Cross country

Dani Jones captures individual glory as No. 3 Buffaloes finally reach top step of podium

Colorado senior Dani Jones outkicked New Mexico's Weini Kelati to capture a national title in Madison on Saturday.

Colorado senior Dani Jones outkicked New Mexico's Weini Kelati to capture a national title in Madison on Saturday.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Weini Kelati had used the same strategy in every race she won in 2018, making a strong move shortly after the midway mark to pull away from her competition to one dominating victory after another.

The New Mexico sophomore made a similar move around the 4-kilometer mark of Saturday’s Division 1 Cross Country National Championships, and quickly built a 15-meter lead that put the rest of the race on the ropes.

Kelati kept the pace high and strung out the lead pack, but she never fully cracked the field. It came back to haunt her in the closing meters, as Colorado senior Dani Jones unleashed a huge kick to win a national title in her final collegiate cross country race in a time of 19 minutes and 42 seconds.

Jones’ win was just the start of a great day for the Buffaloes, as they put three runners in the top 15 to upset No. 1 New Mexico and capture the team title. It was an especially emotional moment for Colorado’s upperclassmen, who were part of a heavily-favored team in 2016 that finished a disappointing third.

“I’ve been a part of teams that weren’t supposed to win, I’ve been a part of teams that were and didn’t but at the end of the day we podiumed every single season and no other team has done that in three consecutive years,” Jones said. “So before we got on the line I got the team together and I was like ‘no one deserves this more than us.’”

Behind Jones, senior Makena Morley finished a surprise eighth to power Colorado’s surprise victory. The Buffaloes scored just 65 points, 38 ahead of the runner-up Lobos and one of the lowest team scores in meet history.

“I’m so excited, so proud of all of the team,” Morley said. “I’m not used to kicking because I run the 10k but I saw Dani winning and I got this fierce kick in me, or as fierce as it could be… I think the highest I’ve placed [at nationals] is like 43rd so it was pretty exciting.”

Around an inch and a half of snow fell on the Zimmer championship course in the hours before the race, which impacted the footing and produced a tentative race in the early moments. While some teams may have been looking for faster conditions, the Buffaloes revelled in the wintry weather.

“I wanted there to be more snow than it was… We wanted the hardest conditions,” Jones said. “We woke up and it was like Christmas morning.”

Defending champion New Mexico put three women in the top 10 — Kelati in second, seniors Ednah Kurgat and Charlotte Prouse in fifth and ninth — to finish second with 103 points.

“I tried my best and I am happy to have gotten second. Things were not how we expected and that’s how it plays out,” Kelati said. “You have to keep going and anything can happen so you try your best until the finish line.”

Running on her home course, Wisconsin’s Alicia Monson captured a fourth-place finish after passing several fading runners in the home stretch. Monson and the Badgers were supported by what NCAA officials called unofficially the largest crowd in championships history.

The junior looked like a national championship contender after winning the prestigious Nuttycombe Invitational, but still ended up happy with her run on Saturday.

“I’m feeling overall good about the race, not fully satisfied but I’m proud of the way I came back at the end of it,” Monson said. “[the crowd] was crazy the whole race especially on the long stretches where everyone was at. It was energizing.”

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