03 Dec 2021 | 06:42 | Cross Country
The Montana cross country teams will reach the pinnacle races of their fall season this weekend when the Grizzlies compete at the Big Sky Conference Cross Country Championships in Greeley, Colo.
The races — five kilometers for the women, eight kilometers for the men — will be held at the Boomerang Golf Course on Saturday, with the women racing at 11:30 a.m., the men at 12:30 p.m.
It will be the same venue on the same day, but the teams will be racing under very different circumstances and for different goals.
The women’s team, with senior June Eastwood and freshman Beatrix Frissell, has two runners who should challenge for a top-10 finish and All-Big Sky honors.
The Grizzlies have not had a pair of All-Big Sky runners since their championship season of 2010. That was also the last year they had a team finish higher than fifth.
Montana will enter the race as one of four teams holding a regional ranking by the USTFCCCA.
Northern Arizona ranks third in the Mountain Region, Southern Utah seventh, Weber State ninth and Montana 14th. The Lumberjacks are ranked 11th nationally.
“I think third is possible. That would represent a great day. I don’t think we’ll get there if we only have a good day,” said first-year coach Clint May.
“It needs to be a bunch of girls at the finish line going, Whoa, that was a great day. Forget about the times. Just the way we raced, the way we competed.”
Eastwood and Frissell, both one-time Big Sky Athletes of the Week this fall, have had consistently excellent seasons.
Frissell won the season-opening Clash of the Inland Northwest in Cheney, Wash., Eastwood won the Montana Invitational. Neither has finished outside of the top 10 in a race yet.
“Both of them see themselves as belonging in the top end, and that’s a completely different look than the guys’ side,” said May.
“There may be one or two individuals who break out and create separation, but in that next group, no doubt I would expect they’d be there.”
Samantha Engebretsen has had a strong senior season, finishing third each race behind Eastwood and Frissell. Sophomores Rachel Torrey and Hannah Wylie have rounded out the top five at each race.
Montana will also be racing with senior Emily Pittis and sophomore Isabela Nellos. Pittis, hindered by injury the last two years, was an All-Big Sky performer in 2017 when she placed ninth.
“The remainder of the team, I don’t think they’ll be far behind (Eastwood and Frissell),” said May. “I just want them to race as they have all year.”
Southern Utah, Northern Arizona and Weber State have all won Big Sky titles since Montana won in 2010.
The Montana men’s team was picked to finish 11th out of 11 teams in the preseason coaches’ poll in August. Their goal on Saturday is different than the women’s. Call it a race for respect.
The Grizzlies finished 10th in 2016, 10th in 2017 and 10th in 2018. In a race of 77 athletes — 11 teams, seven runners per — Montana has had only two runners finish higher than 60th each of those years.
“I’d just love if we can compete at a higher level than the last three years,” May said.
Seven teams hold regional rankings, highlighted by Northern Arizona, which ranks No. 1 nationally, and No. 19 Southern Utah. Those two programs have won every Big Sky title since 2007.
Weber State is ranked ninth in the strong Mountain Region, Montana State 12th, Idaho State 13th and Northern Colorado 14th. Idaho is ranked 12th in the West.
“Let’s say we had a phenomenal day and our top five or even our top seven go in the top 60,” said May.
“That won’t mean much to a program that has all seven of their guys ahead of our No. 1, but for us I think it would be validating that we’re moving in the right direction,” said May.
Montana will be represented by junior Kyle Peterson, sophomores Will Dauenhauer, Hunter May and Ben Vanderbosch, and freshmen Truman Cowan, Rogelio Mares and Maxwell Scott.
“We just have to recognize that we have a place in this race to compete against people. There is not a weak team in this conference, so we are going to have to run well,” said May.
“If we could get seventh or eighth, that would be a marked improvement and be a building block for next year. There is not a guy on this team who’s a senior.”
Montana will conclude its season on Friday, Nov. 15, at the NCAA Mountain Regional in Salt Lake City.
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