Cross-country UAF

Nanook senior Lukash Platil leads the men after the start of the 7k dual between UAF and UAA at the Blue and Gold Run Fest on Saturday on West Ridge. Laura Stickells/News-Miner

The University of Alaska Fairbanks men’s and women’s cross-country teams opened their seasons at home on the West Ridge trails Saturday with losses in both duals against University of Alaska Anchorage.

The Seawolves, voted No. 1 in the men’s and No. 2 in the women’s Great Northwest Athletic Conference Preseason Cross Country Running Coaches Poll on Thursday, finished the men’s 7-kilometer race by outscoring the Nanooks 41-17. The UAF women finished on the short end of a 39-17 outcome.

The Seawolves also claimed the top three spots in both contests.

Senior Lukash Platil finished the 7K in 23 minutes, 36.26 seconds, the top effort for the Nanooks and fourth place for men’s overall. 

“I stayed tough. I went with the pack when I could. I held it together when it got too fast for me and, yeah, I’m proud of my effort,” Platil said after the race.

UAF redshirt senior Alex Bergholtz was the first woman finisher for the Nanooks, placing fourth overall in 19:41.66 on the 5K layout.

Each course started and finished on the satellite dish road and ran east, and each race was comprised of two loops.

The first was a 3K loop down along the Bicycle Bumps trail and back to the satellite dish road. The second was a 2K loop around Potato Field and back to the start. The men completed the 2K loop twice.

“I think that’s really something different than normal running races have because it’s up and down and it’s quite challenging, and it’s narrow so you can’t really pass people either,” UAF acting head cross-country coach Eliska Albrigtsen said about the Bicycle Bumps section.

“It was probably a good refreshment from running straight uphill from just having those up and down bumps.”

Platil found the bumps to be more challenging than refreshing.

“The first kilometer and a half was really smooth running right in tempo with the pack,” he said, “ but the technical section called Bicycle Bumps back there throws off the cadence. The more efficient runners definitely get the upper hand there.”

The hardest section for the two-time Nanooks team MVP (2016 and 2018), who doubles as a Nordic skier, was the climb back to the satellite road, which followed the bumps.

“I struggled with it a lot actually, that critical point mid-race,”’ Platil said. “It’s easy to get beyond an effort that you can sustain for a long period of time.

“When somebody hits that point, they kind of have a mental-decision point of if they’re going to go for it and see if your legs can hold you on that day or if you back off; but when you back off, it comes at a big price.”

Platil was happy with how he handled Saturday’s mental challenge and said the race was good preparation for the cross-country season.

Bergholtz was also happy with her performance, especially after only running for three weeks since taking two months off training to recover from a knee injury. She spent the summer cross training on a Stairmaster or a bike while adding occasional runs.

“This is a really hard course, but I think we all went out pretty controlled for the first lap,” the redshirt senior said, “and then for the second lap we really dug deep and all had really great races.” 

In addition to putting up the most points for their respective teams Saturday, both Platil and Bergholtz were vital assets for the team during the offseason.

Albrigtsen, who was formerly the assistant coach for the cross-country team while serving as head coach for the ski team, had to take over head coach duties for the running team from former head coach Nick Crawford.

“I never coached running, so the assistant coaches and the seniors were a really big help with figuring out the paces for everyone,” Albrigtsen said. “Giving splits on the course and stuff, that’s something that we do in skiing, but not pacing so that was the tough part.

“Jacob Walsh and Luke (Platil) ... those guys, they kind of took it and showed the guys what needs to be done, which really helps. On the women’s side, Alex Bergholtz has been really helpful to the whole team. She knows everything about running. She knows all the runners and all the times you should be running.”

UAA’s Wesley Kiriui was the only runner on Saturday to earn a sub-22 minute time in the men’s race, running just under at 21:59.68. Seawolves Felix Kemboi (22:11.15) and Nickson Koech (22:57.16), placed second and third, respectively, behind their teammate.

Rounding out the top three for the Blue and Gold was Walsh, who placed seventh overall with a time of 23:59.16, and redshirt-sophomore Jack Matherly, who placed ninth with a time of 24:21.56. 

In the women’s race, the Seawolves’ Emmanuelah Chelimo crossed the line first in 18:33.12, followed by teammates Nancy Jeptoo (18:33.89) and Yvonne Jeschke (19:36.00). 

Junior Anja Maijala earned a finish of 20:28.06 to place seventh overall and second for the Nooks, followed by teammate Mariel Pulles (20:32.90), who placed eighth overall and third for UAF. 

Both Nanooks teams next travel to Monmouth, Oregon  for the Western Oregon Ash Creek Invitational on Friday.

Contact News-Miner sports writer Laura Stickells at 459-7530. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMsports.