Oct. 11, 2012
The Montana cross country teams will race for the fourth time this fall when the Grizzlies travel to Lewiston, Idaho, for Saturday's Inland Empire Classic. The races will be held at the Lewiston Orchards cross country course.
The women's five-kilometer race begins at 11:30 a.m. (MT), the men's eight-kilometer race at 12:15 p.m. (MT).
After racing at smaller meets at Carroll, Montana State and at its own race two weekends ago, Montana will be one of 10 teams competing Saturday. In addition to Montana and host Lewis-Clark State, racing will be teams from Eastern Oregon, Eastern Washington, Gonzaga, Idaho, Lewis-Clark State, Community Colleges of Spokane, Calgary, Washington State and Whitworth.
In the men's field, Lewis-Clark State is ranked ninth nationally in NAIA, Eastern Oregon 14th. The LCSC women are ranked 11th.
Among the Division I schools competing, the Washington State men are ranked seventh in the USTFCCCA West Region, Gonzaga 11th. The Gonzaga women are ranked 14th in the West Region.
The Montana women's team will have the same five runners the Grizzlies have competed with all season: Senior Bobby Furrer, sophomores Allie Parks, Autumn Taniguchi and Carly Wilczynski and redshirt freshman Mariah Meyer.
The fivesome has finished in the order of Wilczynski, Parks, Taniguchi, Meyer and Furrer at the team's first three races this fall, with Wilczynski and Parks finishing with a 12-second gap the last two races, Taniguchi and Meyer grouped behind them and then Furrer.
There has been as large as a three-minute gap between first and fifth this fall.
"We're not racing as a group, so we're trying to work off each other in pairs," UM cross country coach Courtney Babcock said.
At the Grizzlies' home meet on Sept. 28, Wilczynski and Parks, as expected, led the team, but neither cracked the top 10, which was not expected. Wilczynski's five-kilometer time of 18:39 was nearly a minute behind overall winner Kara DeWalt, a former Griz standout who was competing unattached.
Montana State's Heather Demorest was the first collegiate athlete. She finished second overall in a time of 17:44. Parks was 13th in a time of 18:51.
MSU's top five was in the top nine overall, and North Dakota's top two runners finished ahead of Montana's top placer.
"Neither Carly nor Allie had great final 600 meters, and that's a big part of a race, so we've been really focusing on those last couple of intervals in practice.
"We've talked about getting out and being consistent, then staying strong through those final 800 meters. I think we were pretty tired the first couple weeks of the season, and I feel like now we're coming into where we need to be."
Looking ahead to the Big Sky Conference championship, which will be held Oct. 27 at Flagstaff, Ariz., Babcock believes both Wilczynski and Parks could battle for a top-10 finish and earn all-conference honors.
Parks led Montana at the Big Sky meet last fall, finishing 12th overall at Pocatello, Idaho. After finishing as the Grizzlies' No. 2 runner at two previous races in 2011, Wilczynski was fourth on the team at conference.
"I think it's where they could have been last year," Babcock said about her two lead runners cracking the top 10 at conference in two weeks. "Allie was just outside the top 10, and Carly did not have a great race.
"They definitely have the ability to do it, so that's something we're going to try and reverse."
The Montana men have the depth the Griz women lack, but they are still seeking some consistency. Junior Jordan Collison finished fourth and fifth for Montana at the team's first two races, then finished first at the Montana Invitational. Sophomore David Norris was second at Carroll, third at Montana State, then seventh two weeks ago.
Babcock attributes this up and down trend to her young team's ongoing education in the art of racing and the limited chances a team gets each fall to put its plan into practice.
"Unfortunately cross country teams don't get a lot of races to learn from," she said. "We got strung out at Montana State pretty quickly. At our meet we were better about being in a pack right away, but obviously we didn't finish as well as we would have liked."
The Grizzlies finished second among the four Big Sky Conference schools competing at the Montana Invitational, but they were nowhere close to matching Montana State.
The Bobcats had the top seven finishers overall. Collison was ninth overall, 79 seconds off the winning time.
"I still believe the men's potential is great. We just need to race the way we're practicing," Babcock said. "It's different mentally, and we need to make that breakthrough.
"This weekend will be a great chance to do that. We're dropping down to (750 feet of elevation), and that always gives athletes confidence. We should be competing like we're the top team there. Hopefully that's what we'll do this weekend."
Montana will be without sophomore Sam Willis, who was the team's No. 5 runner at the UM Invitational, not only Saturday but the rest of the season. He recently suffered a season-ending injury.
Deitz has been the team's most consistent performer through three races. He led the team at both Carroll and Montana State and was second to Collison at the UM Invitational. Messmer has finished second and third since missing the season-opening race at Carroll.
Upcoming: Montana will compete at the Big Sky Conference championships at Flagstaff, Ariz., on Saturday, Oct. 27. The races will be held at Flagstaff's Buffalo Park.
The teams will conclude their seasons on Friday, Nov. 9, at the NCAA Mountain Regional. Those races will be held at Fort Collins, Colo.
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