Carroll College cross country runners Janie Reid (left) and Leah Esposito (right) earned all-American honors at the NAIA championships. (RICHIE MELBY/MTN Sports)

HELENA – Bill Roberts Golf Course has two new cross country course records after Friday’s Frontier Conference championships.

Carroll College junior Chance Hyatt pulled away from Rocky Mountain College’s Benson Koech in the final stretch to win the men’s race in a time of 25:01.99.

“He’s a great runner,” Hyatt said of Koech. “He’s very much a grinder and by that I mean he makes you work and work and work until someone gives up or your body fails. I’m not as much of a grinder. I have a little more foot speed and I think that’s what plays into the finish. I can drop a pretty quick finish or certain split if I need to.”

The finish was nearly identical to the Carroll Early Bird Open back in September, when Hyatt’s kick in the final portion of the race was good enough to edge Koech. The two have become great friends and rivals throughout the course of the season, but Hyatt said he knew he held the advantage in the final seconds of Friday’s race.

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“Maybe 200-meters out,” he said, pointing to the moment he knew the race was his. “The whole race I was watching his shadow out of the corner of my eye and coming down the home stretch I couldn’t see his shadow so I tried to pour on the speed as much as I could with what I had left.”

Lewis-Clark State won the team title and will earn the conference’s automatic berth to the national tournament. Both Carroll and Rocky Mountain College will have to wait until the final season rankings are released over the weekend to learn their team fate.

“It just means we’re all so competitive and everyone has great coaches and great athletes,” Hyatt said of the Warriors, Bears and Saints. “It’s good for the conference to have three squads who could realistically race at nationals.”

Less than an hour after Hyatt crossed the tape in first place, teammate Leah Esposito won the women’s race in a new course record of 17:58.03. Esposito, a senior, becomes a three-time Frontier Conference champion.

“It was after probably the end of the 2k-mark, beginning of the third. I was thinking, ‘Ok I feel good and think I can go a little faster now,” Esposito said of her record-breaking pace. “Coach gave me a pace to go for and I feel good so I’m going to push it, tell Janie to come with me and if she does great, if not I’m just going to go.’ To win is always nice.”

Carroll College cross country runners Janie Reid (left) and Leah Esposito (right) compete during the Frontier Conference championships. Esposito set a new course record. (RICHIE MELBY/MTN Sports)
Carroll College cross country runners Janie Reid (left) and Leah Esposito (right) compete during the Frontier Conference championships. Esposito set a new course record. (RICHIE MELBY/MTN Sports)

Esposito was pushed by teammate Janie Reid in the early stages of the race, but began to distance herself as time progressed. Reid, a junior, earned runner-up honors a full 55-seconds ahead of third place.

The Saints’ duo led the program to the team championships as well.

“That was our big accomplishment, we wanted to get first and we did it again which was cool since we did it last year too,” Reid said.

“It’s amazing especially with the season we’ve had,” added Esposito. “We’ve been riddled with injuries and people have been having a hard time emotionally and morale-wise. I think it all culminated to this moment and the struggle was worth it. I told the girls before the race that we’re resilient and that counts for something. I knew a lot of people counted us out this season but I didn’t count us out because I know what we’ve been through. It’s just awesome, I’m so proud of everyone on this team, they all ran amazing today.”

For complete results from the Frontier Conference championships, click here.

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