SF State runner clinches spot at cross-country nationals

The SF State men’s and women’s cross-country teams were unable to punch a ticket to the NCAA Division II National Championship meet during the West Region regional meet Saturday morning in Spokane, Wash.

Neither placed in their respective race’s top five teams, a position that would’ve clinched them a spot. The men finished eighth and the women finished 15th, falling several spots from last year’s fourth place finish for the men and ninth place finish for the women.

However, one lone Gator – Bruk Assefa – secured a spot at nationals by placing in the top three individual men not on a qualifying team. Assefa finished tenth overall with a time of 32:18 in the men’s 10k race, earning him All-West Region honors as well. It will be the senior’s second trip to nationals, where he led the men’s cross-country team to a 22nd place finish last year.

“I wish we had all made it as a team again; it would’ve been more fun,” Assefa said. “But I’m happy that I made it back to nationals. Last year, I got 45th and All-American (honors) were given to the top 40. I want to do better this time and finish in the top group.”

For SF State head coach, Tom Lyons, it is the second time in two years that he has taken one or more runners to the national meet.

“It’s great when you can continually get there, we’d like to get more teams there in the future,” Lyons said. “But it’s nice to have SF State at national championships and to have Bruk make it as an individual.”

Fellow Gators Benji Preciado and Paxton Cota also earned All-West Region honors. Preciado finished 18th in the men’s race, narrowly missing a chance to go to nationals alongside his teammate when San Francisco Academy of Art runner Nicolas Rifflard — the last individual runner to clinch a spot — finished four seconds ahead of him.

Cota was the top finisher for the Gators in the women’s race. The junior crossed the line 17th overall with a time of 22:43.4, her best finish ever at regionals.

“Paxton had the race of the day for the women’s team and was only a couple places away from making nationals herself,” Lyons said. “She had a tremendous season and improved again at regionals: she was the fifth (CCAA) conference runner to finish in that race after being tenth at  the conference meet.”

Alaska Anchorage runners Susan Tanui and Joyce Kipchumba delivered a 1-2 punch in the women’s race. Tanui won the race with a time of 21:45.4, allowing Alaska Anchorage to edge out Chico State for the women’s team title. Chico State resumed its dominance in the men’s race, capturing the men’s team title after its All-American, Isaac Chavez, won the men’s race with a time of 30:55.9.

The NCAA Division II national cross-country meet will take place in two weeks on Saturday, Nov. 23, at the same course — the Plantes Ferry Athletic Complex — in Spokane, Wash. It will be the last race of Assefa’s collegiate career and he hopes to end it on a high note.

“I’ve been working all season, plus summer and spring, for this,” Assefa said. “Last year, going in, it was a new experience; I didn’t know what I was doing. This year, I have the experience, plus nationals are going to be on the same course as (regionals). So hopefully, I can use that to my advantage.”