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Athletes of the Week: Trio of UAA track athletes headed to nationals

Published: May. 25, 2022 at 2:52 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The University of Alaska Anchorage Track and Field program is sending three athletes to the NCAA Division II National Championships scheduled for May 26-28 in Allendale, Michigan.

Cole Nash: 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters

Cole Nash felt pretty comfortable in his placement at nationals — cool, calm, and collected — knowing that he had the numbers to qualify based on previous meets throughout the season.

“I am going to be honest, I didn’t really open the sheet,” Nash said of his letter notifying him that he had qualified for the NCAA national meet. “I saw they put in the declarations and I was seventh (in the 5k) and 15th in the 10k, so something would’ve had to have gone pretty wrong. My mindset was kind of focused on the (GNAC Championship) race. I wasn’t really thinking too much about like, ‘oh I am going,’ it is like, ‘what do I do when I get there.’”

This is also not Nash’s first rodeo at nationals, earning All-American honors at the Cross Country National Championships in the fall as the sophomore continues to solidify himself as a staple in the program.

Cole Nash will compete in the 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter events at the NCAA II National meet.
Cole Nash will compete in the 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter events at the NCAA II National meet.(UAA Athletics)

“He is representing us really well,” UAA Track and Field head coach Ryan McWilliams said. “He is someone we want to try to build around going forward and we are building around. I think the success that he has had, and just the personality that he is has really attracted a lot of the recruits that we have gone after this year who know like, ‘oh yeah, that’s the guy we want to train with and be around.’”

During the two years that Nash — from Littleton, Colorado — has spent on the Alaska Anchorage campus, he is learning a little bit more about the state.

“Oh, I didn’t know anything,” Nash said. “I was one those idiots. People probably look at me — from the Lower 48 — like I was one of the people who thought you guys lived in igloos up here.”

Nash hopes to have a successful meet this weekend and continue the legacy of success enjoyed by UAA distance runners.

“Representing UAA is incredible,” Nash said. “Just looking around the trophy hall, you can see the distance program has been really successful here so it is just really cool not to just be a part of that, but to be a leader in that, be able to represent everybody.”

Elena Cano: Heptathlon

Elena Cano made her way from Alpine, Texas to Alaska in the fall of 2016 as the University grappled with a declining budget that regularly positioned athletics funding on the chopping block. The following year, the program’s main training facility, The Dome, collapsed under heavy snow, limiting her access to indoor training during the long Alaskan winter months. In 2020, her season was lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. After grinding for six years on campus, Cano has triumphed as the GNAC Heptathlon champion, finally climbing the mountain top and qualifying for nationals.

“It definitely means a lot to me and I think it represents the essence of what hard work can do and if you never give up on yourself,” Cano said. “I never really considered myself like super talented, but I know that I am going to outwork the person next to me. You know, you might not be the fastest or jump the furthest, jump the highest, this and that, but like don’t stop and keep working at it and who knows what the limits are.”

Elena Cano (middle) will compete in the heptathlon at the NCAA DII National Meet May 26-28 in...
Elena Cano (middle) will compete in the heptathlon at the NCAA DII National Meet May 26-28 in Allendale, Michigan.(UAA Athletics)

Cano caught McWilliams’ eye by persevering through the obstacles that delayed and prolonged her track career.

“It just kind of seems like since she has been here it has been one setback after another,” McWilliams said. “So it has been a huge credit to her that she has kind of persisted through all of that, kept a good attitude, continued to work through all of it, and I am super happy for her that her senior year it’s paid off and she is getting to go out going to the national meet.”

Josh Wagner: 110-meter Hurdles

Josh Wagner is a historic outlier within the UAA Track and Field program — not because he is from Germany or because he is a leap day baby born on February 29 — but because he is the first UAA Seawolf to qualify for the 110-meter hurdles at nationals.

“Before Josh got here, the 110-hurdles were not an event we had had a bunch of success in,” McWilliams said. “We’d had really good success with the 400-meter hurdles and multiple athletes who represented us at the National meet in the 400-meter hurdles, but had yet to have anybody break through in those short, sprint hurdles. So it is kind of cool. It’s kind of a first for us as a program to be sending a sprint-hurdler to the National meet.”

Josh Wagner will compete in the 110-meter hurdles at the  at the NCAA DII National Meet May...
Josh Wagner will compete in the 110-meter hurdles at the at the NCAA DII National Meet May 26-28 in Allendale, Michigan.(UAA Athletics)

Wagner certainly earned his spot, and was named GNAC Male Track Athlete of the Meet after winning both the 110-meter and 400-meter hurdles at the GNAC Championships, running a conference-record time of 14.15 to win the 110-meter title, but his placement was still not guaranteed.

“Really, really excited as I was on the edge of not making it or making, it and then when it came out it was really relieved and excited to run there,” Wagner said. “I was really really happy in that all the work in the end paid off as we train a whole year just to in the end make it to hopefully nationals, and if that is now the case, it is really, really cool.”

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