Griz at home Friday morning for Montana Invitational

Sept. 28, 2011

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The University of Montana cross country teams will compete at home for the only time this fall when the Grizzlies host the Montana Invitational Friday morning 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.

Scheduled to compete are athletes from Montana State, Eastern Washington, Gonzaga, MSU Billings, Great Falls and Flathead Valley Community College.

Most recently: Montana opened its season Saturday, Sept. 17, at the Montana State Invitational. The UM women finished fourth behind Big Sky Conference favorite Weber State, Utah State and Utah Valley.

Sophomore Keli Dennehy was the Grizzlies' top runner, finishing fourth on the three-mile course in a time of 17:10.

Freshmen Carly Wilczynski and Allie Parks also had top-10 finishes. Wilczynski was eighth in a time of 17:32, Parks 10th with a time of 17:39.

Senior Lynn Reynolds led the Griz men to a fifth-place finish with a fifth-place individual finish. He covered the five-mile course in 24:50, a career best for that distance.

Sophomore Jordan Collison was Montana's next runner, finishing 35th in a time of 26:27. The Grizzlies' next four runners - sophomore Connor Williams (26:36), freshman Sam Willis (26:40), sophomore Chase Anderson (26:46) and junior Max Hardy (26:48) - were all within 21 seconds of Collison.

Still to come: Montana will compete at the Inland Northwest Classic Friday afternoon, Oct. 14, at Spokane, Wash. That will be the Grizzlies' only other race prior to the Big Sky Conference championships, which will be held Saturday, Oct. 29, at Pocatello, Idaho.

The NCAA Mountain Regional will be held Saturday, Nov. 12, at Orem, Utah.

Women's preview: Montana raced at Montana State Sept. 17 without two of its top runners. Senior Kesslee Payne, who missed the first race with a non-running injury, and freshman Ani Haas, who had her eligibility status cleared up by the NCAA this week, will both run Saturday.

Both will be in Montana's top five and likely in the top 10 overall. Add in a strong core of Dennehy, Wilczynski and Parks, along with sophomore Annie Moore, and coach Courtney Babcock will be running a team Saturday that should provide much more a challenge to Weber State by the end of October for Big Sky supremacy than it did on the 17th in Bozeman.

"Having everybody together and healthy and seeing them work together as a team on their home course is going to be exciting," Babcock said.

"We did that well in Bozeman, but we only had three in that group. Saturday we'll have five or six. Our goal should be to have five runners in the top 10, if not six."

After years of running in the shadow of Katrina Drennen and the other seniors who led Montana to the Big Sky title last fall, Payne is this year's leader and the team's only senior.

She was seventh overall at the 2009 Big Sky meet to earn all-conference honors. Last fall she was 12th, finishing behind Drennen, who was second, and Dennehy, who was fourth.

"Kesslee has always been kind of overlooked in the bridesmaid position, but she's always run very well for us," Babcock said. "When you have teammates that are running very, very well, sometimes you get overshadowed.

"Our main goal for this year is for Kesslee (who's had foot problems is) to stay healthy. If she does that, by the time we get to conference she should be up at the front."

Haas, a former member of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team and Missoula native, will be running her first cross country race Saturday.

Babcock expects Haas to be among the first few runners on the team to cross the finish line while also learning some valuable race-day lessons.

"Just getting out and racing and getting that experience will be important for her," Babcock said. "To do it at home should make it easier on her to try to figure out how the sport works."

Also running Saturday will be junior Emily Eickholt, who along with Payne makes up the entirety of Montana's upperclassmen, freshman Autumn Taniguchi and Melissa Jenkins.

Jenkins, a sprinter with distance jones, was sixth in the 400 meters at last spring's Big Sky outdoor championships and a member of UM's second-place 4x400-meter relay team.

Freshman Mariah Meyer, who is redshirting this fall, will compete unattached.

Men's preview: There are few certainties in life, but here is one: Senior Lynn Reynolds will be the first Montana runner across the line Friday morning.

Reynolds has raced 16 cross country meets in a Montana uniform in his career and has led the team 16 times, usually by a wide margin. Last year the gap between Reynolds and his closest teammate was only twice under two minutes and never closer than 90 seconds.

Babcock doesn't want to lose Reynolds' front-of-the-pack speed. What she does want is for that gap to shrink.

At MSU two weekends ago, Reynolds crossed the line in 24:50. Collison led the trailing pack in 26:27, which was still over 90 seconds and not the way to have team success.

"Our big goal Saturday will be to condense our one-to-five time, because at MSU we had a minute and a half between Lynn and our second runner, and that's not an accurate indication of the team's overall fitness.

"We want to have no more than a minute between our top five. And not because Lynn is running slower, but because everybody else is running faster.

"For some people going from practice to a race environment is different. Racing at home, everyone should be comfortable and be able to get into that race mentality."

In addition to the team's top six from the Montana State Invitational, the Grizzlies will have senior Brian Burke, junior Casey Weinman and freshman David Norris competing.

Freshmen Nick Lichtenstadter and Tyler Riggs, both of whom are redshirting, will compete unattached.



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