College Cross Country: UAF’s Kendall Kramer wins regional title, qualifies for NCAA D2 nationals with Sophie Wright

UAF’s Kendall Kramer competing with Sonoma State’s Gianna Bomarito at West Regionals. Photo by WOU Athletics

(Arielle Himelbloom/Alaska Sports Report) – Kendall Kramer left nothing to chance at the West Regional Championships, keeping the title in UAF’s possession and punching her ticket to the national meet for the third time.

The Fairbanks native stormed to victory at Ash Creek Preserve in Monmouth, Ore., covering the six-kilometer course in an astounding 20 minutes, 29 seconds — a pace of 5:29 per mile.

Coming off the heels of the GNAC Championships, Kramer was confident in her abilities after defending her title on home soil, where she went 1-2 with Rosie Fordham. The performance hinted at her strengths against regional competition, but she still stayed focused on her number one goal: returning to nationals.

Heavy rain and winds around 12 miles per hour greeted the runners, while temperatures fluctuated in the low 60s. Despite the unique racing conditions, the elements hardly fazed Kramer.

“That’s not something you experience in Fairbanks, but it was really fun,” Kramer told GNAC Sports. “I like running in the rain; it kept you more cool and then it went away a bit during the race.”

The Nanook immediately got a good position alongside Fordham, as the pair filed behind the early leaders and maintained contact with the pack for the first mile.

Kramer came through the two-kilometer mark in seventh, just four seconds behind Sonoma State’s Gianna Bomarito and a half second after Fordham. Runners jostled for position over the next two kilometers, with Kramer making a decisive move into the lead.

The junior made up ground, but was barely ahead of Bomarito, as the two had a three-second gap on Fordham, WWU’s Ashley Reeck and Biola’s Susanne Bruennig. She stayed strong mentally, knowing anything could happen.

Kramer steadily pulled away, increasing her lead on the field, but late into the race she had company. Bruennig was gaining on the Nanook, but with one final kick, Kramer sealed the deal and took the win, earning her first West Regional title by 3.8 seconds.

“It’s a really good field and I didn’t really have any expectations,” Kramer said. “It came down to a sprint, but I had some kick left in me. I figured it would come down to that, and I saved a little bit.”

The title marks a back-to-back effort by the Nanooks after Naomi Bailey claimed the win last fall in a momentous 1-2 finish with Kramer. Since the GNAC’s formation in 2001, the conference has claimed 15 regional titles on the women’s side, nine of which were achieved by UAA & UAF runners.

“It’s a big confidence builder and it’s really cool that we get to compete against the California and Washington schools being all the way from Alaska,” Kramer said. “It’s super awesome to know we are up there and are still in competition with them when we don’t have ideal training conditions this time of year.”

As for Kramer’s time of 20:29, the mark represents a personal best for the six-kilometer distance, and the third-fastest winning time at Ash Creek Preserve during West Regionals, only trailing UAA’s Emmah Chelimo (‘19; 20:22) and Caroline Kurgat (‘17; 20:26).

Fordham finished five spots behind Kramer, placing sixth in 20:57 — just her second time dipping under the 21-minute barrier and three seconds shy of snagging the final national auto-qualifying spot. With top-three finishes throughout the season, including a pair of wins, Fordham will have to wait and see if she receives an at-large bid to the national championships.

Fairbanks’ Naomi Bailey finished 19th (21:32) to collect a season-best performance, while Anchorage’s Delainey Zock turned in a career-best performance placing 33rd (21:56). Teegan Silva placed 83rd (23:16) followed by Tabitha Williams in 105th (23:45).

The Nanooks placed fifth out of 24 teams with 135 points, just missing the direct team qualification for the national championships by a mere three points. While the top three teams from West Regionals qualify for nationals, the ‘Nooks could qualify via an at-large berth, which is given to 10 teams throughout the country. Due to the high quality of the West Region and tight team finish, the UAF women could be in the conversation for one of those 10 spots. Historically, the team finish marks their second-best regional result since placing fourth back in 2011.

“Both the men and women ran phenomenal team races where everyone elevated themselves in a way they haven’t done since the start of the season,” UAF coach Conrad Haber said in a press release. “I couldn’t be more proud of what the team did today.”

