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Kelati, Lobo Women Win Mountain West XC Titles

LOGAN, Utah—
It was clear early on that Friday’s Mountain West Cross Country Championship women’s race was going to be University of New Mexico’s Weini Kelati’s race to win.

Entering the day as the defending MW champion, the junior took the lead early and ran away from the field en route to a comanding 49 second victory, crossing the finish line at the Steve and Dona Reeder Cross Country Course in 19:11.2, a Mountain West record time by 26 seconds.

While Kelati continued to add to her legacy at UNM, and Ednah Kurgat delivered with a runner-up finish, it was the gutsy runs by Hannah Nuttall, Gracelyn Larkin and Alexandra Harris that solidified the women’s 12th consecutive MW championship.

The women had three runners in the top five, four runners in the top 10 and all five scorers in the top 13, scoring 31 team points and finishing 23 points ahead of the second-place team, Air Force. 

With the win, the Lobo runner became just the second Mountain West individual champion to go back-to-back, joining Emma Bates of Boise State who won in 2013 and 2014, as well as the second runner to win multiple individual championships on the women’s side. Kelati’s win also continued the streak of UNM taking both the individual title and the team title for the fourth consecutive year.

Kelati, Adva Cohen and Kurgat paced the Lobos from the starting line going 1-2-3, respectively, with Kelati (3:21.7) and Cohen (3:22.3) separated by just 0.6 seconds at the first split of 1.1K and Kurgat checking in at 3:29.8.

The trio would continue to run in the top-three through the 2K mark, with Kelati extending a 10.2 second advantage over Cohen at 6:10.5 while Kurgat remained just 2.2 seconds behind Cohen at 6:22.9.

By the time that Kelati had completed the 6K course in 19:11.2, Kurgat had moved up to second but was a substantial distance behind, crossing at 20:00.13 for the runner-up result.

Nuttall made steady moves as the race progressed, starting in 16th at the first checkpoint and moving up five spots to 11th at the 2K mark before finishing fifth overall at 20:14.37 for her highest finish and best time this season.

In her first MW championship race, freshman Larkin placed 10th, improving from 32nd to 30th before closing in the last portion of the race to finish at 20:32.53, again running her best time of the season to produce her highest finish. Larkin was named the MW Freshman of the Year as a result of her performance.

Sophomore Harris was the final scorer for the Lobo women, running a consistent race before finishing 13th with a time of 20:40.68. The Lobo started in 14th at the first checkpoint before dropping slightly to 16th before recovering to move up three spots.

Brenda Rosales-Coria (21:08.0) and Juanita Johnson (21:08.2) finished 24th and 25th, respectively, to give UNM seven runners in the top 25 and Cohen, in her first cross country race of the season, finished in 21:23.3 for a 33rd-place finish.

It looked as if it would be another close team race between UNM and Boise State early on as through the 1.1K point of the race, UNM held a narrow two-point lead of 36 to 38 over the Broncos, which only grew to three at the 2K mark at 33 to 36. However, when the final results were tabulated, Air Force would move ahead of the Broncos in to the second spot with 54 points with Boise State finishing third with 63 team points. 

Senior Toby Cooke and junior William Fuller closed strong in the 8K men’s race, finishing 11th at 23:34.9 and 12th at 23:36.6, respectively, to pace the Lobos to a sixth-place team finish of 111 points.

After starting in the middle of the pack at 34th at the first checkpoint of 1.1K, Cooke slipped slightly to 37th at the 2K mark before improving 26 places in the remaining 6K. Like Cooke, Fuller started in 44th at 3:09.0 before steadily working his way through the group, moving up to 33rd before jumping up 21 spots.

Jared Garcia was the third Lobo to score at 23:57.3 for 24th overall followed by Nehemiah Cionelo in 28th at 24:01.7, although he earned 27 team points for his result. The 2018 MW Freshman of the Year Reece Donihi was the fifth and final UNM scorer at 38th with a time of 24:191, improving from 51st to 38th in the last portion of the race. He added 37 points to the team standing.

The Lobo men finished just five points behind Air Force and was a comfortable 109 points ahead of the seventh-place team, San José State. The men held sixth in the team standings throughout the race but picked up points as the race went along, going from 192 points to 181 points to 111. 

In addition to Larkin and Kelati winning conference awards, Joe Franklin was named the Women’s Conference Coach of the Year for the 11th straight time and Kelati was named the Women’s Conference Athlete of the Year for the second straight year. 

Kelati, Kurgat and Nuttall earned All-Mountain West Cross Country First Team with Larkin and Harris picking up All-Mountain West Cross Country Second Team honors, the first career conference awards for Larkin, Harris and Nuttall. Cooke and Fuller garnered All-Mountain West Cross Country Second Team honors for their finishes, the first conference honor for both. The first seven finishers were selected for the first team with eight through 14 on the second-team. 

Up next for UNM is the NCAA Mountain Region in Salt Lake City, Utah on Nov. 15 with the aim to qualify for the NCAA National Championships on Nov. 23.