Updated: November 2, 2013 at 6:00 am
No stranger to discipline, Air Force runner Isaiah Bragg let the defending Mountain West champion pull ahead of him Friday to take a big lead midway through the men's race.
The senior cadet knew patience would be vital on a hilly course at altitude.
"I just had to stay back a little longer," he said. "Then when I decided to go, I went all out."
Bragg found another gear late in the 8K race and passed New Mexico's Luke Caldwell for the final time with 200 meters to go on a day where he won the conference championship in 24 minutes, 8 seconds and was later named the Mountain West's Runner of the Year.
Air Force finished third in the men's race and fourth in the women's 6K, while the Lobos won both team titles at the Eisenhower Golf Course.
"It is definitely the best accomplishment I have ever had personally as a runner, but I'm not satisfied. Until our team wins, I'm not satisfied," said Bragg, a 6-foot-3 native of Ohio. "We are a team first and we didn't win today. We'll get better for regionals."
The team captain did all he could. Around bunkers and across fairways on the Blue Course at Eisenhower, Bragg spent most of the race in the fourth or fifth spot.
He didn't try to keep up with Caldwell when the All-American began his push with 3 miles still ahead of them. Instead, he kept his pace and waited before he finally turned his stride into a near sprint with a little over a mile left to set up a dramatic finish.
Down the final fairway, the Falcons' senior passed Caldwell with 1,000 meters to go, before Caldwell reestablished his lead 400 meters from the finish line.
Bragg, however, had one more kick. And the four years of training, the more than 100 miles of running per week and the discipline from earlier in the race all paid off as he leapt ahead of Caldwell (24:12) on the closing stretch to take the win.
"What a great runner he is," Caldwell said of Bragg after the race. "I am pretty ripped apart about not winning, and looking back I know I kicked too soon. That's hard to swallow. But give it up to him, he is a great runner and ran smarter on his home course today."
Later, Air Force sophomore Hannah Everson joined Bragg as a first-team all-conference runner after her fifth-place finish in the women's race. The former Liberty High School standout calls this her "comeback year" following her freshman season where she thought about giving up.
"I was burned out with running. I was running slower times than I ran in high school, and my mind was always somewhere else," Everson said. "I was worried about school and basics and everything you have to do as a freshman here, and running kind of got lost somewhere in there."
Luckily she regained her passion this season. Everson has led the Falcons women in every race this season, and her fifth-place finish at conference is a 30-spot jump from last year.
"It's crazy," she said. "I knew I could do pretty good here, but I wasn't expecting a top-five finish. This is really awesome."
Elsewhere, Patrick Corona (13th in men's race) and Annet Eichenberger (ninth in women's race) were named second-team all-conference for the Falcons.
Next, Air Force will compete in the NCAA Regional Championships on Nov.?15 in Riverdale, Utah.