For the second time ever, the Fort Lewis College men’s cross country team qualified for the national championships.
Led by senior Kip Mutai’s 15th-place finish, the Skyhawks took sixth at the NCAA Division II South Central Regionals on Saturday at Denver’s Willis Case Golf Course to secure a berth to the NCAA national championships on Nov. 17 in Joplin, Mo., for the first time since 1995.
“It’s been a heckuva year,” said FLC head coach Mark Dutro, his first at FLC after coaching the Durango High School cross country program for a decade. “It’s been a great year for us.
“The men just ran out of their minds; they just kept plugging away.
Mutai ran the 10-kilometer course – their first 10K race this year – in 32 minutes, 53 seconds, and Dutro said the longer-length actually aided the team as the Skyhawks started picking off their opponents in the final 1,000 meters.
“The extra 2K is what we needed,” Dutro said.
Mutai’s performance was enough to qualify him for the All-Region team.
“He was finally able to uncork it a little bit,” Dutro said.
Behind Mutai, the FLC men’s point scorers included Garret Sapakoff (33rd, 33:45), Christian Gering (36th, 33:58), Jimmy Mohrbacher (43rd, 34:31) and Joey Brenner (52nd, 34:47).
Bayfield High School alumnus Derek Laue finished 71st in 35:31, and Alex Kilman finished 110th in 36:45) for FLC.
Adams State took the regional title with five of the top 10 runners, while Western State finished second, Colorado Mines third, UC-Colorado Springs fourth and Eastern New Mexico fifth.
“At the end we beat the guys we needed to beat,” Dutro said.
The FLC women’s team also finished in the top 10, far beyond expectations, Dutro said.
With Maddie Kruger taking the top Skyhawks’ spot in 23:30 – good enough for 30th in the 6K and five spots out of the All-Region team – the FLC women placed ninth out of 24 teams.
“It was a group effort; it was a team effort,” Dutro said. “They went way beyond what the expectations were for the season.”
Alexis Work (36th, 23:44), Katarina Medici (66th, 24:42), Helen Smith (77th, 25:00) and Tara Dillon (79th, 25:01) added points for the women.
“(Smith) pretty much ran the race of her life as well,” Dutro said of the team’s lone senior.
Kate Judge finished 97th in 25:37 and Alyssa Carman 98th in 25:38 for FLC.
Adams State also won the women’s title.