For the third straight season, the Idaho women’s cross country team is the best in the WAC. The Vandals won their third consective title in the closest win in WAC history, and Idaho junior Hannah Kiser secured her first individual conference title.
“It feels really good,” Kiser said. “It’s nice to be an individual champion and a team champion. I tried for it last year and it didn’t happen, so it’s nice to come back and be able to do it.”
In a race where the Vandals combined to run 1:29:28.17 between seven runners over five-kilometers, the race came down to tenths of a second as Idaho beat Texas-San Antonio 48-51. In the final straightaway, junior Holly Stanton passed a runner to move from 15th to 14th and freshman Halie Raudenbush moved up two spots from 18th to 16th to secure the win for the Vandals. Without these two moves, Idaho would have lost by one point to UTSA.
“This was the toughest victory of the three (championships) by far,” Idaho coach Wayne Phipps said. “We overcame a lot of adversity throughout the year. We overcame some injuries, some illnesses. We felt confident coming in but we knew it was going to be a tough battle and it ended up being even tougher than what we expected.”
After not feeling 100 percent in last year’s WAC Championship, Kiser dominated the 2012 field, finishing in 17:15.03 minutes, more than 10 seconds ahead of the second place finisher. She was also honored as the WAC Women’s Cross Country Athlete of the Year and was selected as an all-WAC first team runner.
“She’s been a crucial part of our team from freshman year,” Phipps said of Kiser. “Last year she got very close to winning and she was very motivated this year to try to win … all the hard work she put in during the summer really paid off.”
Two other Vandals also crossed the finish line in the top 10. Junior Alycia Butterworth crossed in eighth at 17:53.91, right ahead of fellow junior Emily Paradis who was ninth with a 17:57.03. Butterworth and Paradis secured second team all-conference spots with their performances.
Stanton (18:05.93) and Raudenbush (18:16.27) rounded out the scoring for the Vandals.
Kiser, Butterworth, Paradis and Stanton have been contributors to each of the three consecutive conference titles and with no seniors on this year’s team, there’s no reason they can’t make it four straight next year.
Still, this year’s win shows that nothing is a given. One misstep and the Vandals could have finished second. Butterworth said the team had a long wait after the race before the results were announced.
“It was the most nerve-wracking thing ever,” she 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.”
On the men’s side, senior Barry Britt finished third overall in the men’s eight-kilometer race, crossing the finish line in 24:10.48, 36 seconds ahead of the next runner. Idaho finished fifth overall with 113 points, fielding one of the youngest teams in the meet. The only other upperclassmen for the Vandals — senior Jeff Osborn — finished 12th in 25:02.49, almost three minutes better than he did at last year’s conference championship.
“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.”
Britt earned first team all-conference honors and Osborn was named to the second team with his WAC Championship performance.
Freshman Santos Vargas was the third-best runner for Idaho with his 22nd place finish in 27:43.09.
Fellow freshmen Will Austin-Cray (38th, 25:46.28) and Colton Hastings (43rd, 26:10.88) rounded out the scoring for the Vandal men.
Texas-Arlington won the WAC title on the men’s side with 48 points.
The WAC Championships have concluded but the season is not over for the Vandals as they prepare to race in the NCAA West Region Championships November 9 in Seattle.
Stephan Wiebe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org