Cross-country runner makes Sac State history


Cagnei Duncan runs during the 2021 cross-country Mark Covert Classic for Sacramento State on Sept. 4, 2021. She said that this past season, her 10th season running competitively overall, was her favorite season. (Photo courtesy of Cagnei Duncan)

Nicque McMullen

Cagnei Duncan’s performance in the 6K course at the NCAA West Regional placed her at the second best time by a Sacramento State woman at the West Regional in school history, but it wasn’t always about running for the senior cross-country athlete.

She grew up showing horses with her mom in Bakersfield, California. After it became too expensive, Duncan wanted to find something else to get into. She looked toward her dad as inspiration. Her dad, who she named her biggest supporter, was also a runner when he was younger.

“I liked the idea of being a runner and getting really fast,” Duncan said. “I figured if he was pretty successful, maybe that’s something I could tap into.”

Duncan started running in eighth grade and found that the sport “ended up working out a lot better than [she] thought it would.”

Cagnei Duncan when she was around 11 years old. She started running in eighth grade and found that the sport “ended up working out a lot better than [she] thought it would.” (Photo courtesy of Cagnei Duncan)
Duncan said her coach at Liberty High School in Bakersfield gave her the idea to continue running in college.

At the beginning of the year, Duncan suffered from plantar fasciitis, which causes inflammation of tissue in the foot. According to Duncan, it was a pain in her foot that felt like stepping on a knife. The pain lasted all year, and it was not until a week before the NCAA West Regional that it finally stopped.

“I was just having to race through the pain,” Duncan said. “It sucks when you’re trying to get up in the morning [and] you can’t even walk to the bathroom.”

Duncan said she wouldn’t have had as much motivation to work hard if it wasn’t for her teammate and training partner Rachel Victor. 

“She’s very confident,” Victor said. “and she really knows how to take it out hard and have a true and aggressive pace.” 

Victor, also a senior, said she and Duncan have been training partners since summer 2019.

“It’s nice to have somebody who cares as much as you do,” Duncan said. “and they want to see you succeed as much as you want to see yourself succeed.” 

Now a senior majoring in environmental studies, Duncan looks back at her time as a runner on the cross-country and track and field team at Sac State. She said that this past season, her 10th competitively overall, was her favorite. 

Duncan said her NCAA West Regional race was by far her best that she has ever done. 

“All I wanted from that race was to know that I had nothing else to give at the end, no regrets,” she said. 

When asking her about this accomplishment, Duncan said “it was like shooting for the stars, and I landed on the moon.”

Cagnei Duncan runs during her junior year at Liberty High School in Bakersfield, California. Duncan said it was her high school coach that gave her the idea to continue running in college. (Photo courtesy of Cagnei Duncan)

Aaron Braun, Sac State’s coach for distance runners, said he has talked with Duncan about trying to cement her legacy.

“[Getting] the second-fastest time at regionals ever…definitely put a cap to a really good career for her,” Braun said. 

With Duncan’s successful finish in cross-country at Sac State, no one would have guessed that her first two seasons were a constant struggle.

She said she frequently got injured or sick and had stopped seeing improvement in her running.

It was not until Braun joined the coaching staff in late 2018 that Duncan felt her confidence build again.

“I think she just needed the right kind of environment,” Braun said. “I’ve always tried to be open and honest with her.”

Braun said he and Kenny McDaniel, director of track and field and cross-country, tell every athlete that they want them to be themselves.

“I just like to give a lot of credit to my coach because I really think that he’s elevated our team an immense amount since I’ve been here,” Duncan said.

Duncan said she gets asked a lot about whether or not she will run after graduation. Her answer: “I don’t even want to think about that right now.”

Duncan said she has to get through the track and field season  before she can think about post-graduation running.

“[We] have really big goals in mind and are really just going full force in training since we know this is our last six months of competitive running,” Victor said.