Sept. 27, 2012
The Griz cross country teams will host the annual Montana Invitational Friday evening at the UM Golf Course in Missoula. The women's five-kilometer race will begin at 5:15 p.m., the men's eight-kilometer race at 5:45 p.m.
The small meet will have just four schools and a handful of unattached athletes. All four teams are from the Big Sky Conference: Montana, Montana State, Eastern Washington and North Dakota.
The meet is being held on the eve of the Mountain West Classic races, the biggest high school meet in the state, and will be using loops of the same course.
Montana State is the only team in the women's race to be ranked at the region level. The Bobcats entered the season outside the top 15 but moved up to No. 10 in the USTFCCCA Mountain Region after upsetting Utah two weekends ago at the MSU Open.
Montana was picked third in the Big Sky Conference preseason poll to MSU's fifth, but the Grizzlies are without three of their top five runners. Junior Keli Dennehy and freshmen Sarah Hastings and Lauryn Wate are all redshirting this season because of injury.
Eastern Washington was picked eighth in the preseason poll, North Dakota ninth. To put it another way, Montana State should win the women's race by a sizeable margin.
The intrigue will come with the way the top five runners work themselves out.
Two weeks ago at the MSU Open, Montana State had junior Heather Demorest (sixth), freshman Sarah Reiter (11th), sophomore Megan Beam (12th) and freshman Rachel Atwood (14th) all come across the line before Montana's top finisher, sophomore Carly Wilczynski (18th), who was admittedly getting over a cold.
Losing to Atwood was particularly frustrating for Wilczynski, who was a frequent competitor of Atwood's while Wilczynski was racing for Washington's Emerald Ridge High School and Atwood was just a few miles up Highway 167 at Auburn-Riverside High.
"When we raced on the track I could beat her, but she had the one up on me in cross country, so I'm hoping I can beat her Friday," Wilczynski said.
When asked if Montana State might be capable of taking the top four individual places Friday, Wilczynski answered with a laugh at the absurdity of the question, then said, "I'm not going to let that happen."
Montana's other threat for a top-five finish is sophomore Allie Parks, who is faster than she showed in finishing ninth at the Carroll Early Bird Open on Sept. 7 and 26th at the Montana State Open on the 15th. Remember that Parks finished 12th at the Big Sky Conference championships last October as a true freshman.
"Carly and Allie do best when they work together," UM cross country coach Courtney Babcock said. "Allie hasn't gotten out well our first two races, so our goal is to have them both get out and work together.
"I think they are both looking forward to racing at home and getting out in front with the Montana State girls."
Redshirt freshman Berenice Penaloza is expected to be Eastern Washington's top runner. North Dakota has been led this season by sophomore Erin Wysocki at UND's first meet and freshman Lydia Lutz at the team's second meet.
Just as in the women's race, the Montana State men, who are ranked No. 8 in the USTFCCCA Mountain Region, are a heavy favorite Friday. The Bobcats were picked third in the Big Sky Conference preseason poll, Montana sixth, Eastern Washington eighth and North Dakota ninth.
But unlike the women's race, the Montana men could put together their most complete race of the season and challenge the Bobcats.
At the MSU Open, Montana State placed its top five runners in the top 15 overall. Montana's top finisher, junior Caleb Deitz, did not cross until 20th, a development that does not appear to offer much hope for Friday.
But Montana is stronger and deeper than it showed two weeks ago, especially if junior Jordan Collison and sophomore Sam Willis regain their form of 2011. Collison was the Grizzlies' No. 2 runner at two races last fall, and Willis was the team's No. 2 runner at the Big Sky championships.
Collison was fifth for Montana at Montana State two weeks ago, Willis and his accompanying side-ache a distant eighth.
"I don't think anyone raced really well in Bozeman," Babcock said. "I don't think by any means Montana State is way ahead of us.
"We have the right guys down six and seven deep. We just need to get them together on the same day at the same race. The possibility is there."
Deitz has led Montana at both early-season races to date. Sophomore David Norris was second to Deitz at Carroll's meet, redshirt freshman Mark Messmer second at MSU. Freshman Matt Barker has also been in the team's top four at both races.
Eastern Washington freshman David Thor has been the Eagles' top finisher at both of EWU's races this fall.
North Dakota had a solid showing at North Dakota State's meet to open the season and moved up to No. 14 in the Midwest Region. Junior Sam Saccoman led North Dakota, which has since dropped out of the top 15, at its most recent race at South Dakota State.
Caleb Deitz: A case study in perseverance: Junior Caleb Deitz, a 2009 graduate of Mt. Spokane High in Spokane, Wash., competed at Carroll for two seasons (2009-10, 2010-11) and represented the Saints at the 2010 NAIA national cross country meet.
He took the 2011-12 school year off to work and gain Montana residency status. He kept training, however, and not only joined the Grizzlies this fall but has led Montana at its first two races.
Deitz finished second overall at the Carroll Early Bird Open and 20th at the Montana State Open.
"It was a long year, but I had a lot of good support from my family," Deitz said this week when asked about maintaining his motivation to keep training without a team to push and hold him accountable.
"My dad used to be a marathon runner and was my high school coach, and my older brother was coaching at Flathead Community College at the time, so they would throw me a few workouts.
"Most of the work (I did to stay in race shape) I did on my own. I worked a lot of bottom-of-the-barrel jobs, and at the end of the day I used running to push myself."
Up next: Montana will compete at the Inland Empire Classic at Lewiston, Idaho, on Saturday, Oct. 13. The women's 5k race will start at 11:30 a.m. (MT), the men's 8k race at 12:15 p.m. (MT).
That will be the Grizzlies' final race before the Big Sky Conference championships, which will be held at Flagstaff, Ariz., on Saturday, Oct. 27.
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