UAF’s Kramer is the champ again, UAA men finish 2nd and other tales from the trail at the 2023 GNAC Cross Country Championships

Updated: Oct. 21, 2023 at 10:38 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - For the first time since 2001, Alaska hosted the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Cross Country Championships, and Alaskans took advantage of it with strong performances at Kincaid Park.

While there were question marks at the beginning of the season as to what the conditions may look like for a late-October race in Alaska, hundreds of athletes from 10 colleges were welcomed with sunny skies and dry conditions. Temperatures were hovering in the low 20s, but if it were up to the runners up north in the Interior, they’d probably crank it down a few more notches.

University of Alaska Fairbanks runners Kendall Kramer and Rosie Fordham went 1-2 in the Women’s 6-kilometer race while the Nanooks took third as a team.

“This was so awesome, I was really excited about today. I love running in the cold, I just feel really fast in the cold, I feel really light,” Kramer said after taking first with a time of 20 minutes and 46.2 seconds. “Obviously we’ve ran here already this year but I have also ran here a lot in high school, I trained here for three summers, I know Kincaid park so well. And the girls are quick, so it was going to be a good day — and my whole family is here!”

Kramer, a Fairbanks-native and standout skier, is now the back-to-back GNAC Women’s Cross Country Athlete of the Year after taking gold as a Sophomore last year.

”I am so grateful because of course I stayed at UAF and people were skeptical of that because there wasn’t much of a running program, but now we really have established a running program,” Kramer added. “I’m just really glad that me and other could kickstart that by staying in Alaska.”

University of Alaska Anchorage’s top finisher was junior Nell Baker, a University of Idaho transfer from Seattle who took 5th place. Her time of 21:18 earned her All-Conference honors and the Newcomer of the Year Award as she set the pace for the Seawolves on the trails she now calls home.

”I think there’s something really special about being at home — more than half the fans are cheering for you and your team and you just really feel the love. It’s just such a beautiful day here that is is really special to be showing people what Alaska is about, and I think I just felt that love for Alaska today and just ran with my heart,” Baker said as the Seawolves finished fifth as a team.

Western Washington took home the team title thanks in part to Palmer’s Sophie Wright. In her homecoming race, the junior clocked in at 21:51 for 14th place helping lift the Vikings to the championship. The former Moose got a chance to showcase the trials she once trampled to her teammates, a meet she has had circled on her calendar for awhile.

”I was stoked, because I was hearing from all the UAA people we might be hosting and I was like there’s no way because college running doesn’t really do stuff like this a lot,” Wright said after the race. “I don’t think people realize how close-knit the Alaska community is, and to come back and be able to show people that has been truly amazing.”

In the Men’s 8K, all eyes were on Seawolf standout Cole Nash, the defending GNAC Champion winning last year’s race at Western Oregon. Unfortunately, Nash has been battling injury for much of the season, but still put on a valiant effort for 3rd place overall at 25:01, earning All-Conference honors and will be representing UAA at the West Regional Championship meet in November.

“I think this is my third run in the last two weeks, fifth run in the last month, so I am just trying to do my best with what I got. There is no excuse to not run well, but I am more here for the team — I did what I had to do to get the team where we needed to be. Second isn’t great, but it is also the best performance we’ve seen our boys run in awhile so I am proud of them,” Nash said. “I love to run with my teammates, to run with the Seawolf, the Alaska on my jersey, this is my last conference up here so I love running for the state, running for this team, there is nothing like it.”

UAA men took second overall behind Western Washington University thanks in part to freshman Ty Elliot’s performance of 25:56, as the Anchorage native and former Grace Christian Grizzly placed 18th overall.

“I thought it was pretty exciting just being at home, normally we have to travel for these kinds of events. Also just having the whole conference out here to see where we train and what we do, so that was pretty exciting,” Elliot said of hosting the GNAC Championships.

Many of these athletes will be competing at the NCAA West Region Championships in Monmouth, Oregon on Nov. 4.