually the start, taking over about two kilometers into the 6K race.
Prognosticators believed she would challenge defending champion Karissa Schweizer of Missouri for the title. Instead, Kurgat blew away the field. Her time (19 minutes, 19.42 seconds) is the fastest since the NCAA lengthened the women’s race from 5,000 meters in 2000. She also recorded the largest margin of victory, 7.51 seconds, since 2014.
“I was so excited,” said Kurgat, a native of Eldoret, Kenya, and sophomore transfer from Liberty University. “I don’t take anything for granted. My challenges are behind me. They all act as a steppingstone to where I am today.”
It was also the team’s eighth-straight top-10 performance for the Lobo women at the NCAA Championships — the longest active streak in NCAA history — and the team’s third top-three showing in the last four years, including 2014’s third-place finish.
Weini Kelati placed seventh overall with a time of 19:35.77, Charlotte Prouse took 12th (19:48.93) and Alice Wright finished 14th (19:49.73). With Kurgat, all four earned All-American honors (which are given to the top 40 finishers), giving the team 18 All-Americans since the streak of top-10 team finishes started in 2010.
Negron finished 85th, though scoring 63rd. The placement of individuals who ran without teams didn’t affect the team scores. Close behind Texidor were Alex Buck (105th, 20:44.88) and Kieran Casey (123rd, 20:54.21).
“I got asked a question the other day who our fifth (runner) would be and I didn’t have any idea,” Franklin said. “Alondra, Alex and Kieran all ran well.”
On the men’s side,UNM individual qualifier Josh Kerr finished the men’s 10-kilometer race in 32:04.68, placing 224th at a distance that isn’t the specialty of the reigning NCAA mile champion.
Northern Arizona won the men’s team title with 74 points, making this championship the first in NCAA cross country history that two non-Power Five schools won the men’s and women’s team titles.