Breaking down the men’s cross country GNAC Championship with Aaron Ahl

The men’s cross country team ended their woes at the GNAC Championship with their first win

A photo of SFU cross country runner Aaron Ahl with his hands outreached above his head as he approaches the finish line in the pouring rain.
A fight to the finish: Ahl pulled a way in the last km to win the race. Image courtesy of SFU Athletics Twitter

By: Isabella Urbani, Sports Editor 

Oct 23, 2021 was a “picture-perfect” day for SFU’s cross country team who won both of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championships (GNAC) — one stop before the NCAA Championship

The Peak had an opportunity to interview senior runner and GNAC’s Athlete of the Year Aaron Ahl about the historic milestone.

It was a Cinderella story for Ahl, who finished first in the men’s 8km race, blowing his 19ᵗʰ place finish at 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 about clinching a win with the men’s team, Ahl said, “It feels great, almost a relief in a sense. We have 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 the win made it extra special.”

Ahl, alongside freshman Scott Arndt and Charlie Dannatt, piggybacked the men’s team to a victory. SFU defeated the reigning champions, in the third closest competition in men’s history. 

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

Ahl had high praise for Arndt and Dannatt who placed alongside him in the top 10. He credited Arndt, his training partner, for being a contributor to the team’s success. 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 have exceeded expectations.” 

Ahl’s first place victory seemed inevitable after his terrific finishes throughout the season. He started the season with a first place finish before capturing third in his last two regular season meets. Leading up to the GNAC Championships, it looked like Ahl was going to have a breakout performance. But the race didn’t start like that for the quick starting runner. 

Instead, his original game plan of leading the pack fell to the wayside when two runners from the Alaska Anchorage team came out of the gate, pushing the pace of the race. Luckily, Ahl was able to outrun the pair. Alaska Anchorage’s freshman Cole Nash proved to be a little tougher as the race went to its final km. Ahl’s finishing kick allowed him to wrap up his first GNAC win. Ahl said he looks forward to racing Nash at the NCAA Championships. 

On the other side, fellow senior Olivia Willett led the women with her first place finish. Willett has also had a sensational season, placing in the top two for each of her meets. She is an “exceptional athlete and did a great job of leading the women’s team,” said Ahl, “In athletics, I think the best way to lead is by example and she’s done that.”

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