Austin, Texas — With around 2,400 meters to go, Weini Kelati knew it was her time to make a move. The Heritage High School graduate and current University of New Mexico sophomore had led on and off throughout the NCAA 10,000-meter national championship race on June 6 and had no plans of finishing anywhere but the top.
Kelati started the race out in front, pacing the field with an average lap of 1:20 for the first 7,600 meters, trading first and second place with Notre Dame senior Anna Rohrer. Then in her 20th lap, Kelati posted a 1:14, in what would end up being her second fastest lap of the night, to open up her lead.
With 1,600 meters to go, Kelati held a 3.18-second lead over Arkansas sophomore Taylor Werner. With 1,200 meters to go, Kelati had grown her lead to 4.74 seconds, before expanding her lead further to 5.38 seconds with just 800 meters to go. Kelati was pulling away.
However, this wasn’t the first time Kelati could see a national title in her grasp. On March 8, Kelati led for most of the NCAA 5,000-meter indoor national championship, before eventually finishing runner up to Wisconsin junior Alicia Monson, who passed Kelati during the final lap.
So even with a five-second cushion in the 10,000-meter, Kelati pushed as to not relinquish her title dreams. And it all seemed to be going according to plan until Oregon junior Carmela Cardama Baez started to test Kelati.
With 100 meters to go, Cardama Baez had completely erased Kelati’s lead and was running stride for stride with the Lobos’ sophomore.
“All I was thinking was to win the race even though I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Kelati said. “I have been close many times, so during the 10K, I was looking for first place.”
Having already run more than 9,900 meters, Kelati found a second gear, running past Cardama Baez with a time of 33:10.84 to win the NCAA National Championship.
For Kelati, her first national title.
In her first national championship win, Kelati also earned her seventh career first-team All-American honor, and her fourth All-American selection this season. Not to be outdone, Kelati turned in a fifth place finish in the 5,000-meter national championship on June 8, once again earning All-American honors.
“It’s been a great experience running for UNM with the love and support I get from my teammates and all the family at New Mexico,” Kelati said. “Being a student and an athlete is hard, especially when you are competing at a high level, but with all the people who care about me, [being a student-athlete]is so much easier than it’s supposed to be.”