PITTSBURGH, Penn. — The years she spent running in the rain on the North Coast are finally paying off for Kaylee Mitchell.
The former student-athlete at Astoria middle school and high school (and later graduated from Sprague High School) is now a freshman on the cross country team at Seattle Pacific University.
And she came up big in her latest race, held last Saturday on a muddy course at Schenley Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for the NCAA Division II cross country championships.
Mitchell finished 35th out of 264 runners, good enough for All-American honors. She also helped the SPU women to a 15th place finish in the team standings.
Running in less than ideal conditions, Mitchell completed the six-kilometer course in 23 minutes, 24.9 seconds.
“The course — oh my goodness! It was just one step at a time, running in ankle-deep mud,” Mitchell said. “I was lucky enough not to fall, but there were many slips. It was just a matter of not letting the mud get to us and just being fearless.”
She added, “My dad always tells me just to smile. I went into it telling myself, ‘Just run. You know how to run, and just smile.’”
By placing in the top 40, Mitchell became the 17th cross country All-American in school history, and first in nine years. The last Falcon runner to earn that honor was Jessica Pixler in 2009 when she won the third of her three straight national titles.
“Getting All-American in cross country is incredibly hard to do,” SPU assistant coach/distance coach Chris Reed said.
“For her to do that in her first NCAA meet and her first college season shows her maturity and the belief she has in herself.”
Seattle Pacific checked in with 466 points, putting it into the upper half of the 34-team field. It was the second straight top-15 finish for the team.
“There are already enough factors as it is, with it being December, it’s the national championships, and it’s a long season for a lot of teams,” Reed said. “Then add in the elements, which made it a really hard, tough, slow course.
“To come through all of those variables and still have a really good team finish is awesome. We finished pretty close to where we were ranked coming in (No. 13), so it was unquestionably a successful season.”
The already-muddy course was made even muddier after 261 men ran five loops around it in their 10K race. And, while the rain held off for most of the men’s race, it was drizzling shortly before the women started, and pouring by the time the gun went off.
Mitchell was back in the mid-70s of the 264-runner field as they passed the first timing pad on the course, located at the 700-meter mark. By the 1.8-kilometer mark, she had moved all the way up to 31st, and stayed within that cluster of runners for the rest of the race.
Through the remaining four kilometers, Mitchell moved up as high as 29th, and dropped back to as far 39th before coming through the wire in 35th.
“I didn’t want to go out too fast, with it being so muddy and with all the hills,” Mitchell said. “After I got through the first loop, I thought, ‘OK, all of this is do-able.’ There wasn’t a part of it where I thought ‘oh my gosh, I’m going to fall.’ By the third loop, I knew where to step and where not to step.”
Added Reed, “She wanted to run a controlled early part of the race. Once she got into her own rhythm, she could decide what to do with it. She moved up to an All-American spot and never let go.”