BOZEMAN — While many Montana State fans will be fixated on the Cat-Griz football game in Missoula on Saturday, another Bobcat team will be making history. The men's cross country team will be competing at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships in Charlottesville, Virginia.
It's the second consecutive year the Bobcats have qualified for the championships but just the third time in the program's history.
"The exciting thing for me as a coach is that we’re able to back up last year’s performance and get a return trip to the NCAA Championships," said MSU director of track and field and cross country Lyle Weese, who was an athlete on the Bobcats' 2002 team that qualified for the NCAA Championships. "I think there’s over 300 teams in the NCAA Division I cross country, and they take 31 into it, so we’re really excited to be one of those."
The Bobcats' earned an at-large berth into the field after placing fifth last week at the NCAA Mountain Regional in Lubbock, Texas.
"It’s awesome for us to go back again," said MSU redshirt junior Ben Perrin, who also ran in the NCAA Championships last year. "It almost feels like more special this time because we — like, last year we kind of knew we were in a really good spot to make it all year, but this year there was a little more uncertainty. We started out a little bit slower and slowly progressed throughout the year. Being able to make it back again is just great for the program, and it just shows that we’re trending in the right direction, and hopefully we can keep building on what we have going."
Perrin, who graduated from Flathead High School in Kalispell, leads a group of Bobcat runners that placed second at the Big Sky Conference Championships in Missoula in October. Perrin was the first MSU runner across the finish line at both the Big Sky Championships, where he placed third, and the Mountain Regional, where he was 10th.
Senior Matthew Richtman, juniors Rob McManus and Owen Smith and redshirt freshman Sam Ells rounded out the Bobcats' scoring at the Big Sky meet, while redshirt junior Levi Taylor replaced Ells in MSU's scoring at the regional meet.
"We tried to work ourselves into just feeling good in workouts — not pushing super hard right away and kind of more just thinking about the end of the season and being ready for the meet this weekend," Perrin said. "It worked out really well for us, because we knew after conference that we were feeling the best we had, and it really showed in our results. We never had a race that had gone worse than the one previously, so we kept getting better and better each meet. It’s been really fun."
Now, the Bobcats will look to improve upon last year's 25th-place finish at the NCAA Championships. Richtman was Montana State's best-finishing runner last year, as he became Montana State's third All-American courtesy of a 40th-place finish, the fourth-best individual result at the national meet in MSU history. Perrin finished 200th, and Taylor was 233rd, Smith 240th and McManus 242nd.
"I think we all were pretty humbled last year," Perrin said. "It was a really different meet. It’s pretty intense. There’s a lot of people running. I think we all took a lot from that race. We knew we need to get out aggressively, we need to be a little relaxed during the race, too. It’s a really tough meet. We took a lot, not only just from that single race, but throughout the whole season based on how we were feeling. We learned a lot, and we’re really excited to go out and get a little revenge, because we know we can do a lot better this year."
The men's ten-kilometer race is scheduled for 11:10 a.m. (ET) and will be televised on ESPNU and streamed on the ESPN app.