Courtesy: Idaho Athletic Media Relations
RUSTON, La. – They said all along it wouldn’t be easy, and in the closest race in Western Athletic Conference history, University of Idaho women’s cross country made it three-consecutive titles in Lincoln Parish Park at Ruston, La., on Saturday.
Idaho’s women edged WAC newcomer UTSA by a three-point margin, 48-51, as Vandal junior Hannah Kiser (Wenatchee, Wash.) won her first career individual cross country title and WAC Women’s Cross Country Athlete of the Year honor, while Idaho director of track and field/cross country Wayne Phipps was named WAC Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year a fifth time.
“This one definitely was the toughest all the way around from what happened during the year and what happened during the race, then the agonizing half-hour wait for the results,” Phipps said after the race. “It was all worth it in the end.”
Juniors Alycia Butterworth (8th) and Emily Paradis (9th) followed behind Kiser as the team’s second and third finishers with times of 17:53.91 and 17:57.03, respectively.
As is historically the case, this one came down to the No. 4 and No. 5 scoring spots, both of which came up huge for the Vandals. In the final straightaway, first Holly Browning (Stanton) passed one competitor to move into 14th as Idaho’s fourth finisher, and then true freshman Halie Raudenbush passed two more before taking Idaho’s No. 5 spot at 16th overall.
“I knew coming down the final 500 meters that it was going to come down to one person passing one or two spots at the very end,” Phipps said. “Holly had just a great race today and finished so strongly, then Halie passed two girls, including one UTSA girl at the very end, and that kind of sealed it.”
In a race of three-plus miles, Idaho’s title came down to a matter of inches and fractions of seconds – and then the team had to wait about 30 minutes before the announcement of the final standings to even think about a celebration.
“It so easily could have gone either way, but I think it was really just a testament to the dedication, hard work and the competitive drive of these girls,” Phipps said. “They never gave up from the first step to the last step of the race.”
Butterworth said the wait seemed like hours, and the fact that Phipps didn’t know at the end whether they had won or not made it all the more stressful.
“It was the most nerve-wracking thing ever,” Butterworth said. “Seeing Phipps worried and having no idea how it turned out, we were just on our toes the whole time waiting for it. We were all standing there holding hands and when they announced the second-place team, it seem like a never-ending pause before they said, ‘UTSA’ and we just went crazy.”
There significantly less drama surrounding Kiser’s individual win. She breezed her way to a 10-second victory in the race with a 5,000-meter time of 17:15.03, which is the fastest WAC Championship time since 2007 and was 10 seconds faster than second-place Courtney Schultz of New Mexico State, the three-time defending individual champion.
“It was nice to see Hannah running the way that she can,” Phipps said. “This year, she’s had a little battle with some breathing issues that we just figured out in the last few weeks. Today, she really controlled it from the time she took the lead at about the halfway point to the very end. I couldn’t be happier for her.”
Vandal senior Barry Britt led the way for the Idaho men with a third-place individual finish and an 8,000-meter time of 24:10.48. He was followed by fellow senior Jeff Osborn, who ran what Phipps called, “the best race of his career,” and took 12th overall in 25:02.06.
“It was absolutely perfect and he stuck exactly to his race strategy,” Phipps said of Osborn. “He was about 25th or 26th at the halfway point and just kept closing in on guys. To finish the way he did and run the way he did was phenomenal, and I am so proud of him.”
Phipps said the sprint to the finish between individual champion Erik Barkaus of Seattle U, Kyle McKenna of Utah State and Britt of Idaho was wild, as the three ran in a pack for the final 1,000 meters and then ended with a dead sprint to the finish. The meet’s fourth-place runner was 36 seconds behind Britt.
“This was probably the best course I’ve ever seen at a cross country championship race,” Phipps said. “It was a true cross country course and the times for those three guys are great. For them to run as quickly as they did here was absolutely incredible, especially when you look at the gap between them and the rest of the field.”
UT Arlington put four runners in the top nine and six in the top 27 overall to take the team crown. Phipps said he predicted a wide-open men’s race, and that came to fruition as the team predicted fifth in Monday’s Pre-Championship Coaches Poll upset meet favorite Utah State.
“It was just a matter of who could put their best race of the year today and I really think UTA did that,” Phipps said. “They did that today just running great as a group. It just seemed like every single person after the first four finishers was a UT Arlington guy.”
As a team, Idaho finished fifth with 113 team points. Freshman Santos Vargas was the team’s third finisher at 22nd overall in 25:16.01. He was followed by freshman Will Austin-Cray (38th, 25:46.28) and redshirt freshman Colton Hastings (43rd, 26:10.88). Sophomore Cayle Turpen was the team’s sixth finisher at 51st overall in 27:00.58.
On the women’s side, freshman Marquita Palmer was the sixth overall Vandal to cross in 31st place with a time of 18:44.62. Redshirt freshman Abby Larson was 43rd overall in 19:04.64, while freshmen Alex Sciocchetti (48th, 19:15.18) and Stephanie Rexus (51st, 19:25.51) wrapped up the team finishes.
In addition to the individual Athlete of the Year and Coach of the Year awards, Kiser and Britt were First-Team All-WAC selections, while Butterworth, Paradis and Browning were Second-Team All-WAC picks on the women’s side and Osborn was a men’s Second-Team All-WAC pick.
Idaho’s three-peat is the first by any Vandal program since men’s track and field won three-consecutive outdoor titles in the Big Sky and Big West from 1995-97. It’s just the second time in Idaho athletics history that a women’s team has achieved the feat. The only other women’s team to do so was volleyball, from 1993-95 in the Big Sky Conference.
“We’re just so excited,” Kiser said of the historical perspective. “The first year (2010) was a surprise, then the next year came and we won again, so we started talking about winning it all four years. Obviously, you have to work very hard to accomplish that goal and I feel like we’ve done that.
“We also so happy, because now our freshmen have a taste of victory, too. It’s not just about us or the teams from the last two years. It’s about continuing to build this program.”