Caroline Kurgat’s drive for five turned into a run for one Saturday at the NCAA Division II indoor track and field championships.
Kurgat, a UAA senior, won her fifth NCAA national title by pulling away in the second half of the women’s 3,000-meter race at Pittsburg State in Pittsburg, Kansas.
It was her second national title in two days, and just like Friday when she won the 5,000 meters, Kurgat set a meet and facility record.
She won in 9 minutes, 15.45 seconds for a six-second win over Eilish Flanagan of Adams State. No other athlete in UAA history has won five national titles – Micah Chelimo, a fellow Kenyan, won four titles for the UAA men from 2010-14.
Dani McCormick, a senior from Soldotna, captured third place in the women’s 800 meters on Saturday, and on Friday both she and Kurgat ran legs on UAA’s second-place distance medley relay team.
Those results lifted UAA to fourth place in the women’s team standings – the school’s first team trophy in track, according to coach Michael Friess.
“Amazingly proud of our team,” he said by text. “A total of 11 All-American performances and an amazing podium finish for the women’s team. We are bringing back a trophy!
“It was an amazing weekend for UAA track and field.”
Kurgat and McCormick shined the brightest for the Seawolves. Kurgat left as a two-time champ and three-time All-American and McCormick left as a two-time All-American.
Also gaining All-America status were sophomore Ruth Cvancara and junior Vanessa Aniteye, members of the women’s distance medley relay team, and the four Seawolves who ran to seventh place in the men’s distance medley relay – sophomore Felix Kemboi, freshman Nathanial Brunett, senior Eduardo Orozco and freshman Drew Johnson.
McCormick, the defending champion, set a school record by running to third place in 2:06.28, 1.34 seconds behind winner Skylyn Webb of UC Colorado Springs.
“Dani ran aggressively, which is what she needed to do because this 800-meter field was stacked,” Friess said. “Her school record and third-place finish set the stage for Caroline.”
And given a stage, Kurgat knows how to perform.
She won the Division II cross country title in 2017 and swept the 5,000 and 10,000 titles at last spring’s Division II outdoor track championships. In January, she ran the fastest 3,000 and 5,000 times in Division II history.
On Saturday, she sat back for the first five laps of the 10-lap race on Pittsburg State’s indoor oval and then unleashed her speed in the final 1,500 meters to take command.
Kurgat ran the second half in 4:29, a time Friess said often qualifies an athlete for the 1,500 meters at the outdoor NCAA championships.
Kurgat’s and UAA’s attention will now turn to the outdoor track and field season, which will mark Kurgat’s final season of eligibility.