13 Dec 2021 | 08:16 | Cross Country
Partial squads from the Montana cross country teams will race in Billings on Friday at the MSU Billings Yellowjacket Open at Amend Park.
The women’s five-kilometer race will start at 11 a.m., the men’s eight-kilometer race at 11:45 a.m.
Montana will send six men and six women, none of whom will be racing on Friday, to California next week for the UC Riverside Highlander Invitational, then eight and eight to the Big Sky Conference Championships in Hillsboro, Ore., later this month.
That means Friday’s race is somewhat of a qualifier for those who want the other sports on the teams that will be traveling to the conference races.
“We’ll make decisions for the Big Sky Conference Championships based on these next two races,” said coach Clint May. “One, two or three athletes could come out of Friday’s race.
“Those who have a desire to go to conference will be trying to run really well, not necessarily to beat teammates but to have their best performance to earn the ability to keep their season going to the end of October.”
Traveling to Billings from the men’s team will be Ben Cikutovich, Simon Hill, Rogelio Mares, Hunter May, Thomas Mordy and Maxwell Scott.
Carly Dahms, Jaylyn Hallgrimson, McKinlee Mihelish and Jocelyn Stansberry will race on Friday from the women’s team.
It will be a large race with athletes from nearly two dozen schools, but only three from the Division I level.
Montana, Montana State and Idaho State are all racing next weekend but will be sending other runners to compete in Billings on Friday.
Montana State will race at Florida State next week with its top runners, Idaho State will compete at Texas A&M.
“Likewise, they didn’t want their seasons to end for their whole teams in September, so this offers a really good opportunity to take some more athletes and run once more, or in some cases perhaps two more,” said May.
The Big Sky Championships will be held on Oct. 29, NCAA Mountain Regionals in Provo, Utah, on Nov. 12, which means this is the start of the tricky part of the season.
“I’m very optimistic but I’m also very nervous. I know we’re fit. Our teams are doing some workouts they wouldn’t have been doing a month ago,” said May.
“The thing that’s tough about the last month of the season is you have to be careful not to take your foot off the gas. If you take it off and you’re coasting, you might coast and come to a stop and your meet is still out beyond the stopping point.
“But if you keep your foot on the gas the whole time and any little thing pops up, whether it’s an injury or sickness or whatever else, you may have taken it a step too far. So it’s a really delicate balance.”
If the Montana Open, held at the UM Golf Course on Sept. 24, is any indication, the Division I programs competing on Friday will not necessarily have the top runners.
Rocky Mountain’s Jackson Wilson and MSU Billings’ Ase Ackerman finished second and fourth in the men’s race, ahead of Montana’s top performer, Jordan Hansen.
In the women’s race, Montana Tech’s Becca Richtman finished first, Carroll’s Reghan Worley placed second.
“If every one of the small schools has one really good runner, that’s 10 or more good runners who could probably be running Division I,” said May.
“Almost every one of those programs has someone who could be contributing to a Division I program, so you’re going to have good competition.”
The UC Riverside Highlander Invitational will be held on Saturday, Oct. 16, at UCR’s Agricultural Operations Course, located adjacent to campus on the grounds of the 420-acre Citrus Research Center and Agricultural Experiment Station.