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Eastern Oregonís Karlee Coffey leads College of Idahoís Hillary Holt around a turn during the recent Cascade Conference championship meet in Portland. MADDISON STAPLETON - For The Observer
VANCOUVER, Wash. — When she crossed the finish line on Saturday at the NAIA Cross Country National Championships, senior Karlee Coffey not only finished third but stamped herself as the greatest harrier in Eastern Oregon University history.
Her 17 minute, 29 second trip around the 5,000-meter course at the Fort Vancouver Historical Site made Coffey the first Eastern cross country athlete to ever earn four all-American honors.
“We have had several individuals to do it three times,” said EOU head cross country coach Ben Welch. “But she is the first to pull it off four times. She has been amazingly consistent.”
Consistent is right.
In her four national races Coffey has never finished worse than twelfth. That came in her freshman year.
After that her worst finish has been a third. Her sophomore campaign saw a runner-up finish followed by two third-place finishes the last two years.
“I can’t wrap my head around any of it. It’s kind of surreal,” remarked Coffey. “Looking back five years ago and not having any understanding of running. To be where I am now, it’s like how did this ever happen.”
Coffey who is 32, didn’t start running until she decided to come back to school after taking time off after high school. She married, had a child and then went through a divorce before taking up running.
“Running has been life changing on so many levels,” said Coffey.
“Running to me has made me a healthier person, emotionally and physically. It keeps me sane. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to not have running.
I didn’t even know I was a runner. Now not only do I realize I’m a runner but how much it helps me as a person.”
Along that road have been some challenges. The past two season Coffey has lived in Portland with her son and been training via email and phone.
“It’s very challenging,” offered Welch. “I have never been an internet coach. I am a hand’s on coach and with her limited experience it has made it very challenging and in some ways makes it even more impressive what she has been able to do.”
What Coffey has been able to do considering her background it’s amazing. Not only has she been a standout over hill’n dale, she has had an outstanding track career. On the track she was the NAIA Indoor 3000 meter champion in 2011. Outdoors that season she was the runner-up at 10,000 meters and fourth in the 5000. During the 2010 season she was 6th in the 10,000 at the outdoor national meet. Last year, indoors Coffey added a fourth place finish in the 3000. Five all-American honors on the track to go along with her four in cross country make her one of the most decorated athletes in school history.
“She has helped elevate our program just by running in it at such a high profile level,” said Welch. “It makes it a little easier to catch the eye and attention of the high profile recruits.”
This season has been a special one for Coffey. It is the first time in her four years that the Mountaineers took a women’s team to the national meet.
“That was amazing. At the starting line all the previous year’s it’s been so nerve racking. Not feeling like you can look around, like you can have any empathy from anybody. Like you are on your own,” expressed Coffey. “That was awesome to actually have a team. To look at them and get support.”
The women’s 13th place finish at the meet was the highest finish by a women’s team at the national meet since 2002 and the first time since 2007 that the women have gone as a team.
Coffey entered the championship meet hoping to collect a national title, but things didn’t go exactly according to plan.
“I felt good about the race overall. My goal was to go out at 5:20 pace and we did,” offered Coffey. “I knew warming up that today wasn’t going to be my day. That my legs felt kinda heavy and my stomach stuff. Other than that I know I left everything out on the course. I pushed as hard as I could. The one thing about this race that I am most proud of out of any race that I have ever run, ever, was that I made a conscious decision that as I came up to the top of that last hill as I came around the corner knowing the finish was close, I literally ran as hard as I could. Going to my arms, I have never locked up in my arms but I was going so hard that I felt like I was locking up. ”
Coffey started the race with a small pack of five that included eventual champion Hillary Holt of the College of Idaho. The foursome ran together for much of the first mile before Holt made a break. Holt’s break was enough to gap her from the other three and the race was on for the next three places.
“I told myself last night that I am going to regret not responding to any surge,” said Coffey. “She (Holt) went out, when she started to pull away I knew that I was giving it everything I had right now and I knew there was nothing else I could do. I have a lot of respect for her. She is a talented runner.”
After finishing her final collegiate race Coffey took time to reflect.
“Cross country has been my favorite. That this is my last collegiate cross country race I know that I wanted to leave everything out there and I feel that from the track season till now I have been trying to do as much as I can. Putting all the cards on the table. Being dedicated. I feel fortunate to be the only Eastern athlete to be a four time all-American.”EOU beats Raiders Friday
Rebecca Haight recorded 20 kills and added 18 digs, leading Eastern Oregon to the Cascade Conference Championships final, defeating in-state rival, Southern Oregon, 25-18, 25-19, 18-25, 25-21, inside the J.A. Albertson Activities Center.
The Mountaineers (23-6) won for the 11th-straight time and lifts EOU into their first-ever CCC title tilt against tonight’s College of Idaho-Concordia winner. Southern failed to reach the CCC final for the first time in over a decade.
Haight got EOU started on the right foot, pounding four kills in the opening set, as the Mounties used a three-point push midway through the frame to take a 16-11 and cruised to the win. Eastern never trailed in Set 2, though a Natalie Scheller kill cut a 13-7 lead to 18-17. Two-straight Haight spikes fueled a four-point surge that put the Mountaineers up two sets.
The Raiders (19-12) responded in Set 3, taking advantage of three-straight EOU errors in a 6-0 run to grab a 15-9 lead – forcing a fourth set.
EOU used a 7-1 run early in the fourth set to take a 16-8 lead, but SOU did not quick, getting within 23-21 on a Haley Kasler kill. The Mountaineers got a side-out on a Haight kill, then ended the match on a Stefani Sorensen kill.
Sorensen logged 15 kills in the victory, with setter Karly Stack recording 27 assists and eight digs, and libero Kaitlyn Duncan leading EOU with 24 digs.
The Raiders got 16 kills from Scheller and eight from Liz Madden in the loss. Setter Caryn Westrick had 23 assists and seven digs, with Renee Yomtob recording 29 digs.