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Griz head to California, Big Sky approaching

03 Dec 2021 | 06:36 | Cross Country

The Montana cross country teams will travel to California this week and compete in the UC Riverside Highlander Invitational on Saturday morning.

The men’s eight-kilometer race will start at 9 a.m. (MT), the women’s six-kilometer race at 9:40 a.m. (MT).

The races will be held at the UCR Agricultural Operations Course, which has been the site of collegiate cross country meets since 1979. The course is mostly hard-packed dirt and known for fast times.

Both races should have more than 100 athletes, if not closer to 200 in each.

“It excites me to bring our kids to sea level and be in a competition where all they’ll have to do is go with the flow of the race and they should be able to have quite a few lifetime bests,” said coach Clint May.

The women’s team will get a boost this weekend with the return of Beatrix Frissell to the lineup.

The junior was less than full strength at the start of the season and a potential redshirt, but she’s slowly returning to form. Running unattached, she placed third overall at last month’s Montana Open.

Even at less than 100 percent, Frissell, May decided, is too valuable to keep sidelined the entire season.

“Bea is not at her best right now, but she is looking strong,” said May. “We need that front-half-of-the-race presence, that been-there-done-that presence.”

Also racing will be Olivia Lackland Henry, who, because of injury, hasn’t competed since placing third at the season-opening Clash of the Inland Northwest in Cheney, Wash.

“It’s been a rough last six weeks for Livy, but we’re seeing improvement every single week,” said May. “She’ll run pretty conservatively early, then see if she can get faster and faster throughout.

“It will be a stabilizing force for the team to have Bea and Livy there. It’s just different. You can sense a difference in the team when they are there. We haven’t had those two together since last year.”

Also racing will be Bridget Boyle, who led the Grizzlies at both the Montana State Classic and Montana Open, and Kayla Ingraham and Leah Gath.

Ingraham finished second to Lackland Henry in Cheney and second to Boyle in Bozeman and Missoula. Gath has three top-four team finishes in her first three races as a Grizzly since transferring from Hofstra.

It will be the first six-kilometer race for the women’s team this year, the first for Montana since the NCAA Mountain Regional in November 2019.

The men’s team will compete with six: Truman Cowan, Will Dauenhauer, AJ Eckmann, Jordan Hansen, Joel Mendez and Ben Vanderbosch.

Mendez led the Grizzlies at the Clash of the Inland Northwest and Montana State Classic. He sat out the Montana Open, which allowed Hansen, a freshman, to put down the team’s top time.

Last week six other members of the men’s team raced at the Yellowjacket Open in Billings. Maxwell Scott, Thomas Mordy and Simon Hill all were top 12, with the other three cracking the top 20.

“I’m feeling good about it,” said May. “One of the things you look for in a multi-day event like track and field is you watch those early events and you hope it goes well because it allows you to have confidence that everybody is in a good mental and physical space to be able to compete.”

That’s what the Billings race was, a confidence boost not only for those who were competing but for those who weren’t, who were watching the results from a distance, but are doing the same training.

“If those guys can run well, it kind of validates that the training we’re doing is putting us in the best place at the right time of the year,” said May. “The guys back here were like, dang, that’s exciting.”

On the same day as the Billings race, the six guys who will be traveling to California this week had their own workout back in Missoula, a demanding one. They nailed it.

“At the end of the day, I had a text from Ben that said, in all the years I’ve been here, I’ve never been part of a team workout that’s gone that well. We looked good today,” said May.

“So it was good news from Missoula and good news from Billings. I feel like we’re in the right spot.”

Montana’s next race will be the Big Sky Conference Championships, to be held on Friday, Oct. 29, at the Meriwether National Golf Club in Hillsboro, Ore.

The women will drop down to a five-kilometer distance, the men will race the same eight-kilometers as they will on Saturday in California at an elevation not much higher than sea level.

The time to watch for on Saturday will be 25 minutes. The more runners Montana has come through the finish line faster than 25 minutes, the more the Grizzlies are on track to race well in Oregon.

“I’m hoping for several guys under 25 minutes. That’s kind of the next stepping stone for us,” said May. “When we go to conference, that’s a goal we would have, to have several guys under 25 minutes.”