Griz racing for NCAA spots Saturday at Provo

Keli Dennehy should challenge for a top-25 spot

Keli Dennehy should challenge for a top-25 spot

Nov. 10, 2011

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The Montana cross country teams will compete at the NCAA Mountain Region Championships this Saturday at Provo, Utah. The men's 10-kilometer race will start at 11 a.m., the women's six-kilometer race at 12:15 p.m. The races will be held at the East Bay Golf Course.

The Grizzlies will use a lineup of senior Kesslee Payne, sophomores Keli Dennehy and Annie Moore and freshmen Ani Haas, Allie Parks, Autumn Taniguchi and Carly Wilczynski on the women's side and senior Lynn Reynolds, junior Max Hardy, sophomores Chase Anderson, Jordan Collison and Connor Williams and freshmen David Norris and Sam Willis on the men's.

Montana most recently competed at the Big Sky Conference meet at Pocatello, Idaho. Reynolds placed fourth overall, his third straight top-five finish, to lead the men to a fourth-place team finish.

The women placed fifth. Parks was the team's top finisher in 12th.

Race storyline: Can Lynn Reynolds have his breakout race?

Senior Lynn Reynolds has finished in the top five at the last three Big Sky Conference championships, but those performances have not carried over to the region meet held two weeks later ... yet.

Reynolds was fifth at the 2009 Big Sky meet and 40th at regionals. In 2010 he was fifth again, then 39th at regionals.

To make his first NCAA championships, he'll need to 1) finish in the top 25 and 2) be among the top four individuals from teams that don't make nationals.

The region looks to have three teams that are locks for nationals in BYU, ranked third nationally, Colorado, ranked fourth nationally, and Northern Arizona, ranked 12th nationally.

The top two teams Saturday will get the region's automatic spots to nationals. Any others would have to advance by an at-large invitation.

The top runners from the other teams will all be shooting for one of the region's four individual spots to nationals. One of those spots is likely going to be taken by UTEP's Justice Chirchir. That leaves probably eight other really strong runners - one of which is Reynolds - competing for the remaining three spots.

Because of that and for the only time all season, Reynolds allows himself to focus on self over team.

"Running is a bit of an individual sport no matter what race you're in, but this race maybe a little more than usual I'm thinking of myself," he said this week.

"I think I have a pretty good shot at going to nationals, so that's more of my focus this week than the team aspect."

What gives Reynolds his confidence is his consistent season-long performances and his improving head-to-head races against one of those athletes he'll need to contend with Saturday.

Reynolds has gone sub-25 minutes in all four of the team's races this fall and hasn't finished lower than seventh in the standings. He won the Montana Invitational Sept. 30 and had a career-best fourth-place finish at the Big Sky championships two weeks ago.

Reynolds also uses Weber State's Brett Hales, an all-American in the steeplechase last June, as a gauge.

Hales finished 20 seconds ahead of Reynolds at Montana State's season-opening meet in mid-September "and straight up kicked my butt." At Pocatello two weeks ago, Hales was third. Reynolds was less than eight seconds back in fourth.

"I've been a lot more consistent this year than in past years," Reynolds said. "Practices have been going a lot better, and I really haven't had any off races. Everything has been going a lot smoother this year."

As for Hales? "If I had run an optimal race (at Pocatello) I feel like I could have beaten him. At Bozeman I definitely did not feel that way," Reynolds said.

One big factor in Saturday's race is that it is 10 kilometers after a season of running eights. The ever-honest Reynolds freely admits he struggles at nearly every race - no matter the distance - at some point in the middle.

"That's why I think the 10k distance gives me an advantage," he said. "If you look at the last two miles of most of my (eight-kilometer) races, I close pretty hard.

"My weakness is the middle part of the race, and I don't think (that stretch) is going to be any longer just because it's a longer race. I'm going to pick it up where I normally pick it up, then carry that for another two kilometers.

"That gives me six more minutes to try to run people down."

If Reynolds advances, he will compete at the NCAA championships Monday, Nov. 21, in Terre Haute, Ind.



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