(Editor's note: University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA -- Montana freshman Beatrix Frissell won her first collegiate race on Saturday, the four-kilometer Clash of the Inland Northwest in Cheney, Wash., and was named the Big Sky Conference Athlete of the Week on Tuesday for her performance.
This despite holding back for part of the race. The event organizers didn’t employ the traditional golf cart to lead the frontrunners on the correct route, and Frissell hadn’t planned on being in that position, so she didn’t scout the course as well as she could have prior to the start.
She didn’t want to take a wrong turn, so she eased off and let someone else lead. Once she was confident in where she was headed -- the finish line, in first place -- she broke away from Idaho freshman Kelsey Swenson with half a mile to go and won in a time of 14:13.
“By the middle of the race, the pace was slowing down and I was feeling really good, but I kind of held back,” she said. “I didn’t know I would be in first place or even have the possibility of it, so I didn’t memorize the course.”
It was the only mistake Frissell, who raced in white-rimmed, mirrored sunglasses, which only added to the mystique -- and Terminator feel -- of her debut performance, made all day in becoming the first Grizzly to win a cross country race since Makena Morley won the Big Sky championship in 2015.
She was a big reason Montana finished second in the team standings, just three points behind Gonzaga and in front of Idaho, which was picked ahead of the Grizzlies in the Big Sky preseason coaches’ poll.
Frissell was joined in the top 10 by teammates June Eastwood, who finished seventh in a time of 14:33, and Samantha Engebretsen, ninth in a time of 14:40.
“I’ve been getting a lot of advice from June. She’s been super helpful and has definitely been my go-to person,” said Frissell.
“She said we could be top five, so we went out with the top group to see what the competition looked like. I wasn’t expecting to be right up there. With a half mile left, I kind of went for it.”
Leading the pack on a cross country course or track isn’t something new for Frissell, who graduated last spring from Polson High with six state championships.
She swept the 2017 Class A cross country title and the 1,600 and 3,200 meters at the 2018 state track and field championships as a junior. Then she decided to go all in.
Most of her teammates were getting by on maybe 15 miles of training each week. The summer before her senior year, with the help of coach Matt Seeley, she slowly upped her weekly total to 50.
“My junior year I kind of stagnated. I had the same times I had my sophomore year,” she said. “It really helped a ton to build that base. I really felt myself getting a lot stronger.”
Why did she do it? “I don’t really like breaking the rules. If someone tells me to do something, I’ll do it. I guess the main motivation was that I wanted to run at the collegiate level, so I wanted to improve my times. And I want to see what I can do and how far I can actually go.”
She repeated as the Class A cross country champion last fall and again swept the 1,600 and 3,200 meters in May.
Her winning time of 5:00.10 in the 1,600 meters was the third-fastest in the state last spring. Her 10:47.33 for the 3,200 meters was the best in the state and broke the Class A championships record, previously held by Pipi Eitel, who is now racing for Big Sky favorite Northern Arizona.
Montana, picked sixth in the preseason coaches’ poll, hasn’t finished better than fifth at the Big Sky championship since 2010.
First-year coach Clint May has the athletes to break that trend come November in Greeley, Colo.
He may not have the depth he would want -- a group that goes at least 10 deep would be his preference -- but with the emergence of Frissell, the addition of Eastwood and the steady return of former All-Big Sky performer Emily Pittis, he’s got talent more than five deep.
“It’s been really nice so far. I really like this team quite a bit. The girls are so team-motivated. We share a lot of the same values,” said Frissell, who for the first time in her running career is surrounded by fast-running females, not unusual for a small-town Montanan.
“In high school, if I was training with anybody, I was training with the boys. This time around, I have friends I can train with and be with. It’s definitely more motivating and fun to work with a team.”
Frissell and teammates will be back in action on Saturday, Sept. 21, at the Montana State Invitational in Bozeman.