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Cross country teams open season in Cheney

03 Dec 2021 | 06:47 | Cross Country

The Montana cross country teams, under the direction of first-year coach Clint May, will open their seasons on Saturday morning when the Grizzlies compete at the Clash of the Inland Northwest.

The races will be held on the campus of Eastern Washington in Cheney. The women’s four-kilometer race will start at 11 a.m. (MT), the men’s six-kilometer race at 11:30 a.m. (MT).

The meet will feature teams from Montana and Eastern Washington, plus Idaho and Gonzaga. A handful of non-Division I programs will also be racing.

It will be the first races for the Grizzlies under May, the longtime coach at Bozeman High who spent the last three years at Southern Virginia before being hired earlier this month.

“Two nights ago we were doing a tempo run at the Equestrian Park. To watch the runners just roll through that workout, on a blue-sky day, I called my wife (in Virginia) and said I have to pinch myself,” said May.

“I’m back in Montana. It was pretty awesome. I’ve enjoyed it a lot.”

May inherited a women’s team that has had some success in recent years. The Grizzlies won the Big Sky Conference championship in 2010 and finished fifth as recently as 2016.

They were picked sixth in the preseason coaches’ poll.

The men’s team has had three consecutive 10th-place finishes in the Big Sky, which is one of the better collections of cross country teams in the nation.

Northern Arizona has won the last three national championships and is ranked No. 1 in the national preseason poll. Southern Utah is ranked 25th.

Montana was picked 11th out of 11 teams in the Big Sky preseason poll.

“I’m seeing a bunch of guys who would like to have gained some respect by the end of the season,” said May. “I don’t think they are carrying a chip on their shoulder, but they do want to be recognized as a good program. They want to be the program that exceeded everyone else’s expectations.”

Both teams had a soft opening to the season last weekend when they raced the four-mile River City Roots Run in Missoula.

The women’s team was led by freshman Beatrix Frissell and senior June Eastwood, both of whom were given times of 24:26.

That Frissell led the team was no surprise to May. Running for Polson High, Frissell swept the 1,600 and 3,200 meters at the Class A state meet in May, running times of 5:00.10 and 10:47.33, the latter setting a new Class A state record.

Her 3,200-meter time was the best in the state among all classes last spring. Her time in the 1,600 meters ranked third. Her junior-year PRs were 5:09 and 11:23.

“It wasn’t a surprise to me. If you followed her senior year of high school, you would see she just keeps coming along. She’s highly motivated,” said May. “I think she’s going to keep getting better and better.”

Frissell and Eastwood were trailed by sophomores Rachel Torrey and Erica Simison, both of whom were in the team’s top five at the Big Sky championship meet last October.

Rounding out the team’s top five at the River City Roots Run was sophomore Isabela Nellos, who is racing for the Grizzlies this year while on a campus exchange program with New Mexico.

Senior Emily Pittis, an All-Big Sky performer two years ago when she finished ninth at the conference meet, sat out last season with an injury. She is back at full health if not full fitness.

She will be one of eight Grizzlies who will be competing on Saturday in Cheney.

“I love what I’m seeing on the women’s team. I believe we’re strong through a scoring five. I just wish we had a little bit more depth,” said May. “I’d feel a lot more comfortable if we were 10 strong.”

The men’s team will race with 11 on Saturday morning, including sophomore Hunter May, a transfer from Southern Idaho, and Truman Cowan and Maxwell Scott, a pair of freshmen from Portland.

It was sophomore Andrea Baratte who led Montana at the River City Roots Run in a time of 20:53. He was followed by sophomores Will Dauenhauer (21:01) and Ben Vanderbosch (21:02), then Cowan (21:10) and May (21:10).

“Our goal was to run together through the opening two miles, then I asked them to measure out the last two miles so that they finished and it was their best effort,” said May.

“What I thought I would see would be a separation, and that didn’t happen. They were still together after mile three, even though they dropped 20 seconds.

“Andrea dropped down to under 4:40 for his final mile, and there were a lot of guys who dropped down under five minutes for that final mile.”

Junior Kyle Peterson is the team’s top returning runner from last fall. He was top three at five of the team’s six races and led Montana at the Montana State Invitational.

Junior Kyle Kredo had a pair of top-three finishes in 2018 as well.

Baratte, who redshirted last fall, was the Grizzlies’ No. 2 runner at three races in 2017, including the Big Sky championship.

Montana won’t race again this fall until the Montana State Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 21.

The Grizzlies will host their home meet on Friday, Oct. 4, then travel to Sunnyvale, Calif., two weeks later. The Big Sky championships will be held in Greeley, Colo., on Saturday, Nov. 2.

“I don’t really have an outcome goal (for Saturday) because I don’t know the competition,” said May. “I’m okay with that at this time of year on a short course. Where we place is not really relevant to our success later on.

“What I do expect is that we come out of it feeling like we competed to the best of our ability and that we continue the momentum we had from our time trial that had us feeling really good and motivated.”