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Griz to race at NCAA Mountain Regional on Friday

03 Dec 2021 | 06:41 | Cross Country

The Montana cross country teams will compete at the NCAA Mountain Regional on Friday in Salt Lake City. The races will be held at the Rose Park Golf Course.

The women’s six-kilometer race will start at 11 a.m., the men’s 10-kilometer race at noon.

The races will mark the end of the season for the Grizzlies … unless senior June Eastwood or freshman Beatrix Frissell advances to the NCAA Championships, which will be held in Terre Haute, Ind., on Saturday, Nov. 23.

To continue their season, Eastwood or Frissell at a minimum would have to finish in the top 25 in the women’s race. Beyond that they would have to be among the top five runners who are not on teams that advance to nationals.

With four teams ranked in the top 10 in the nation — BYU (3), Colorado (8), Utah (9) and New Mexico (10) — and two more in the top 16 — Air Force (15) and Northern Arizona (16) — racing on Saturday, the front end will be stacked with talent.

And Eastwood and Frissell will need to be right in the heart of it.

“Both are going to race in a way that positions them to make it happen,” said first-year coach Clint May. “Positioning will be huge.

“They’ll position themselves in the top 50 runners early on or at least try to. That will give them an opportunity. I just want to see them give themselves a shot. If it happens, they will have earned it. If it doesn’t, they went for it.”

Montana’s women’s team is ranked 15th in the region after finishing sixth at the Big Sky Conference Championships two weekends ago in Greeley, Colo.

The Grizzlies are ranked behind Northern Arizona (5), Southern Utah (9), Weber State (10) and Montana State (13) in the latest region ranking.

Joining Eastwood and Frissell on the starting line on Saturday will be senior Samantha Engebretsen, the team’s No. 3 runner at all five races this fall, senior Emily Pittis, fourth on the team in Greeley, and sophomores Rachel Torrey and Hannah Wylie.

“The remainder of our girls, I could see them running quite strong in the most congested part of the race,” said May.

“If that happens, we have a chance to compete better against some of the Big Sky schools that were better than us at conference.”

The Montana men’s team will be racing in an even stronger field. Northern Arizona, BYU and Colorado are the top three teams in the nation. Utah State (20) and Colorado State (25) also are nationally ranked.

“Our region is unique. There are not as many teams as some other regions, but it’s high quality,” said May. “It’s a very tough region.”

The Grizzlies will be represented by junior Kyle Peterson, sophomores Will Dauenhauer, Hunter May and Ben Vanderbosch, and freshman Truman Cowan.

Not only is it a strong field of runners, they’ll be racing 10 kilometers, a distance Montana has not raced since last November. And with only five runners, one off day could send the Grizzlies’ point total soaring.

Vanderbosch, who finished 100th in a field of 112 last year, and Peterson, who came in 102nd, are the only Griz runners who are not making their regional debuts on Saturday.

“For a bulk of our guys, we won’t place in the top half of the race,” said May. “But I don’t feel bad we’re in this good of a region. I’m actually proud we’re in this region.

“But the best teams in the country are at a level that is so much higher than we are right now that it can be a bit daunting.”

May describes it as the “wall,” the mass of bodies that make up the middle maybe 60 percent of the race. Not as fast as the top 20 percent, faster than the bottom 20 percent.

On Saturday he wants his five guys to be racing at the back of that wall and never losing touch with it.

“If they do that, they are going to be just fine for where we are in their development and our development as a program,” he said.

“I don’t think we’d be discouraged if we didn’t have anybody in the top 60 but filled in very nicely on the tail end of the wall. We’re trying to have an experience where, for most of us, they can say that was a really good race.”

Should either Eastwood or Frissell advance to the NCAA Championships, they would race at 9:15 a.m. (MT) at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course on the 23rd.

Montana has not had a runner compete at nationals since Makena Morley in 2015.