13 Dec 2021 | 08:13 | Cross Country
The Montana cross country teams will wrap up their fall seasons on Friday when the Grizzlies race at the NCAA Mountain Regional in Provo, Utah.
The races will be held at the Timpanogos Golf Club, with the women’s six-kilometer race starting at 11 a.m., the men’s 10-kilometer race at noon.
The Montana men’s team finished seventh at the Big Sky Conference Championships two weeks ago in Hillsboro, Ore., the women’s team placed 10th.
Both races will be more of the same, and then some.
On the men’s side, Northern Arizona ranks No. 1 in the country, followed by Colorado at No. 2, BYU at No. 8, Air Force at No. 11, Utah State at No. 21, Colorado State at No. 22 and Southern Utah at No. 26.
All seven of those ranked teams, according to head coach Clint May, could find themselves racing at nationals in two weeks.
“It’s almost double the number of teams that we faced at the Big Sky Championships, and the teams that get added to the Mountain Region are absolutely no slouches,” he said.
“Two years ago at the national meet, it was BYU, NAU and Colorado in the top three, with all three schools coming from the Mountain Region, so it will definitely be some tough competition.”
May will have six men competing: seniors AJ Eckmann and Ben Vanderbosch, juniors Joel Mendez and Maxwell Scott, and freshmen Jordan Hansen and Thomas Mordy.
Mendez led the Grizzlies at the Big Sky Championships, placing 33rd. He was followed by Vanderbosch in 38th, Hansen in 39th. Nobody else cracked the top 50.
“Our goal on the guys’ side is to tighten back up again,” May said. “We were so spread out (at conference), and it wasn’t anything we did wrong. We had some guys who were off that day.
“Friday will be the first 10k that we’ve run all year and the first 10k for some of these guys. If you were looking to put guys in the top 50 at the conference meet, you’re looking at the top 100 at this meet.”
The women’s race will have just five Grizzlies competing: juniors Bridget Boyle, Carly Dahms and Beatrix Frissell, and sophomores Jaylyn Hallgrimson and Olivia Lackland Henry.
Only Frissell from that group has raced at regionals before. She finished 57th in 2019 as a freshman at Salt Lake City.
The women’s region is nearly as strong as the men’s, with New Mexico, Colorado and BYU ranking second, third and fourth in the national poll, with Utah at No. 7.
Northern Arizona (18), Colorado State (19) and Utah State (22) also are regionally ranked.
The women’s course will be six kilometers, a distance Montana has raced just once this fall, at UC Riverside last month. Women’s races are more traditionally five kilometers during the season.
“The girls will ask, how do I run a 6k? I don’t think you look at it a lot differently,” said May. “You run with the same idea through the opening mile and middle mile, then you just continue to be gutsy.”
The men’s 10-kilometer distance at regionals is Montana’s only race all year at that length, up from the more traditional eight kilometers.
“You can’t (rely on guts) going from 8k to 10k. While we don’t want the race to get away from us, you kind of have to buffer it by a minimum of five, maybe 10 seconds per mile in how you go out.
“The hope is that you get to the mile and say, that just felt like a warmup.”
The men’s team was ranked 15th in the region as recently as late last month but was bumped out of the most recent poll by Nevada.
The women’s team hasn’t been ranked in the top 15 in the region since mid-September.
“For the women, the value in going to Provo and racing really comes in launching forward,” said May.
“It’s difficult to have a good experience if you don’t run well. My job will be to recognize that running well isn’t necessarily a particular place. It’s giving yourself a chance to run well by racing confidently off the line, running smart, then being tough throughout.”