Home-grown talent paves the way for College of Idaho’s national title in cross country

Using a roster loaded with home-grown talent, The College of Idaho women’s cross country team broke through for its first NAIA national championship.

The Yotes totaled 68 points to hold off second-place The Master’s (Calif.) with 92 along the 6-kilometer course at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in Vancouver, Washington. It was the fourth national championship across all sports for College of Idaho and came on the heels of runner-up finishes for the women’s cross country team in 2019 and 2020, and a third-place showing last season.

Five of the Yotes’ seven runners at nationals hailed from the Gem State, and head coach Dominic Bolin is a C of I and Payette High graduate himself. After the race, Bolin was named the 2023 NAIA Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year.

“I still don’t think I have words for it. It’s been surreal,” said College of Idaho fifth-year senior Abbey Shirts, who is from Weiser. “It’s been a blessing, and there’s been so much joy in it.”

Senior Ellyse Tingelstad, the 2023 NAIA USTFCCCA West Region Runner of the Year, led the Yotes with a runner-up finish. The Joseph, Oregon, native crossed the tape in 21 minutes, 16.1 seconds for her fourth All-American honor in cross country.

Rocky Mountain High graduate Sage Martin, a senior, was just behind Tingelstad in third with a time of 21:39.4. Martin is the reigning outdoor national champion in the 3,000-meter steeplechase and has now claimed All-American status for the third time in cross country.

“Our secret weapon, in a sense, is just how gritty these girls are,” Martin said. “Every time we toed the line, we knew it was going to be hard, but knowing that the other girls are pushing just as hard made it easy for me to go harder.”

Shirts was the third Yote to cross the line, picking up her second All-American honor with a fifth-place showing in a time of 21:41.9. Junior Kahea Figueira, of Spokane, Washington, came through in 21:46.5 en route to a seventh-place finish, and Timberline High grad Charlie Duff rounded out the Yotes’ scoring runners in 64th (23:14.1). The top 40 individual finishers earned All-American honors.

“Something that we challenged ourselves to do this year was talk about how good we are, and mean it, and invest it in each other,” Shirts said. “... At the beginning of the year, we set the precedent, ‘Our goal is to win a national title, and we’re not going to be afraid to talk about it.’ So it was an energy that carried throughout the year and that cultivated a culture that we wanted, and we were chasing success together.”

The Yotes were also represented at nationals by Bishop Kelly High product Molly Connor (92nd, 23:43.5) and Mountain Home High graduate Julia Gilbert (103rd, 23:56.6). There were six Idahoans in all on the Yotes’ roster this season.

“There’s so much talent here locally, and we go after all of it, really,” Bolin said. “It’s a massive, integral part of our team. ... That’s a huge, huge part of what we do, and it’s cool to see local girls doing that at the next level.”

Addy Wiley of Huntington (Ind.) was the women’s individual champion. The sophomore won with a time of 21:04.2.