With 200 meters to go, nobody was going to catch Aisling Cuffe. Photos by Alan Versaw.
For most of 5K of the 6K PAC-12 women's championship race, Stanford's Aisling Cuffe was content to let others do the hard work of leading the circuits around Louisville's Coal Creek Golf Course. For a while it was Kelsey Santisteban of California, and later it was a trio of Arizona Wildcats in form of Elvin Kibet, Kayla Beattie, and Nicci Corbin. Eventually, however, each of these race leaders would discover they had been set up by a runner who kept a low profile a few strides behind them.
When it really counted, it was Aisling Cuffe and... nobody else.
With a little over 1000 meters to go, Aisling Cuffe was dropping hints that the waiting game had grown tiresome.
The Stanford sophomore who so recently dominated the scene in high school cross country did to the PAC-12 Conference what she did to assembled high school fields on countless occasions--she found another gear and blew them away.
Cuffe's time of 21:04 time beat Kibet by 11 seconds, and the rest of the field by increasingly greater intervals of time. If the time seems longish, we need only mention that the grass, too, was long in spots and the elevation was all of 5300 feet. No matter, though, Cuffe had plenty in the tank when it was time to go. She handled the challenges of altitude much as a seasoned veteran of high-altitude racing might. And so she reaped the rewards of hanging off the back of the lead pack while the others tried to figure out the burn rates at an altitude where they've never before competed.
It was far from a lost day for the #1-ranked Arizona women, however.
Arizona looked to have the meet title giftwrapped for their university's trophy case early on the last of the three golf course circuits. At that point, Arizona held a commanding lead in the team scoring, but the Wildcats bled several points in the final few hundred meters of the race. The trio of Kibet, Beattie, and Corbin, who had been running a tight 2-3-4 with only 200 meters to go, was caught and split up by Cal's Santisteban and Arizona State's Shelby Houlihan. Instead of 2, 3, and 4 points from their top three, Arizona was forced to settle for a 2-5-6.
Similarly, Arizona's Maria Larson slipped a few places in the final few meters of the race.
Suddenly, Arizona's once insurmountable lead seemed on the verge of implosion, and even more so as Colorado's top five moved up through the ranks as Arizona moved back. Hanna Peterson closed out the Arizona scoring in 32nd, stopping the team total at 69 points.
Colorado had stopped their team scoring two places sooner when Catrina McAlister crossed in 22:40, but the Buffaloes' score summed to 75. And so it was that six points separated Colorado from a second conference title sweep in three years. Shalaya Kipp and Carrie Verdon led the Buffaloes in 8th and 10th, respectively.
Washington and Oregon would finish a distant third and fourth in the team scoring with 111 and 113 points, respectively. Apart from Cuffe's individual title effort, a very good Stanford team never quite seemed to find their race. The Cardinal finished in fifth.