Speaking of team elevation, Palmer’s Sophie Wright helped make history for Western Washington, as the program earned its inaugural team title scoring 75 points — 11 ahead of Biola. The junior ran tactically, moving up 14 positions over the latter stages to place 24th (21:43), claiming her first All-Region honor and securing her first trip to the national championships.

WWU’s Mia Crocker and Sophie Wright after winning the West Regional team title. Photo by Sophie Wright

The NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships will be held in two weeks in Joplin, Missouri on Nov. 18.

Also earning All-Region status was UAA’s Nell Baker who placed one spot behind Wright finishing 25th in 21:44. Teammate Tressa Wood finished 52nd (22:21), followed by Haines’ Avery Williamson in 92nd (23:34), Palmer’s Sofija Spaić in 97th (23:39) and Monica Ruelas in 108th (23:48). Mallory McCarter (121st) and Aunika Miller (151st) rounded out the squad.

The Seawolves finished with 358 points to place 12th out of 24 teams — their highest finish since placing fourth in 2019.

Seattle Pacific’s Anna Prussian of Sitka placed 88th (23:26) in her regional debut, crossing the line as her team’s fourth runner.

On the men’s side, UAA’s Cole Nash led the Seawolves with a 16th-place finish, covering the 10-kilometer course in 31:07.

Central Washington’s Johan Correa, who finished runner-up at the GNAC Championships, emerged victorious in 30:42, winning by 1.9 seconds.

Nash, who has been nursing a lingering injury, raced competitively yet cautiously. The junior stayed within the top 25 for the entirety of the race to earn his third All-Region honor. Teammate John Peckham finished 30th (31:33), followed by Michael Zapherson in 39th (31:51), Wyatt Matyas in 55th (32:15), George Payne in 57th (32:17), and Anchorage’s Ty Elliott in 71st (32:42).

The Seawolves finished with 197 points to place fifth out of 23 teams — their highest finish since taking third in 2018. Like the UAF women, the ‘Wolves are certainly still in the conversation for receiving one of the coveted 10 at-large berths, depending on the depth of other conferences and performances throughout the season.

Chico State won the team title, scoring just 47 points.

Seattle Pacific’s Silas Demmert of Sitka placed 84th (33:03) in his regional debut, crossing the line as his team’s second runner.

“Silas was definitely a bright spot for us,” coach Eric Hansen said in a press release. “He averaged four seconds off his high school best for back-to-back 5Ks, and you can’t ask a freshman for any more than that.”

The Nanooks were led by Ben Dohlby who placed 100th (33:26), just ahead of Philipp Moosmayer in 101st (33:27). Juneau’s Finn Morley placed 112th, followed by Koen Ross (118th), Jace Peters (120th), Fairbanks’ Nolan Earnest (138th) and Palmer’s Ryan Owens (149th). UAF men finished 22nd.

At the South Central Regional Championships, a handful of Alaskan athletes were in the field, competing in Lubbock, Texas.

Fort Lewis’ Brady Burrough of Anchorage led the charge placing 42nd, covering the 10-kilometer course in 31:23 — a massive personal best. The sophomore was the fourth scorer for the Skyhawks who finished sixth out of 25 teams in one of their best-ever team races.

CSU-Pueblo’s Kaleb Beloy of Anchorage finished just three places behind Burrough — his former South Anchorage teammate — placing 45th in 31:36. The junior was his team’s second scorer, helping the ThunderWolves to an eighth-place showing.

Colorado Mesa’s Jayna Boonstra of Kenai placed 107th in her regional debut. The freshman covered the six-kilometer course in 24:02 to finish as seventh runner for the Mavericks who placed tenth out of 26 teams. Teammate Nathan Sanches of Fairbanks placed 141st on the men’s side.

Lubbock Christian’s Aiden Zingone of Anchorage placed 147th. The sophomore crossed the line his team’s fifth scorer.

At the Midwest Regional Championships, Ohio Dominican’s Rogan Hanson of Craig placed 192nd in his regional debut. The freshman finished as his team’s fifth scorer.