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Cross country teams to get right back after it

03 Dec 2021 | 06:38 | Cross Country

The Griz cross country teams, who raced on Saturday in Bozeman, will have a quick turnaround when they host the Montana Invitational on Friday afternoon at the UM Golf Course in Missoula.

The men’s seven-kilometer race will start at 4 p.m., the women’s five-kilometer race at 4:45 p.m.

What the races will lack in Division I representation, with only Montana and a handful of runners from Montana State competing, will be made up for in numbers.

There will be 10 teams in the men’s race, with athletes from Carroll, Montana Tech, Montana Western, MSU Billings, MSU Northern, Providence, Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Christian also racing.

The women’s race will have nine teams but 79 athletes compared to 74 for the men’s race.

The race comes just six days after the Montana State Classic, unusual for a sport that usually races every other weekend.

Everything about it, from the timing to the level of competition, will give coach Clint May an opportunity to implement different strategies than Montana used at Bozeman and the season-opening Clash of the Inland Northwest in Cheney, Wash.

“One of the things I like about it is the opportunity it gives us to work on something that has been missing in our racing,” he said.

“It’s something we can work on because the level of competition won’t spread the race out quite the way it did at Montana State.”

For the women, that will mean more pack running.

“I want two different groups of girls, and I don’t want them splitting up. I want them to commit full-on for 3,000 meters to staying with the group,” May said.

“If there are individuals who could be going much faster, then after 3,000 meters, go chase people down. If there are others who are doing all they can to hang on to the group, then they’ll have experienced that.

“I feel like we’ve kind of missed that this year. The women’s team is mostly new, they are young, and they come from varied talent levels. This meet will give us the opportunity to work on a team dynamic.”

The women’s team struggled in Bozeman on Saturday, finishing well behind the other four Division I teams and failing to place anyone higher than 49th overall.

Getting right back to racing might be the best thing for the Grizzlies.

“I feel for the girls because I know they wanted to do better,” said May. “That’s why I feel more confident going into Friday. I actually see a little bit of angst, and that’s not who they normally are.

“I think it’s okay to have an experience that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. I think it will drive them to a much better result on Friday.”

Montana has 11 athletes scheduled to race on Friday, plus two upperclassmen who have been noticeably absent from the results this fall: juniors Beatrix Frissell and Carly Dahms.

Both will race on Friday, though unattached, as May continues to guide them through the fall season. They could be racing as a member of the team by season’s end or redshirting.

“When we have practices, it feels like we have a full women’s team. I think, this looks good,” said May, who only had seven available runners on Saturday. “We should have more of a representation on Friday of what we have training every day.”

Also running for the Grizzlies will be sophomore Olivia Lackland Henry, who finished third overall in Cheney but sat out the Montana State Classic with an injury.

“We’ll have Livy back, Bea back, Carly back, so I’m confident it’s going to feel a lot better,” said May, even if the results for Frissell and Dahms don’t aid Montana in the final standings.

“We want to keep our options open, so we’ll have them run unattached, but they can still run with their teammates.”

The men on Saturday finished behind Utah State, which is nationally ranked, and Montana State, which is led by one of the top runners in the nation in Duncan Hamilton.

What gets lost is that on a record-setting day by Hamilton, Montana’s top runner, Joel Mendez, crossed the line less than 50 seconds behind the winner over a five-mile course.

“Yes, we’re still getting beat by three or four guys from Montana State, but when Duncan Hamilton — I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s top 10 in the nation at the end of the season — runs an all-time course record, and he’s less than a minute ahead of our top guy, we’ve come a long way,” said May.

Every Montana men’s runner who had raced the Montana State Classic in previous years had a PR for the course on Saturday.

On Friday they’ll have a goal within the race as well, just as the women’s team will have. With the eight-kilometer Big Sky Conference Championship five weeks later, Friday will be a time trial on a shorter course.

Sixteen of the team’s 18 athletes are scheduled to race.

“Their goal is to take their 8k goal and see if they can keep that pace for 7k. Then we’ll have a month to increase our fitness and our ability to hold it through 8k,” said May.

In early October, Montana will be split over two races on two weekends. Some will race the Yellowjacket Open in Billings on Friday, Oct. 8. Others will race the UC Riverside Highlander Invitational in Southern California on Saturday, Oct. 16.

The Big Sky Championships will take place on Friday, Oct. 29, in Hillsboro, Ore.