If Anna Mikkelsen sticks around at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, she’ll be a nice building block and very soon a high-caliber star for the women’s cross country team.
The freshman from Denmark (more than 7,000 miles away from Hilo) finished fifth and established herself as the best Vulcan harrier, by a rather large margin, at UHH’s 5-kilometer season opener Saturday at Naniloa Golf Course.
Due to technical difficulties times, for runners weren’t available.
After Mikkelsen crossed the finish line, the 2014 graduate of Falkonegaardens Gym had a long wait for her teammates: Jordan Concannon, 25th; Shelby Tanaka, 29th; Megan Washburn, 30th; Nina Kapuni, 32nd; and June Garrett, 34th.
The Vulcans were fifth with 121 points in the six-team race. Alaska Anchorage was first with 29 points, followed by Hawaii Pacific, 48; BYU-Hawaii, 58; Messiah, 114; UHH; and Chaminade, 179.
Alaska Anchorage placed runners in three out of the top four spots, showing the strength of the ice-running school from the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
“We’re a young team and working our way toward the season to get better,” UHH coach Jaime Guerpo said. “Anna is different because of where she’s from and her training background. There are a lot of hills in Denmark, and they do longer running.
“The team being out there representing the university and giving their all were all positives for us. As the season goes on, we’ll get better. It’s one group that all PR’d (personal record) last year, taking two minutes off their times.”
It helps to have a lead runner like Mikkelsen pushing her teammates at practice and race days. Guerpo can thank former UHH AD Dexter Irvin for getting her to the Big Island. Before Irvin left for the College of Southern Nevada, he pleaded with UHH’s administration to give the sports department a break and cut tuition for recruits.
Guerpo used that $12,000 waiver to lure Mikkelsen, and also offered her a few extra thousand from his limited scholarship fund to sweeten the deal. Otherwise, the 16th-year UHH coach knows the school’s $18,000 annual cost plus other expenses (airfare, housing, etc.) likely clearing $30,000 would have sent her somewhere else.
The goal is pretty simple: just get better.
“Last year, we were ninth at the PacWest championships, and 12th the year before,” Guerpo said. “We’d like to be sixth or seventh this year.”
Asked if the Vulcans will be challenging for a spot in the NCAA Division II national championships any time soon. Guerpo understands that Rome wasn’t built in a day. He also recalls his special 2006 and ‘07 squads that won back-to-back conference titles.
That team was extra special because a pair of locals — Nina Hagemann from Keaau High and Malia Williams out of Hilo High — were key contributing Vulcans. Hagemann, a 2006 graduate, was the first Cougar to sign an athletic collegiate scholarship.
“We’re not there yet,” Guerpo said. “Hopefully, we can get a team like that back. Their times were all close together. From one to five, they were four or five seconds apart. That’s how we won races because they were so close. This group has got to work to be closer to Anna. We’re going to do that.”
For the next couple of years, Guerpo will likely be asked by the local running community: Is Anna coming back? The most popular question is the most obvious one: When is the UHH men’s team coming back?
“It’s the fourth year with no men’s team,” he said. “It would be good to have the team back and get the community behind it. When I go to local races, people ask me, ‘When is the men’s team coming back?’ I don’t know but it’s a good feeder program. Where else can our local kids go?”
Guerpo is also thankful for the efforts of Joe Wedemann, the race director, with his brother Bob Wedeman, of the Big Island International Marathon. Joe Wedemann also started the Hilo Triathlon, and the Pohoiki Triathlon, which debuts Nov. 23. (For sign-ups, visit hilotriathlon.org.)
“That’s good of Joe. He’s really helped the community with the Hilo Triathlon and now the Pohoiki Triathlon,” Guerpo said. “That sparks up interest for the younger ones. One of my former runners, Keoni Ucker, was second at the Hilo triathlon. He’s into that now. It really makes me smile and makes me proud to see them doing things after college.”
1. Alaska Anchorage 29; 2. Hawaii Pacific 48; 3. BYU-Hawaii 58; 4. Messiah 114; 5. UHH 121; 6. Chaminade 179
1. Bryn Haebe, Alaska Anchorage
2. Beatrice Decker, Alaska Anchorage
3. Fiona McKenna, Hawaii Pacific
4. Tamara Perez, Alaska Anchorage
5. Anna Mikkelsen, UHH
6. Meghan Fairchild, Hawaii Pacific
7. Marissa Kunsch, Hawaii Pacific
8. Jessca Pahkala, Alaska Anchorage
9. Jessica Horrocks ,BYU-Hawaii
10. Haley Olcott, BYU-Hawaii
25. Jordan Concannon, UHH
29. Shelby Tanaka, UHH
30. Megan Washburn, UHH
32. Nina Kapuni, UHH
34. June Garrett, UHH
1. Alaska Anchorage 15; 2. BYU-Hawaii 67; 3. Hawaii Pacific 80; 4. Messiah 86; 5. Chaminade 132
1. Henry Cheseto, Alaska Anchorage
2. Dylan Anthony, Alaska Anchorage
3. Victory Samoei, Alaska Anchorage
4. Michel Ramirez, Alaska Anchorage
5. Dominik Notz, Alaska Anchorage
6. Edwin Kangogo, Alaska Anchorage
7. Nathan Kipchumba, Alaska Anchorage
8. Kevin Miller, BYU-Hawaii
9. Leandro Santillan, Hawaii Pacific
10. TJ Hesselgesser, BYU-Hawaii