Griz open season at Carroll Early Bird meet

David Norris

David Norris
The Montana cross country teams will open their fall season this week when the Grizzlies compete Friday at Carroll's Early Bird Open. The meet will be held at the Bill Roberts Golf Course in Helena.

The women's four-kilometer race starts at 11:30 a.m., the men's six-kilometer race at noon. Both races will cover the course's two-kilometer loop.

The Grizzlies and host Saints will be joined at the meet by MSU Billings, Spokane Community College and a number of Frontier Conference schools.

The race comes a week early for Montana, which has traditionally opened its season at the Montana State Invitational. The Grizzlies will still compete at MSU next Saturday.

"It's just a way for everyone to get into competition mode at a lower-key meet," fifth-year cross country coach Courtney Babcock said.

"It's really nice for the freshmen. This way they don't have to jump right into the six- and eight-kilometer races that we'll see the rest of the fall. The shorter distances at this meet should help their transition out of high school."

The Montana women will be shorthanded when they face a solid Carroll team. The Saints, behind 2011 Frontier Conference champion Rhianna Grossman, finished 13th at NAIA nationals last fall and enter this season ranked No. 6 in the preseason.

Grossman is back for her junior season and should challenge Montana's top two runners, sophomores Allie Parks and Carly Wilczynski.

"I definitely expect Allie and Carly to be up there at the front, working together to push the pace," Babcock said.

Senior Emily Eickholt, junior Keli Dennehy and freshman Sarah Hastings are all scratches for Saturday, and freshman Lauryn Wate is questionable.

That leaves a thin and mostly inexperienced team filling in the remaining gaps. Sophomore Autumn Taniguchi raced five times as a true freshman in 2011. Senior Bobbi Furrer and redshirt freshman Mariah Meyer will both be racing their first collegiate cross country race Saturday.

"We're kind of in two packs right now," Babcock added. "Autumn is looking really good in practice, and Mariah is a lot stronger than she was last year. And Bobbi is just getting into cross country.

"We are not going to be in a big group like we've had in the past and like the men have now. It ebbs and flows. The men were spread out last year, and the women were pretty much together.

"We're trying to get to where we have both teams running together."

The men's roster for Friday is mostly set, with juniors Jordan Collison and Caleb Deitz, who ran for Carroll during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, sophomores David Norris and Sam Willis, redshirt freshman Tyler Riggs and freshmen Matt Barker and Colby Henderson.

Redshirt freshmen Nick Lichtenstadter and Mark Messmer are questionable to compete Friday, as is freshman Cody Curtis. Freshmen Julian Jalani and Doug Raymer will redshirt this season.

"I think the thing I'm most impressed with is how much stronger our second-year runners are, particularly David and Sam," Babcock said. "They were both middle-distance runners coming out of high school, and jumping up to the eight-kilometer distance took them a while to get used to.

"This year they are both running faster times in practice and looking a lot more relaxed.

"I probably expect Jordan and Caleb to be right up there for us, just because they are a little more experienced, but David and Sam could be right with them."

One thing is certain Friday: Someone other than Lynn Reynolds, who led the Grizzlies in all 20 of his career races from 2008-11, will cross the line as Montana's top runner. It will be the first time since the 2007 season that's happened.

"Not having Lynn actually takes some of the pressure off. No one is really pigeonholed behind that top guy, and it allows everyone a chance to be at the front," Babcock said.

Norris, obviously a believer in philosopher Ayn Rand's idea of ethical egoism, said at the team's Lubrecht Forest camp two weekends ago, "Our goal should always be to have No. 1 through No. 5 fighting for first and No. 6 through No. 10 fighting to break into the top five."

"Meaning," as Babcock puts it, "nobody is getting pigeonholed in a set position. Everybody is trying to be in that top pack, and everyone in the top pack is trying to be at the top of that pack."

Montana will compete at the Montana State Invitational next Saturday morning at Bozeman. The men's five-mile race at Bridger Creek Golf Course begins at 9 a.m., the women's three-mile race at 9:40 a.m.



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