(Editor's note: Montana State University news release)
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Finishing with their lowest point total at the national meet in school history, the Montana State men's cross country placed 13th at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships on Saturday at Panorama Farms Cross Country Course in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Montana State entered Saturday's 10k race ranked 29th in the USTFCCCA National Coaches' Poll, but stormed to an incredible result 16 spots above their ranking thanks to contributions from all five of their scoring runners, with three placing in the top-75.
Matthew Richtman (26th), Ben Perrin (53rd), Owen Smith (72nd), Levi Taylor (138th), and Rob McManus (165th) composed the scoring group for MSU, with Sam Ells (183rd) and Harvey Cramb (231st) also turning in strong finishes.
"The team was so composed regardless if they got out well or were towards the back," head coach Lyle Weese said. "Ben, Owen, and Rob really had a great start and were in a great position. They did a great job of fighting and holding their positions. Levi started towards the back and moved up really well throughout the race which was huge for our team score. Matt started toward the back of the race and moved up like crazy. I don't know if there is anyone in the NCAA that can move up throughout a race like him."
Richtman ran one of the more memorable races by a Bobcat in recent memory on the way to a 26th place individual finish, the fourth-best mark by an MSU racer ever.
With the result, the senior becomes just the second two-time All-American in Bobcat history, joining Shannon Butler (1989, 1990).
The native of Elburn, Ill., known as a runner who likes to work his way through the field as the race progresses, played that to perfection on Saturday—through the first kilometer, Richtman sat in 204th. However, moving up to 153rd in the next kilometer and to 108th through three kilometers, the veteran continued to steadily move his way up to 50th through 6k before finding a way into the top-30 with a kick on the final stretch.
"My strategy is quite a bit different than most others as I race better starting towards the back then moving up," Richtman said. "So the goal for today was to do exactly that and get into finish position around that 7-8k mark. What really got me through was our team mindset going into the race that we've used the past two or so meets: run the first 5k for yourself, and the second 5k for your teammates. Meaning, use that first half to get out how you want, then think only of your team that second half."
Redshirt junior Ben Perrin, a native of Kalispell, never fell out of the top-65, maintaining a consistent pace and crossing the line in 53rd, narrowly missing All-American accolades.
Owen Smith, a junior from Billings, placed 72nd to round out the top trio for the Bobcats. Just as they have all season, Richtman, Perrin, and Smith set the tone at the top in the biggest race of the year.
"Making it to NCAAs last year was so exciting, but finishing 25th as a team left a sour taste in our mouth," Weese said. "Having an outstanding performance like this at the last meet of the year is huge for us."
The 13th place finish is the second-best team result for the Bobcats, who placed 11th in 2002 with Lyle Weese finishing 19th individually. That year's team ended with 392 points, while on Saturday, the Bobcats tallied 374, just six behind Air Force in 12th. Montana State had tallied 599 points last year, finishing 25th out of 31 teams.
Oklahoma State took the men's team title on Saturday, with Northern Arizona placing second and BYU in third.
Montana State finished above teams such as No. 8 Butler, No. 11 Villanova, No. 13 New Mexico, and No. 14 Cal Baptist, among others. The Bobcats were right on the heels of No. 5 Wisconsin, who finished eighth (330).
"There's nothing I'm prouder of than how our team has progressed over the past few years, starting from a program that looked at nationals from afar to one saying we are going to get back year after year through hard work," Richtman said. "Building a team like we have is something way more special than just being given a national berth every year and it's incredibly special to be a part of that and watch it grow."
Redshirt junior Levi Taylor made an incredible push to finish as the No. 4 runner for the Cats in 138th. The native of Laurel moved up 77 spots over the final seven kilometers to provide a huge points boost, with Rob McManus rounding out the scoring runners with a 165th place finish.
"I'm just so proud of these guys," Weese said. "A great group of young men. Last year we had Duncan Hamilton, Cooper West, and Riley Collins. This year's team built on their great leadership just like this team has built the culture for future teams. Finishing right up there with some of the historically best teams in the NCAA is huge for us. It is such a big step forward to qualify two years in a row and cap it with a great performance this year."
"Experience is definitely important at this stage, and having that building block from last year was such a confidence builder," Richtman said. "This year we knew what to improve upon and how to hold our composure when the race gets tough, and it really showed today. We couldn't be happier with the results we fought for today."