13 Dec 2021 | 08:19 | Cross Country
The Montana cross country teams both placed eighth on Saturday afternoon at the Big Sky Conference Cross Country Winter Championships in Riverdale, Utah.
The men’s team had its best finish since 2015 and achieved its pre-race goal of putting five runners in the top 50. And the Grizzlies did one better than that, putting six in the top 49.
“I know the guys wanted to finish higher than eighth, but that was the first and most important thing for us to be able to do,” said coach Clint May.
Montana finished just four points behind Idaho.
“I think we could have had a better day, and that would have put us in sixth or seventh, but our base-level goal was to get five in the top 50,” May said.
In the women’s race, Beatrix Frissell just missed her second straight All-Big Sky finish, coming through in 12th place. Olivia Lackland Henry finished 27th and was the first freshman across the line.
Northern Arizona easily won the women’s race, followed by Weber State, Montana State and Southern Utah.
Southern Utah upset Northern Arizona in the men’s race, scoring 35 points to the Lumberjacks’ 38. They were followed in the standings by Weber State and Montana State.
One of those four teams has won the Big Sky title every year since 1986, with Northern Arizona or Southern Utah winning the last 14.
At the mile mark of the men’s race, May’s Grizzlies were right where he wanted them, all eight Montana runners packed in between 50th and 65th place.
The goal was to start conservatively and finish strong. “They did a really nice job in the opening mile,” said May. “That was what we had hoped to do.”
Montana moved up as the race went along, just not as far as May was hoping.
Joel Mendez placed 40th, covering the eight-kilometer course in 26:01. Kyle Peterson was 42nd, Truman Cowan 44th, Nathan Carter 45th, Hunter May 47th and Will Dauenhauer 49th.
“We thought if we could do that, we might have one or two guys break into the top 40,” said May.
“We positioned well and were hoping for a little more moving up, particularly in the final mile. We were kind of flat over the final mile, but there wasn’t too much to nitpick about.”
Northern Arizona’s Abdihamid Nur won the race in a time of 23:55. Southern Utah placed five in the top 11 to knock off the Lumberjacks.
Frissell placed 12th in the women’s race that started out fast and never let up.
“The field went out really, really fast,” said May. “The two lead girls went through the opening mile in 5:24.”
A group of 10 was six seconds back at the mile mark. Frissell came through at 5:38.
“I thought that was a really good opening mile for Bea,” said May. “The problem was about the two-mile mark, very few of that 5:30 group was falling out.
“She was kind of in no-man’s land. She was in 12th place for about the extent of the last mile. Covering that gap proved to be too much to get back into the top 10. I was really pleased with Bea’s race.”
There was a 29-second gap between Frissell, at 18:04, and Lackland Henry, at 18:33. Montana wouldn’t have its next runner across until Rachel Torrey finished in 56th place in a time of 19:43.
“Bea ran well, (Olivia) ran well. The gap to the rest of the girls was too far,” May said. “It wasn’t as good as we’d hoped for, and I don’t really have an answer for that.
“I didn’t know where we would place, but eighth did not feel good.”
Northern Arizona’s Taryn O’Neill (16:59), Weber State’s Summer Allen (17:08) and Southern Utah’s Alison Pray (17:19) placed 1-2-3.
Montana will now turn its attention to the outdoor track and field season, which opens with the Al Manuel Northwest Invitational in Missoula the last weekend of March.