Newcomers impress at season-opening meet

Keli Dennehy was fourth in the women's three-mile race

Keli Dennehy was fourth in the women's three-mile race

Sept. 17, 2011

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The University of Montana women's cross country team placed three athletes in the top 10 and the Grizzlies finished fourth in the team standings at Saturday's Bozeman Running Company Montana State Open.

The Montana men's team got a fifth-place finish from senior Lynn Reynolds and placed fifth as a team.

Behind Amber Henry's first-place time of 16:48 and Sarah Callister's second-place time of 16:59 over the three-mile course, the Weber State women - who put their top five in the top 12 overall - had a dominating performance and showed why they are expected to be the class of the Big Sky Conference when the league championship takes place later next month.

Weber State, with 28 points, was followed by Utah State in second with 83 points, Utah Valley in third with 90 and Montana in fourth with 98.

Weber State also won the men's race. Utah State's Brian McKenna was the individual winner, and Weber followed with four of the top seven finishers.

The Wildcats, with their No. 5 runner finishing 15th, scored 33 points to edge out Utah State and the Aggies' 41 points.

Montana State, with 74 points, was third, Utah Valley (106) was fourth and Montana (141) fifth.

The big question for the Montana women's team entering the season was, How could this year's team possibly replace last year's seniors, who led the program to its first conference championship since 1984?

The answer: With freshmen Carly Wilczynski and Allie Parks and a deep group of underclassmen who ran Saturday undaunted by the absence of the team's lone senior, Kesslee Payne.

Sophomore Keli Dennehy, who was an All-Big Sky Conference performer last fall as a true freshman, was fourth Saturday in a time of 17:10.

Wilczynski came in eighth in 17:32, and Parks followed in 10th in 17:39.

"Today was really encouraging to see our freshmen step up and be confident enough to race in that top pack," UM coach Courtney Babcock said. "They answered a lot of questions."

With Payne sitting out the race due to a freak cross-training accident and Ani Haas sitting at home in Missoula while she awaits a report on her eligibility status from the NCAA, Montana raced Saturday with just six athletes.

Sophomore Annie Moore finished 36th in a time of 18:35, freshman Autumn Taniguchi was 56th in 19:09, and junior Emily Eickholt, the only upperclassman competing, was 61st in 19:27.

The big question for the men was, Could the gap between Reynolds, who has been Montana's top finisher at every race since the start of the 2008 season, and the rest of the pack be shrunk?

In five races last season, Reynolds held at least a two-minute gap on his nearest teammate, with the closest being one minute, 39 seconds.

The answer: Stand by.

The gap between Reynolds, who ran a career-best 24:50 for the five-mile course, and sophomore Jordan Collison, who was 35th in a time of 26:27, was one minute, 37 seconds.

Four athletes came through within 21 seconds of Collison.

It had the look of last year's finishes, but Babcock is asking everyone to be patient.

"We have lots of room for improvement, but this race was definitely not indicative of our fitness," she said.

"What's important is where we are in six weeks, and I'm confident we'll get to where we want to be."

Sophomore Connor Williams (26:36) was 39th, freshman Sam Willis (26:40) 43rd, sophomore Chase Anderson (26:46) 45th, junior Max Hardy (26:48) 46th, junior Casey Weinman (27:08) 56th, freshman David Norris (27:11) 57th and senior Brian Burke (28:13) 80th.

The Grizzlies next will compete at the Montana Invitational, which will be held Friday, Sept. 30, at the UM Golf Course. The women's five-kilometer race will start at 10 a.m., the men's eight-kilometer race at 10:30 a.m.



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