13 Dec 2021 | 08:11 | Cross Country
The Montana men’s cross country team, led by Joel Mendez’s 33rd-place finish, placed seventh on Friday at the Big Sky Conference Championships at the Meriwether Golf Course in Hillsboro, Ore.
It was the best individual finish for the Grizzlies since 2017, their best team finish since 2015.
That’s not to say it was a satisfying day for Montana, which had hopes of challenging for a spot as high as fifth.
Montana had six finishers in the top 50 at the 2020 Big Sky Championships, which were raced last February. Friday’s goal was to do something similar, but in the top 40.
Only Mendez, who covered the eight-kilometer course in a time of 24:51, Ben Vanderbosch (38th, 25:01) and freshman Jordan Hansen (39th, 25:01) were able to pull that off.
No other Grizzly broke the top 50. “That was not the direction we wanted to go after our top three,” said coach Clint May.
“There were some guys on the back end that were a little disappointed that they weren’t able to move over the second half of the race. It was just kind of a flat day for some of the guys.”
It was a seven-spot improvement for Mendez over February’s race and a breakthrough for Vanderbosch, who hadn’t finished higher than 62nd in his previous two Big Sky Championships.
Hansen cracked the top 40 at his first Big Sky Championships.
“Ben and Jordan felt really good about their race. They were side-by-side for almost the entire way. They moved really well throughout. That was good to see,” said May.
Maxwell Scott (53rd, 25:39), Truman Cowan (56th, 25:45) and AJ Eckmann (59th, 25:54) were in the top 60.
Northern Arizona, the nation’s top-ranked team, ran away with the team title with 30 points. Southern Utah (53), Montana State (80), Weber State (89) and Idaho (137) rounded out the top five.
Lumberjack underclassmen Drew Bosley and Nico Young finished first and second.
The Montana women’s team finished 10th out of 11, with just two runners, Beatrix Frissell and Olivia Lackland Henry, placing in the top 70 in the 82-athlete field.
“Welcome to the Big Sky Conference,” said May, who had four runners competing at their first league championship. “It’s a tough race.”
Frissell finished 37th, covering the five-kilometer course in 17:43. Lackland Henry was 40th in 17:49.
“I’m not disappointed. I am, but I’m not disappointed in the effort,” said May. “It’s a really, really quality race. That’s just the conference we’re in.”
Led by champion Taryn O’Neill, a Northern Arizona junior, the top five, all upperclassmen, all broke 16:40.
“There are some really, really good runners who have been consistent for a lot of years. The bulk of our team is quite young,” said May.
Northern Arizona, with 37 points, also won the women’s race. NAU was followed by Weber State (51), Portland State (95), Idaho (109) and Southern Utah (120).
Montana will wrap up the 2021 cross country season when the Grizzlies race at the NCAA Mountain Regional on Friday, Nov. 12.