The MSUB women’s cross country team is gearing up for a tune-up meet at Riverfront Park, hosting several regionally-ranked NCAA Division II teams. (Photo courtesy MSU Billings)

MSUB media release

BILLINGS – MSU Billings cross country runners are back to full strength for this week’s meet at the Montana State Running Company Invitational on Saturday at the Bridger Creek Golf Course in Bozeman.

The women’s three mile race begins at 9:45 a.m. and will feature competition from all over the region. Fellow NCAA Division II competition CSU-Pueblo will be in attendance in addition to entrants from NCAA DI and the NAIA.

“We’re still trying to establish our top-5 on the women’s side,” MSUB head coach Dave Coppock said on the Yellowjacket team this season. “We have a gap to fill between our 4th and 5th runners, but the women have been progressing well each week. The main thing we’ll try to improve upon this week in Bozeman is to run the middle miles harder and not worry about the last mile; that will take care of itself. This will be the toughest field the women have faced this season and the first time many of them have run against DI competition. The competition will be similar to what they’ll face at conference and regionals.”

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Freshman Nikki Aiken was MSUB’s top finisher at the meet hosted by Black Hills State last week. The native of Belgrade, Mont., covered the 4K distance in 16:58.0 for sixth place overall. Aiken was the No. 2 runner for the Yellowjackets the week before at South Dakota Mines with a 13th place result, finishing the race in 20:01.0. Senior Rio Frame was 11th at the SDSMT event, crossing the finish line in 19:56.3. Frame missed last week’s race, but will compete in Bozeman on Friday.

Bailey Bomar was second for the ‘Jacket squad in Spearfish, finishing 12th overall. Freshmen Lydia Foster and Ella McKenzie were also in the Montana State Billings top-5 during the Gage McSpadden Memorial Race. MSU Billings has three upperclassmen and a young roster with seven freshmen and sophomores.

The Yellowjackets men are also competing in-state for the first time this season at Bridger Creek after running in South Dakota the last two weeks.

“This meet will be a big test for both teams with the large number of competitive teams,” MSUB head coach Dave Coppock said. “We’ll see several DI teams as well as some strong DII and NAIA programs. Each week we’ve worked on different aspects of racing and the focus this week will be to work on even-paced running and trying to maintain their race pace in the middle miles. The new people will get a taste of running in a larger field, as well, which should help prepare them for the conference and regional championships later in the season.”

Beginning with the South Dakota Mines Invite and the Gage McSpadden Memorial Invitational, MSU Billings has been using the early events to work on strategy and bring-up the new members of the squad. The Yellowjackets have six upperclassmen and five sophomores and freshmen on the team this season.

Junior Jorey Egeland has been the ‘Jackets top finisher for the opening two races of the season with a sixth and third place result. Egeland posted a time of 26:52.0, running negative splits in the opening 8K event of the year, and 20:29.2 last week on the 6K course. Senior Garrett Love placed ninth in the opening week in 27:19.0 and moved up to fifth last week in 20:43.5.

Senior Josh Panasuk, junior Mark Hovland, sophomore Tyus Mendoza, and freshman Ronald Venema have been in MSUB’s top-5 this season. Hovland was just out of the top-10 last week with an 11th place finish at the race hosted by Black Hills State. Panasuk was 13th in Spearfish as MSUB placed runners in the 3-5-10-11-13 spots.