(MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – After competing in five regular season races, the men’s and women’s cross country teams at Montana State University Billings hope their hard work pays off this weekend at the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championships on Saturday November 3 in Monmouth, Oregon.
After three years at East Lake Padden Park in Bellingham, Washington, this year’s GNAC Championships moved to Ash Creek Preserve where the men will race eight kilometers and the women will race six kilometers. The last time the Yellowjackets raced those distances, the men finished 11th of 15 while the women were 16th of 22. Both were at the Roy Griak Invitational on September 29.
Alaska Anchorage will be favored to win the women’s race having won three straight GNAC Championships and eight of the last nine. Western Oregon captured its’ first team title in men’s cross country last year and will likely be a contender again to defend the title.
For Montana State Billings, the men’s team finished seventh in 2017 at the GNAC Championships, while the women’s squad placed 11th in the 11 team field. This season the Yellowjackets have their sights set on improvement. Nikki Aiken, Ronald Venema, and Ivan Colmenero all bring experience back in 2018 and have posted progressively better times through various meets this season.
“Most of the men’s team is pretty familiar with the course at Western Oregon because it’s at the Ash Creek National Preserve where the regional was hosted a couple years ago,” Woehl said. “The only change for the guys this time around is the distance. Instead of a 10K, they are running an 8K so the loops are a little bit different but I don’t think it will affect them too much.”
Aiken and Ruth Chepsat have been in healthy competition for the top position on the team and frequently run together in workouts and practice sessions. At the Roy Griak Invitational, Chepsat finished her 6K in 23:37.4 and Aiken was right behind with a time of 23:56.2.
“I think Ruth and Nikki have done a really good job all year running together in practice and most of the time Kailee is right there with them in interval workouts too so I’m expecting them to have a good race Saturday,” commented Woehl. “We’ve had a couple injuries this season and sickness as well but for the most part, those three have stayed healthy all year long and gotten better. All three of them have the potential to run their personal best time.”
The other half of the women’s lineup has been steadily gaining traction and includes Sierra Durbin, Maddy Terwilliger, Rachel Hiner, and Miranda Livingston. All are underclassmen and are still gaining experience in the larger races.
“For the women’s team, they are going to do well but at the same time it will be an eye opening experience as far as the high quality of competitors they are going against in our conference,” Woehl said of his young team. “We are definitely prepared to race against them but you never really know until you start running what to expect.”
In the 2017 men’s field, the Yellowjackets finished seventh but were just 18 seconds in total time behind sixth place Central Washington and 30 seconds short of fifth place Northwest Nazarene. With a majority of the roster returning, getting into the top five does not seem like an unrealistic goal this season.
“The guys still are going in with the mindset that we want to improve on the finish from last year,” said Woehl. “The other teams in the GNAC on the men’s side have been somewhat unpredictable but we have been keeping the focus on controlling our effort and not worrying about what the other teams are going to do.”
Senior Ivan Colmenero has been the men’s top finisher in every race this season and has one top-5. Junior Ronald Venema has shown consistency at the No. 2 spot and ran a time of 33:35.47 at the ‘Jackets most recent meet (the NCAA Division II West Region Preview) and posted an eighth place finish.
“The last two meets Ivan has been our top finisher with Ron at No. 2. I think that will probably stay the same but what has been nice to see is Carson, Mark, Ase, Drake, and Logan have all continued to improve. Tyus Mendoza is redshirting this year too but he has been there to help push all those guys in practice so they keep getting better.”
At the GNAC Championships, the men’s 8K begins at 10 a.m. LT and the women start at 11 a.m. Live results are available the day of the event at GNAC.live. Fans can also follow via live stream at GNAC.tv.