Breaking down the GNAC Men’s Cross Country Championship with Aaron Ahl

A fight until the end: Ahl fought his way in the last kilometers to win the race. Image courtesy of SFU Athletics Twitter

By: Isabella Urbani, Sports Writer

October 23, 2021 was a “perfect” day for the SFU cross-country team that won both Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) Championships — a stop before NCAA Championship.

The top had the opportunity to interview a senior runner and the GNACs athlete of the year Aaron Ahl on the historical milestone.

It was a Cinderella story for Ahl, who ended first in the men’s 8km race, blowing ᵗ19 place in the 2019 Championships out of the water. The men’s cross country team tasted defeat last season, finishing second behind Western Washington University.

When asked if he had a win with the men’s team, Ahl said: “It’s a great feeling, almost a relief in a way. We’ve been so close in the past and it stings when you miss it every year by such a small margin. Being a senior this year and leading the team to victory made it even more special.

Ahl, alongside freshmen Scott Arndt and Charlie Dannatt, carried the men’s team to victory. SFU defeated the defending champions, in the third closest competition in men’s history.

When asked if getting ahead of previous champions made victory sweeter, Ahl admitted he didn’t know SFU had won until he saw the scores. “At the end of the day, getting the win in such a close race is more rewarding than winning by a blowout because you know it took everything you had to hold off the other team.”

Ahl praised Arndt and Dannatt who placed alongside him in the top ten. He credited Arndt, his sparring partner, with helping the team succeed. In terms of Dannatt’s performance, Ahl sees him ‘leading the SFU team in the future [ . . . ] The core of our team is very Young and they exceeded expectations.

Ahl’s victory for first place seemed inevitable after his excellent finishes throughout the season. He started the season with a first place finish before capturing third in his last of them regular season matches. Heading into the GNAC Championships, it looked like Ahl was going to have a stellar performance. But the race didn’t start like that for the fast-starting runner.

Instead, his original game plan to lead the pack fell by the wayside when two runners from Team Alaska Anchorage came out of the gate, pushing the pace of the race. Fortunately, Ahl was able to outrun the pair. Alaska Anchorage freshman Cole Nash proved to be a little tougher as the race headed towards his final mile. Ahl’s Final Kick permit him to conclude his first victory at GNAC. Ahl said he was looking forward to running Nash at the NCAA championships.

On the other side, a senior colleague Olivia Willette led the women with her first place finishsh. Oillett has also had a sensational season, placing in the top two in each of its competitions. She is “an outstanding athlete and has done a great job leading the women’s team”, noted Ahl, “In athletics, I think the best way to lead is by example and she did that.”

All that’s left for SFU’s cross country teams is to officially close the season with the NCAA Championships on November 6. After their victory at GNAC, the men’s team will return with their heads held high. You can read more about SFU’s performance at the NCAA Championships next week.

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