(MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – After two weeks off to train, the cross country teams at Montana State University Billings are ready to compete in the NCAA Division II West Region Preview Meet on October 12 at 10 a.m. at Amend Park in Billings. The West Region Preview Meet will be the final meet of the regular season for the Yellowjackets before the GNAC Championships on November 3. The race will take on Friday at Amend Park, the same location as the upcoming NCAA West Region Championships which MSUB will host on November 17.
The men will run a 10K for the first time this fall and the women will run an 8K race. Early weather forecasts indicate favorable conditions for fast times on Friday.
“It should be a good meet,” commented MSUB head coach Jon Woehl. “I think a big reason these other teams are coming is because it will be a chance to race the championship distance five weeks before we race that distance again. It should give everyone enough time to be recovered to do it again at the championships.”
The last time the Yellowjackets hosted a race at Amend Park was November 5, 2016, the NCAA Division II West Region Championships. This time Montana State Billings cross country has two full weeks to train on their home course before the race Friday.
“I’m not sure racing at home is a huge advantage for us but it’s at least good that we are familiar with the course,” Woehl said. It will definitely take out some of the nervousness in the lead up to the race start. It should settle the nerves a little bit too because they will know what to expect. Tomorrow (Wednesday) we will be out there to run along the entire course so that way we can help ourselves by being able to see it as much as possible.”
The final list of competing teams is still being determined, but it appears the Yellowjackets will get the opportunity to compete against Black Hills State, Chadron State, South Dakota School of Mines, and Dawson Community College. For MSUB women’s cross country, they will be trying to track down Black Hills State after BHSU finished ahead of MSUB twice already this fall.
I think Black Hills State is the favorite again and it will be tough to challenge them. However, I think we match up well with Chadron State and Mines so we can push to get closer to Black Hills State this time around.
Montana State Women’s Cross Country Making Strides: The Montana State University women’s cross country team has already seen marked improvement throughout their young roster. Nikki Aiken was last season’s MSUB runner of the year and is now the team captain as a senior. Aiken’s best finish of the season may have been at the Gage McSpadden Invite, where she turned in a fourth place time of 20:07.8 in the 5K race.
This year, Ruth Chepsat has been in the same pack as Aiken in her first season with the team. Chepsat posted a team best 38th place finish at the Roy Griak Invitational 6K among Division II runners. Kailee Stoppel, Sierra Durbin, Miranda Livingston, and Rachel Hiner are looking to make a difference in the race Friday as well.
“I think Nikki and Ruth will continue to push each other to be better like they have been all year,” said Woehl. “Going through our other workouts, I think Kailee has been getting closer to Ruth and Nikki, and Maddy, Sierra, Rachel, and Miranda have all been getting closer to Kailee. All of them are not two or three minutes apart anymore in races, which has helped all of them. If they stick together up to 4K, I think they’ll continue to do well. It calms everyone’s nerves to be racing with teammates especially in the beginning.”
Improved team results have started to come for the Yellowjackets. MSUB frequently finished last in races as recently as 2017, but so far they have showed they can compete for better positions this fall. At the Roy Griak Invitational on September 29, the team came in 16th out of 22 Division II teams at Les Bolstad Golf Course in Minneapolis.
“We built the schedule in a way that encouraged us to get better each week,” Woehl said when asked about how the team was able to improve. “So far we have done that and the nice thing is now we have three weeks until conference and then two more weeks to the regional so we’ll be able to get solid blocks of training in for those meets.”
“In the beginning of the season, the schedule was much more meet heavy so we could get the experience we needed. Now in the second half, we are hoping to see more improvement as a result of being in better shape and also being able to fine tune things.”
Montana State University Billings Men’s Cross Country Following the Lead: Ivan Colmenero posted a 35th place finish at the Roy Griak Invitational, coming across the 8K line in 26:38.0. The rest of the team, which includes Ronald Venema, Carson Jessop, Mark Hovland, Ase Ackerman, Drake Hensen, and Logan Straus have all begun to close the gap. This week, the team has a chance to race the same course they will compete on at the NCAA West Region Championships and will likely need Colmenero to have another strong performance.
“Ivan is happy with how his season has gone so far,” commented Woehl. “He was way faster at Griak this year than he was in 2015. He’s definitely still getting better but I know he isn’t satisfied yet. I believe he can continue to get better. He is starting to figure out his pacing more and more which should give him achieve good finishes the rest of the way. The 10K is really his distance and the distance he wants to excel at so I think he’ll do really well. The ceiling for him is still unknown.”
In the first race of the season, Black Hills State and South Dakota Mines finished first and second ahead of MSUB but the Yellowjackets came just 11 pts shy of tying the Hardrockers. The distance will be longer this time around so predicting the outcome may be more difficult.
“Black Hills State has some numbers on us but I think the guys can hopefully start to close the gap on them,” said Woehl. “We match up well with Chadron St. and Mines so I think all three teams will kind of be able to run together to try and catch Black Hills State. The guys are also going from an 8K to a 10K so things will change a bit in unpredictable ways. We’ve been doing better in the second half of races already so hopefully running a 10K will be to our benefit.”
One MSUB runner to watch in the 10K will be senior Mark Hovland. Hovland took a redshirt due to injury last season but he has worked his way back into Jon Woehl’s lineup in 2018. As a junior, Hovland was a top five finisher in every event he entered. Hovland placed 11th twice including the Gage McSpadden Invite (6K, 21:01.1) and the Yellowjacket Invite (10K, 33:25.12).
“It’s nice to have Mark back and running healthy,” said coach Woehl. “I think a lot of the credit goes to Mark’s ability to consistently work his way back. Our athletic trainers do a great job of helping when our athletes come in for training and he’s done a good job of doing what he can to improve, whether that was with the trainers or out on a run staying in shape so now he’s looking more like his old self. It is really a good sign because we know he has the ability to be right up towards the front with Ron and Carson.”