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Kelati Wins National Championship as Lobos Finish Fourth at NCAA

History was not going to repeat itself twice and as a result, history was made on Saturday morning at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course.

With the clock reading 19:47.5, University of New Mexico junior Weini Kelati crossed the finish line to win her first cross country national championship, and became just the second individual winner in UNM cross country history.

Kelati finished over nine seconds (9.6) ahead of the runner-up finisher, Alicia Monson of Wisconsin, and led from the first split at 2K to the finish line.

As a team, the Lobos continued their excellence in the turquoise with a fourth-place result, tallying 168 points to mark their fifth time finishing in the top four, including three in the last four years, and their 10th consecutive time finishing in the top 10.

In her final cross country race as a Lobo, Ednah Kurgat added another top-10 finisher for UNM after placing ninth with 20:18.4, never dropping below 10th in the entirety of the 6K race.

Hannah Nuttall was the third Lobo to cross the line at 35th to pick up her first All-American honor at 20:42.9, adding 27 team points, and Adva Cohen was fourth at 20:59.2 to finish 55th overall but 40 in the team points. The final scorer for UNM was freshman Gracelyn Larkin, who placed 122nd overall at 21:24.6, but added 91 points to the team standing.

Starting in the box No. 43, the far right box, Kurgat and Kelati got early positioning, settling in the front of the field.  Kurgat and Kelati ran on the edge of the pack through the first kilometer, with Kelati waiting to make her move.  Kelati moved to the front at the 5:20 mark but wasn’t able to get much separation as the rest of the pack went with her.

In the first checkpoint at the 2K split, Kelati sat in first with 6:37.6, but had just a 0.2 second separation between Auburn’s Joyce Kimeli and 0.3 between BYU’s Erica Birk. Kurgat was closely following in fifth at 6:38.0, but the Lobos had a drop between their second and third runners as Nuttall crossed 70th at 6:42.1. As a team, UNM was 13th in the team standings with 388 points.

At the halfway point, Kelati made her final move, with Monson running closely with her, but this time she was able to create some separation at 10:44 and continued to open a gap.

“I wasn’t planning to get away, but I was trying to find a place that I couldn’t get chipped or blocked out,” Kelati stated after the race. “So, I saw it and I was like the risk is kind of crazy, but I didn’t know how far I can go like this. So, I decided to wait a little bit and then I was like I kind of feel pretty good and I was like why not just try the risk and I tried to pull away from everyone else.”

With 2K to go, Kelati led by 5.2 seconds over Monson at 13:14.9 and Kurgat sat in sixth at 13:24.2. Cohen checked in at 58th in 13:48.9 and Nuttall moved up 11 spots into 59th at 13:49.0. Larkin was the fifth Lobo to cross the marker at 14:11.6 as UNM totaled 206 points, shedding 182 points to move to fifth in the team standings.

In the final portion of the race, Kelati continued to build on her lead over Monson and ultimately was the first to cross the line to claim her first cross country championship and her second all-time as a Lobo after winning the 10K in the outdoor championship. As a result, Kelati is the first Lobo to win multiple national championships.

The junior joins Kurgat as UNM’s only individual champions in cross country, which comes a year after Kelati was passed in the final stretch of the cross country championship to finish runner-up.

As Kelati crossed the line, the rest of the Lobos continued to pick up places in the race with Nuttall improving 24 spots to finish 35th, Cohen three spots to finish 55th and Larkin moving up 30 spots in the field to finish 122nd. However, given the finishes by the rest of the teams in the field, Nuttall’s 35th-place finish turned into 27 team points, Cohen’s into 40 points and Larkin’s into 91 points to give UNM the 168 final total team points and the fourth-place result, an improvement of 38 points in the final portion of the race.

New Mexico finished 22 points ahead of No. 6 NC State and 45 points behind No. 2 Stanford in the team standings. Arkansas claimed the team title with 96 points after placing two in the top five, three in the top 16 and four in the top 21.

Kelati and Kurgat each picked up their third All-American accolade in cross country and Nuttall earned her first. In her career, Kelati has 10- three in cross country, four indoor and three outdoor. Kurgat picked up her ninth all-America honor.