(Editor’s note: story by Montana Sports Information)
MISSOULA – Hannah Wylie grew up in Crown Point, Ind., 40 miles southeast of Chicago, and calls herself a flatlander. But it was the hill on the course at the Montana Invitational cross country race on Friday evening in Missoula that propelled her to a season-best finish and the Griz women to another strong showing.
“Even though I’m from the flatlands, I just love the hills,” she said after finishing eighth and as her team’s No. 2 runner. “I felt strong going into it, then I was like, This is my hill. I used the downhill to open up my stride, then I just carried it out.”
Freshman Erica Simison finished fourth, Wylie, another freshman, eighth and Montana, even without Madeline Hamilton racing, put its top five in the top 20 overall to place a strong second behind Idaho and ahead of Santa Clara, Pacific, Gonzaga and Eastern Washington.
“It was a really good race. It’s such a young team. It’s exciting,” said coach Vicky Pounds.
As expected, Gonzaga ruled the men’s race, putting its runners in nine of the top 10 spots. Montana, which was led by senior Dillon May, finished fourth behind the Bulldogs, Idaho and Eastern Washington.
May finished 22nd overall, with Nathan Wellington and Kyle Peterson close behind.
“It was an interesting race because it was clear (Gonzaga was) working on strategy,” said Pounds. “They took it out slow, then picked it up the second half of it. It was a great experience for our guys.”
If Wylie, who hadn’t finished higher than Montana’s No. 4 runner at the Grizzlies’ first two races of the season, was the breakout performer of the meet, Simison just did what she’s been doing all fall.
After finishing seventh at the Clash of the Inland Northwest and sixth at the Montana State Classic, Simison, who had to go it alone without Hamilton to run with, had her first top-five finish and broke up Idaho’s pack.
“The plan was for Erica to kind of go off Idaho, and she was so brave,” said Pounds. “She just went for it and hung on as long as she could.”
Simison finished the challenging five-kilometer course in a time of 18:32. Idaho claimed the top three spots, with Kara Story winning in a time of 18:05.
Wylie was the eighth finisher but the seventh collegiate runner. Two spots ahead of her was former Griz — and Iowa State — runner Maryn Lowry, who finished sixth and helped Wylie make the most of her day.
“I had a teammate who pulled me through. She was going, ‘Come on Hannah, you got it.’ I just stuck with her for a really long time, then finished it out,” said Wylie. “It’s what teamwork can do,” added Pounds.
Samantha Engebretsen was 12th, Jessica Bailey, in her second race back, placed 15th, and Rachel Torrey, another freshman, came through in 19th.
“The other girls worked together as a pack really well,” said Pounds.
With Gonzaga sitting back early in the men’s eight-kilometer race, it bunched up the field, which kept Montana’s runners from finding one another and working together.
When the Bulldogs upped the pace later in the race and the pack strung out, the opportunity to work together was gone.
“We had some runners who got a little impatient and never could really find their teammates,” said Pounds.
The men’s team was also down a runner — Kyle Kredo — and had only its top three in the top 30. Ben Vanderbosch, in 36th, and Noah Adams, in 59th, rounded out the team’s top five.
“Dillon was back in form this week, and Nate had a great race,” said Pounds, whose teams will next travel to the flat and fast course at Lewis-Clark State in two weeks.
“This isn’t an easy course, and Lewiston is just the opposite, which will be great for everyone’s confidence going into conference.”
Gonzaga’s Kyle Thompson won the men’s race in a time of 25:11.