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MSU Billings cross country men 7th, women 10th at GNAC Championships

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Posted at 7:27 AM, Oct 25, 2021

(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)

LACEY, Wash. – Racing under persistent showers along Saint Martin’s narrow course, the Montana State University Billings cross country teams saw nearly every athlete set new personal bests as the men’s team placed seventh and the women’s team placed tenth on Saturday.

“Initially when we got done, I thought about how the men and women ran and I felt like overall for both teams, it was a good day,” MSUB head coach Jonathan Woehl said.

In it’s seventh-place finish, the men’s team achieved several milestones: Ase Ackerman led the way with a 25:00.7 in the 8-kilometer race, which ranks fourth all-time at MSUB; five of the six ‘Jackets set new 8K personal bests; plus Ackerman, Carson Jessop (25:28.4) and Logan Straus (25:36.5) all broke 26 minutes, marking the first time since 2014 that the men’s team had three runners achieve that feat.

In both races, the goal was to get out quickly enough and establish position before the pine-needle-covered trails narrowed. This objective was imperative during the men’s race – which featured more loops across the course and thus, more opportunities to be caught behind a string of runners, but Bryant Edgerton moved up throughout the race and finished with a 26:18.7 – a new personal best.

“Bryant did a really good job throughout the race,” Woehl said. “He had a string of guys ahead of him the whole way and every 1,500 to 1,000 meters and every time I saw him, he worked his way ahead of a few more guys than he did on the previous loop.”

The men’s team finished a mere three points behind sixth-place Central Washington, 165-168. The result was still the men’s team’s best since placing seventh at the 2017 GNAC Championships.

“Overall, I was really happy with how the guys ran,” Woehl said. “It would’ve been so nice if we would’ve been a few places better here or there to finish sixth. Beating more GNAC teams is now something to shoot for as we’re going to regionals.”

Over on the women’s side, Kailee Stoppel was MSUB’s top finisher for the fourth time this season. Running in the team’s first 6-kilometer race of the year, the junior covered the course in 22:49.4, which was one of many personal bests on the women’s team.

“Kailee hung around the 20th to 25th the whole race,” Woehl said. “She didn’t get overwhelmed by the moment or anything; she ran really well.”

The women got a boost from Kendra Woods’ second-place finish amongst the Yellowjackets – in her 6K debut, nonetheless – with a 24:26.0. Ally Whitmer was a steady presence in third, as she ran her first 6K race since her sophomore season at Treasure Valley Community College in 2019.

“Ally is always consistent, and she did a really good job of being the steady force in the middle of our pack,” Woehl said. “She helped get Kendra going in the middle of the race when they were going back and forth with each other; I think that really helped. She, in particular, had a really strong finish. She hammered down that last 150 meters.”

From there, MSUB’s women’s team had a veteran step up in Sierra Durbin, who cleaved 14 seconds off her 6K PR, which she ran at a faster course.

“Sierra did awesome,” Woehl said. “Watching her race, you could definitely tell she’s run a 6K before and knows how to attack it. She was reeling them in; every time I saw her, she moved up one or two people.”

As a group, the women’s team placed tenth out of ten teams, yet given the results and MSUB’s average time, Woehl believes the team did all it could amongst a competitive conference.

“It’s disappointing that we didn’t get to beat anybody, but at the same time, looking at how we ran, that was one of the best showings we had in the past five or six years for the women’s team,” Woehl said. “We’re trending in the right direction, but the rest of the conference is doing the same thing. Our conference is really good at cross country.”

Yet the book isn’t closed on the Yellowjackets’ season. Both teams will square off with their GNAC opponents at the NCAA DII West Regional Race, which will be hosted by Western Oregon on Nov. 6. Although the men will be asked to hammer out a 10K – as opposed to an 8K – the experience from the GNAC’s 6K will be beneficial for the three newcomers on the women’s team who raced their first 6K on Saturday.

“What’s exciting for the women is that we have a second crack at a 6K in two weeks,” Woehl said. “Now that everyone has run one, everyone knows how to attack it. They were right there. Our goal is to at least be the seventh GNAC team when we get to regionals.”