FAIRBANKS — Alyson McPhetres helped the Alaska Nanooks women’s cross country team continue the momentum of a history-making 2011 season, while Mitch Kraft just made history for Black Hills State University.
McPhetres placed fourth Thursday in the women’s 6-kilometer run of the season-opening Alaska Nanooks West Ridge Invitational. The junior from Chugiak was among four runners in the top 10 for the Nanooks, who placed second in the team standings between winner and Great Northwest Athletic Conference rival Seattle Pacific University and third-place squad Black Hills State of Spearfish, S.D.
The Nanooks generated 37 points while the Seattle Pacific Falcons compiled 26 and Black Hills State Yellow Jackets 60.
Kraft became the first Black Hills State athlete to win an NCAA Division II competition, as the junior placed first in 26:11.5 and led the Yellow Jackets to the team title in the men’s 8K of the season-opening Alaska Nanooks West Ridge Invitational.
Though only a squad’s top five runners earn points toward the team standings, Black Hills State saw all seven of its men place in the top 11 Thursday and the Yellow Jackets tallied 26 points.
Seattle Pacific, led by race runner-up Jordan Wolfe (26:34.4) and third-place finisher AJ Baker (26:48.0), garnered 42 points. Junior Ross MacDougal registered a team-best ninth-place finish (27:33.5) for the Nanooks, who recorded 66 points.
Last season, the Nanooks women qualified for the NCAA Division II National Championships for the first time, finishing 17th among 24 teams at the meet in Spokane, Wash.
“I guess it actually helped us realize that it was possible for us, because a lot of us train for (Nordic) skiing,” McPhetres said after crossing the finish line Thursday in 23 minutes, 23.9 seconds.
“We just started realizing that ‘Hey, we can do really well at this, too. We can do amazing things in whatever we decide to do,’” McPhetres added. “Once we set our minds on something, we can do it.”
Three teammates placed sixth through eighth — respectively, junior Raphaela Sieber (24:02.8), freshman Julia Ebner (24:09.5) and senior Heather Edic (24:53.1). Seattle Pacific swept the top three places, led by Falcons junior Robyn Zeidler’s winning time of 22:56.9. Senior teammate Katie Thralls placed second (23:16.9) and freshman Katie Morris took third (23:21.4).
This marked the third straight year that the Falcons opened their season at the West Ridge Trails. Zeidler competed in 2010 on the University of Alaska Fairbanks course but missed last year’s meet because of a stress problem in her left foot.
The foot was still bothering her Thursday but not enough to keep the redshirt sophomore from winning on the hilly course and pacing the Falcons to the team honor.
“I didn’t really have a pace in mind going into it, as long as I could settle in and feel good,” Zeidler said. “I just knew I had more training this summer than I had before, and I was hoping I could hold a faster pace.”
Junior Erin Curran led Black Hills State with a fifth-place effort of 23:32.2.
This school year marks Black Hills State’s debut at the NCAA Division II level after the university had competed for many years at the NAIA level. The 13 Yellow Jackets runners on Thursday — seven men and six women — were the school’s first representatives in a D-II event.
“It’s always good to come out here and race for your teammates and win a race for them,” Kraft said. “We wanted to make a name for ourselves in D-II, and we thought with this team we could.”
“We looked really good coming into this week, and watching the race, we looked really good,” Kraft continued. “It’s just great to be a part of history and be on such a fun team.”
Fellow junior Mark Wilcox was the second-fastest Yellow Jacket in fourth place at 26:57.3.
Black Hills State is on provisional status this school year in NCAA Division II and will become a full-fledged member in 2013-14. The Yellow Jackets are eligible for postseason competition in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tbut can’t compete in D-II national postseason events until 2013-14.
Junior Tux Seims posted the second-best time for the Nanooks men, 27:39.7 for 12th place, and senior Lars Arneson was the third-fastest runner for the hosts, finishing 15th in 27:57.6.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.