Keli Dennehy was fourth at the 2010 Big Sky Conference championships
Sep 4, 2013
The Montana cross country teams will open their 2013 season Friday when the Grizzlies compete at the Carroll Early Bird Open in Helena.
The meet will feature teams from Montana, Carroll and Great Falls as well as athletes from Helena Vigilante Runners.
The women's four-kilometer race will start at 10:50 a.m., the men's six-kilometer race will begin at 11:30 a.m. Both will use a two-kilometer loop on the Bill Roberts Golf Course.
A number of the faces on the men's cross country team are familiar, but the two-member coaching staff is new. After five years running under the direction of former coach Courtney Babcock, the Grizzlies are being led by Vicky Pounds and Collin Fehr.
Pounds is in her second year as an assistant coach on track and field program director Brian Schweyen's staff. Fehr, who played tennis and ran for the Grizzlies, is in his first.
Together Pounds and Fehr are leading a team that has just a single upperclassmen, and he's a transfer: Ben Williamson.
Sophomores Matt Barker and Reid Longley are the only returners who ran in all six races in 2012, and because of that youth, expectations, at least from the outside, are low. The Grizzlies came in sixth in the Big Sky Conference preseason coaches' poll, which is where they finished last fall at the Big Sky championship.
Redshirt sophomore Mark Messmer, the team's most experienced runner, and sophomore Julian Jalani both ran in five races last fall, with Messmer finishing as the team's top runner at the Big Sky championship, 22nd overall.
Cody Curtis is a redshirt freshman, as is Adam Wollant, a 2012 graduate of Bozeman High who was not on the team last year. The true freshmen are Paden Alexander, of St. Ignatius, and Micah Drew, of Boise, Idaho.
"The biggest thing to me is that they are really buying into the program that we've presented to them, and they are trusting it and enjoying it," said Fehr, winner of the 2012 Missoula Marathon.
"The feeling we are getting from them is that they are showing up for workout days feeling fresh, and that's leading to great practices day in and day out. And that means their confidence is really high right now.
"If we can keep their confidence high, then they are going to go out and have great performances, because they are going to trust their bodies because they trust the program."
Of members of this year's team, only Barker and Jalani ran in the Early Bird Open in 2012, as Montana ran to the title with four runners in the top six.
Everyone but Williamson will be racing Friday.
"Based on the competition we'll be facing, I see no reason why we won't have a pack of maroon up front," Fehr said.
Pounds adds, "It's going to be exciting to see how they are going to spread out, because in workouts it hasn't been the same person up front in every workout. They've kind of rotated and really worked well together."
The women's team, which finished 10th out of 11 at the Big Sky championships in 2012, are even farther off the radar than the men. The Grizzlies were picked ninth in the preseason poll.
And that's going to make them the surprise of the league the first weekend of November.
Juniors Carly Wilczynski and Allie Parks are back, as is redshirt junior Keli Dennehy. Wilczynski and Parks both had better freshman seasons than sophomore years, and Dennehy, who finished fourth overall at the 2010 Big Sky championships as a true freshman, is mostly back from injury.
The changes that Montana's coaches are seeing with the men they are also seeing on the women's team.
"It's the same story," Fehr said. "They are buying in, and they are all excited for how things have been going. Carly told me she is excited to race. She's excited to see where she's at because of how things have gone up to this point.
"If they are feeling fresh physically, then they are going to feel like they can push themselves more mentally. They've been enjoying it because they don't feel so beat up."
Pounds adds, "They are a young team as well. There is potential there, we just have to develop it."
Wilczynski finished second at the 2012 Early Bird Open behind Carroll's Rhianna Grossman. Parks was ninth, and no other Griz runner was in the top 30.
Montana finished fourth in the team standings behind Carroll, Rocky Mountain and MSU Billings.
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