IN LAST YEAR’S NCAA Women’s XC Championships, Weini Kelati threw down a strong move midway through the race, but her bold attempt to capture the individual title proved to be ill-fated as Colorado’s Dani Jones reeled in the Lobo star on the snow-covered final stretch to snatch the win.
Fast forward to this year: the 22-year-old Eritrean native employed a similar strategy. This time it worked. “I wasn’t planning to get away, but I was trying to find a place that I couldn’t get tripped or blocked out,” Kelati said after the race. “So, I saw it and I was like, ‘The risk is kind of crazy, but I didn’t know how far I can go like this.’ So, I decided to wait a little bit and then I was like, ‘I kind of feel pretty good and I was like why not just try the risk?’ And I tried to pull away from everyone else.”
Once separated from the field and free from future jostling, Kelati suspected she had made the right move. “I thought to myself ‘This is easy,’” she said on her decision to throw down an early move. “I knew I was fit. I have been running 6M of tempo every day. And this race is less than 4M. Why not just try it? And then I decided to take off and it was like, Wow!”
Hardly threatened and in control after her early surge, Kelati sailed on for the win, ultimately extending her margin of victory to about 60m by the finish. With the win, the New Mexico junior joined Notre Dame’s Molly Seidel to become only the second woman to win both a Foot Locker HS title and later an NCAA individual crown.
Pressed to consider how her dominating NCAA individual cross country victory ranks among the many other wins she has notched over the years, the reigning track 10K champion responded without hesitation: “I would have to say this is the greatest victory.” Being mindful that she has remaining eligibility, her response to that same inquiry may well change before her collegiate career concludes. ◻︎