(MSUB Athletics photo)

(MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS – It will be a short bus ride for the Montana State University Billings cross country team early Saturday on their way to Bozeman, Mont. and the Montana State Invitational. This will be the fourth-consecutive season that the Yellowjackets travel to Bozeman for the MSU Invite at the Bridger Creek Country Club. The men’s five mile race will start at 9 a.m. with the women starting their three mile race at 9:45 a.m.

“They have a really nice course in Bozeman with a nice grass surface for the majority of the meet,” head coach Jonathan Woehl said of the invitational. “We have an opportunity to put up some good times with the fact that there are not a lot of hills or turns. With several Division I teams participating we can learn a bit about ourselves as well as have the opportunity to key off of a lot good runners and push ourselves.”

Bridger Creek Country Club will be the site of the Montana State Invitational on Saturday.
The ‘Jackets, as well as other Montana schools, have had to contend with conditioning, injury and smoke in the early season and hope Wednesday’s rains are the beginning of a clean horizon at the start of the cross country schedule.

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“The smoke has been noticeable challenge in the early season,” Woehl said. “We have been smart about what we are asking from the athletes and made sure to manage their distance and exposure when the air quality is poor. We’ve spent time in the pool and running the indoor track. At times the PE building has been crowded with all the teams staying out of the smoke but we have been getting our work in. With the rains coming we hope that we are going to be able to get more out of some of our training sessions.”

Sophomore Nikki Aiken will be running just a little more than 10 miles from her hometown of Belgrade, Mont. this weekend. Aiken was the top finisher for the ‘Jackets in the Gage McSpadden Invitational last weekend as the captain earned a sixth-place finish with her time of 16:41.5 over the 4,300-meter course. She will be joined by Bailey Bomar at the top of the MSUB pack. Bomar placed 14th last weekend in Spearfish, S.D. and has been a consistent runner for the Yellowjackets throughout her career.

“Nikki and Baylie have been putting in great work in practice and fighting through the smoke the last couple weeks. I think with the rain we have gotten, and the forecast for cooler conditions, their hard work is going to benefit them at this meet.” Woehl said of the two leaders.

Catrina Schuchard and Kateri Bridges will also be center stage in the three mile race across the golf course as the sophomore and freshman look to move their way up the ‘Jacket pack.

“Catrina has improved a lot from last year and can really set the pace for Kateri this weekend.” Coach Woehl said of the young runners. “Kateri is still getting the experience she needs for some of the longer distances and pace is one of the things Catrina manages exceptionally well. We saw Catrina execute her race last week as she started toward the back but continuously made her way up through the pack throughout race.”

As for the men, the team will look to juniors Tyus Mendoza and Ivan Colmenero to lead the way this weekend. Mendoza recorded his first collegiate top-10 finish last weekend when he ranked seventh in the opening event of the season. He finished the five-mile MSU Invite course in a time of 27:33.7 last season. Colmenero has managed a healthy start to the season and has put the pieces in place to build upon his 14th-place finish at the McSpadden Invite.

“Ivan has had a great balance so far this season while getting in his mileage and mixing in cross training to avoid injuries and manage his body. He is looking very good, I think he and Tyus will be at the head of our pack this weekend in Bozeman.” Woehl said.

Youth will be prominent for the men’s team this weekend as sophomore Ronald Venema will be joined by Carson Jessop and Jack Pickell to round out the ‘Jacket lineup. Venema has been a good role model for the young MSUB runners as they adjust to the distance at the collegiate level.

“Ron has done a good job of passing on what he has learned to our young guys.” Woehl added “He will be important for our freshmen because he has a good sense of pace and is able to stay consistent through the first three-quarters of the race before pushing himself down the stretch. It is a great opportunity for Carson and Jack to key off of his performance as they get used to the longer distances.”

The ‘Jackets will compete against Division I schools in Montana State, Montana, Idaho State, Utah, Northern Colorado and North Dakota as well as three NAIA schools from around Montana with Carrol College, MSU Northern and Rocky Mountain College.