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MSU Billings cross country prepares for Roy Griak Invitational

Posted at 2:35 PM, Sep 25, 2018
(MSUB Athletics photo)

(MSU Billings release)

BILLINGS – As the cool weather begins to set in, the competition continues to heat up for the Montana State University Billings cross country team. The Yellowjackets have just a few more days to train before they are set to race in the 33rd annual Roy Griak Invitational, hosted by the University of Minnesota on Saturday, September 29 at Les Bolstad Golf Course in Falcon Heights.

The women’s team will lead off with a 6K race at 9:30 a.m. CT followed by the men’s 8K race at 10:20 a.m. CT. The Yellowjackets are expected to be joined in competition by 11 fellow Division II school as well as 13 teams in Division I and 15 teams in Division III. Montana State University Billings is the only team representing the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.

“We should be able to pick up where we left off last week,” said head coach Jon Woehl. “The men were really similar with their times at the Gage McSpadden and the first race of the year, but the Gage Spadden last week was a harder course. On the women’s side, they were faster on the more challenging course so we have seen a lot of improvement since the beginning of the year. “We have to keep getting better if we want to improve our position in the conference meets. I don’t feel as if we have arrived yet but we’re getting there.”

The women’s team will have the challenge of running a longer distance than in previous meets at the Roy Griak Invitational. They are also going to be up against more teams so coach Woehl expects a fast start by the field but wants to make sure the team focuses on themselves first.

“Our main focus continues to be just battling in the middle of races,” Woehl said when asked about the team’s plan. “With 250 to 300 runners there can be a tendency to go out too fast at the start and that sets you up for failure later. We are trying to stay as relaxed as possible in the beginning so we can really get into the race and buckle down in the middle portion of the race.”

Over the weekend: The men’s and women’s cross country teams at Montana State University Billings each ran to a second place finish on a frosty morning at the Gage McSpadden Invitational Friday morning. The Yellowjackets finished behind Black Hills State but ahead of South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in the three team field. Nikki Aiken finished fourth in the women’s 5K in 20:07.18 while Ruth Chepsat came in ninth. For the men, Ivan Colmenero finished just out of the top five in sixth in 27:46.54 while Ronald Venema (8th) and Carson Jessop (10th) each found their way inside the top ten for MSUB.

So far Montana State Billings has participated in three early season invites and both the men and women’s teams have improved their split times. Aiken and Chepsat are expected to lead the way again for the Yellowjackets this weekend along with Colmenero and a host of others for the men.

“For most of the women’s team it will be their first opportunity to run a 6K and I think the new experience at this point in the fall is good,” Woehl commented. “I don’t want them to be too hard on themselves if their first ever 6K doesn’t go perfectly but I’m not worried. The goal is to run the race similar to the 5K and then mentally just add 1000 meters. We aren’t planning to change our pacing much because in training we’ve been gearing it toward the longer distance from the beginning.”

“I don’t expect it to be perfect right away, but the reason we built our schedule the way we have is to give everybody a few chances at running a 6K before we get to our most important meets,” Woehl said.

Other Division II schools expected to attend the Roy Griak Invitational include Concordia (St. Paul), Fort Lewis College, Iowa Central CC, Michigan Tech, MidAmerica Nazarene, Minnesota State Mankato, Minnesota State Moorhead, University of Colorado – Colorado Springs, University of Sioux Falls, Upper Iowa, and Waldorf. Competing teams are subject to change.

The Yellowjackets last ran the Roy Griak Invitational on September 26, 2015. The men’s team finished 11th out of 38. Colmenero, Mark Hovland, and Tyus Mendoza were members of the team in 2015. Hovland was came across the line 104th (28:21) while Mendoza was 113th (28:35) and Colmenero placed 871st (29:55). Meanwhile, the MSUB women finished 28th out of 35 teams. None of the current ‘Jackets were members of the team in 2015.

The Yellowjackets ran arguably the most challenging course of the year in Spearfish, South Dakota but Les Bolstad Golf Course in Minneapolis figures to be similar in a few aspects. Early weather reports indicate mid-fifties temperatures and a low probability of rain.

“This course is fairly challenging because it doesn’t have a lot of straight stretches,” Woehl said. “It’s a lot of up and down and turns. The thing I like about this course it that it’s not just loops of the same thing over and over. In the only overlapping, they are going in the opposite direction. When it feels like one continuous course, runners can adjust better mentally because if they do a tough loop and then have to do it two more times, it can be kind of daunting. They won’t have to worry about that at the Griak.”