The Brigham Young men were yet to celebrate their upset win in the NCAA Cross Country Championships with a boisterous group hug early Saturday afternoon when the sun tried to make an appearance and the rain appeared to lessen.
Just to make sure she wound’t be forgotten, however, Mother Nature dumped a little more freezing precipitation on the awards ceremony less than an hour later at LaVern Gibson Championship Course to honor the toughness of the more than 500 runners who competed.
As expected, it was rainy and cold during the competition. As expected, the athletes paid the weather no mind and competed fiercely although leaving the facility much muddier, a lot wetter and probably considerably colder than when they’d arrived.
Institutionally, Brigham Young had the best day. The Cougar men knocked off three-time defending champion Northern Arizona — “To a man, they ran to their best ability,” said BYU men’s coach Ed Eyestone after the group hug — and the BYU women came within six points of handing top-ranked Arkansas another disappointment.
The senior-dominated Razorbacks though, with Katie Izzo finishing third and Taylor Werner fourth, were able to prevail in the women’s race after what, by their own admission, had been some underwhelming performances in the national meet the last three years.
Individually, the women’s race was decided just after the halfway point, when Weini Kelati of New Mexico decided it was time to go.
“I’ve been working for it. I’m really fit this year,” the tiny Kelati said after the race. Her strategy, she said after emerging from a huge pack just past the midway point of the 6K race, was no strategy at all.
“I just decided to pull away and then ‘Whoa!’ it happened,” she said after beating Wisconsin’s Alicia Monson — who had split two earlier races against Kelati this fall — by almost 10 seconds.
The men’s race was more interesting thanks to fifth-year senior Peter Seufer of Virginia Tech, who decided to make his last race for the Hokies a memorable one.
The lanky two-time Atlantic Coast Conference champion jumped into an early — and perhaps unexpected — lead and kept it for more than eight of the 10 kilometers.
“I just felt so relaxed,” he explained afterward. “There was nothing to lose, so I told myself, ‘Why not put yourself in a position to do something special. So I put myself out there . . . but it took more of a toll on my legs than I expected.”
And at about the 8K mark, Iowa State’s Edwin Kurgat “just started pushing it,” he said.
Kurgat took the lead quickly, trailed by Colorado’s Joe Klecker. Seufer’s legs still had a kick left, and he narrowed the gap toward the end, although he was caught and passed at the finish line by BYU’s surging Conner Mantz and finished fourth.
Kurgat, who also won at the Gibson course at the John McNichols Invitational in September, wrapped up an unbeaten season. Not bad for someone who, when asked at Friday’s press conference if he’d raced Alabama’s Vincent Kiprop or Gilbert Kigen back in Kenya, said that he was a field hockey player and not a runner in his younger years.
• Former Indiana champions compete — A pair of Indiana runners who earned two state championships each on the Gibson course competed Saturday.
Anna Rohrer of Mishawaka, the Indiana girls champion in 2012 and 2014, had her final collegiate cross country race as a graduate student at Notre Dame, leading the 15th-place Irish with a 17th-place finish and All-America status.
Emma Wilson of Greencastle, the 2017 and 2018 state champion, finished 186th overall as the fifth runner for 22nd-place Illinois, but she’ll be back. A freshman for the Illini, she just celebrated her 18th birthday three weeks ago.