Athlete of the Week: Cole Nash sets the pace for UAA Cross Country

Published: Nov. 30, 2022 at 10:20 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Sometimes, a program-changing athlete just falls into your lap.

That’s what University of Alaska Anchorage Cross Country Associate Head Coach Chas Davis says happened to him when standout runner Cole Nash arrived on campus in the fall of 2020.

“He is a once-in-a-career type of athlete,” Davis said of the Seawolf sophomore. “He’s got the physical side, the mental side, the leadership side.”

Since Nash became a Seawolf, he has won more races than he’s lost, placing at the top collegiate runner in three races as a freshman and four as a sophomore through 12 races.

“We call him a gamer,” Davis said. “The gun goes off and he is going to go beat people. I am never worried about him having a down race. I don’t have to.”

Nash has the biggest race of his collegiate career coming up Friday with the NCAA Division II National meet in University Place, Washington, where the weather will be ideal for those from the Last Frontier.

“I am so excited, I love it, every time I hear of the bad conditions,” Nash said of the forecasted rain and chilly temperatures at the national meet. “I hear next week is going to be 30 degrees, pouring rain, could not be better, just bring it down to mental toughness.”

The 2022 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Men’s Cross Country Athlete of the Year is feeling in top shape mentally and physically.

“I am feeling fantastic,” Nash said after a training run at the Alaska Airlines Center. “... The workouts have been going great, the training has been going great, I don’t think I could be peaking at a better time.”

So what’s in the mind of Alaska’s best male collegiate runner ahead of a big race?

”I like to listen to some relaxing Willie Nelson music and just calm down,” Nash said. “I think all the time to be hyped up and amped up is in the race, I think before that I just like to relax and listen to my calming music, think about happy days.”

“Shotgun Willie” Nelson once had a homestead in Evergreen, Colorado, about 20 miles outside of Nash’s hometown in Littleton. However, Nash has found a new home in the 49th State.

”It is shockingly great,” he said of the running culture in Alaska. “... I didn’t really know what to expect, but the Alaskan running culture is incredible, the amount of little community races, the people we see on the trails, it is so much fun.

“Could not be better than what I expected, I love it out here.”

Beyond his accomplishments on the trail, Nash has revitalized the program this year. Teammate Michael Zapherson credits Nash in helping him reach the NCAA Div. II national meet.

”Cole has been great, man,” Zapherson said. “... He’s just been an excellent training partner, obviously he is a good ways in front of me, but he has been a good benchmark to try and catch up to him, and it has just been awesome having somebody so far ahead and someone to look up to like that.”

Davis said Nash’s impact on the program will be felt for years to come.

″We’re reaching the level we were used to a lot sooner than I was expecting, and a lot of that is directly due to a guy like Cole Nash,” Davis said. ”... A lot of the success we experience over the next couple of years will be because other guys want to run with Mr. Nash, other guys know him, they want to be his friend, they want to follow his leadership.”

Nash placed 27th overall at the Div. II National meet last year as a freshman, good enough to earn All-American honors, but said his expectations have risen a lot in the year since.

”That would be a disaster, I’d say,” he said when asked what a 27th-place finish this year would be like. “I would be quite upset with that, I’d say.”

Nash harbors hopes of climbing into the top 10 this year, but if all goes well Friday, he could become just the second UAA men’s runner to win the Div. II national title, after Micah Chelimo accomplished the feat in 2012.