Already the most decorated athlete in UNH history, runner Elle Purrier ’18 added an exclamation point to that title in March, winning the women’s mile race at the NCAA championships in College Station, Texas. A nail-biter of a race — leading the entire way, Purrier was challenged late by runner-up Dani Jones of Colorado and prevailed by just six one-hundredths of a second, the closest finish since 1991 — the victory was the perfect ending to an outstanding indoor track season and NCAA indoor mile career. Purrier finished third in the NCAA mile race in 2016 and second at last year’s championship. Earlier this season, she bested a field of professional runners to win the David Hemery Valentine Invitational at Boston University, posting the fastest women’s indoor collegiate mile time of the year and the second fastest in NCAA history.
“I’ve been trying to get this title for a long time now and had an attitude of ‘just go for it’ heading into the race,” says Purrier, who finished 15th in the event her freshman year. “I planned to do whatever it took to get it.”
The Vermont native’s early move to lead the race came out of that mindset, as well as a desire to avoid the pushing and jostling that can happen in a tight, strategic race. “She was pretty bold to go to the front and run there the whole way,” says longtime coach Robert Hoppler. “That takes a lot of guts. The plan was to make it a fast, honest pace. It plays to Elle’s strength.”
Purrier finished in 4:31.76 to Jones’ 4:31.82 — so close that she held off on celebrating until the scoreboard confirmed her win.
“I wasn’t sure,” she admits. “I wanted to make sure before I celebrated. It would be pretty embarrassing to get all excited without knowing for sure so I wanted to double-check on the screen.”
Purrier’s is the first NCAA title ever for the UNH track and field team and the university’s first in more than three decades. The women’s lacrosse team won the NCAA championship in 1985 and the women’s ice hockey team won a national championship in 1998, shortly before the NCAA took over sponsorship of the sport. Brothers John and Kim Kendall were the Wildcats’ first national titleholders, winning a string of NCAA skimeister championships — a now-defunct competition that included downhill, slalom, cross country and ski jumping events — from 1970-1973.
But Purrier’s dominance in her sport has been in a league all its own. She currently holds a whopping 14 UNH track and field records in individual and relay events, and has competed in the NCAA championship finals in multiple disciplines — including cross-country and the 3,000 meter steeplechase — for the past eight consecutive seasons, a streak Hoppler characterizes as “unheard of.” In fact, less than two hours after her March 10 victory at Texas A&M’s Gilliam Indoor Track Stadium, she toed the line for the 3,000 meter championships, becoming the first UNH athlete to compete in two NCAA championship track events at a single meet. Her 14th place finish in that race not only earned her second All-American designation of the meet — and the 10th All-American honor of her career—it was the only time all season she finished behind another collegiate athlete.
And she’s not done running. Purrier still has her final season of outdoor track ahead of her, and with it a shot at another national title, in the 3,000 meter steeplechase.