The long, hot training runs appear to be winding down for the Montana State Cross Country squad as the seasons begin to change. For most this means frantically soaking up the last few days of summer. But for the cross country team it means they finally get the chance to compete. For them, the season finally begins on Sept. 19 and the team hopes that the weather holds for their opening meet in Bozeman for the MSU/Bozeman Running Company Invitation.
The men’s team begins this season ranked fourth in the conference in the Big Sky Coaches preseason poll. The team is led by senior Jake Turner, who hopes to improve on last season’s seventh-place finish in the Big Sky Championships and 15th in the Mountain Regional Championships. The men’s team has a couple of returners and a new runner Diego Leon. The junior transferred from Hartnell College in Salinas, California and won the California Community College Athlete Associate Male Athlete of the Year. With the new and returning faces they have a much better chance at a run for the conference championship. In order for the Cats to win, they will have to go through eight-time defending champion Northern Arizona University. The NAU men’s team swept the podium last year and looks to be difficult to beat again this year. Last season the MSU team finished fifth in the Big Sky Conference and 12th in the NCAA Division I Mountain Region Championship.
Women’s cross-country is primed and ready to compete for the Conference Championship as well, with four returning runners from last year’s third placing Big Sky Conference team. The women’s program has a strong core group with Rachel Sullivan (Sr.) and Caroline Hardin (So.) both returning after top-20 finishes last year. Last year the upstart NAU dethroned the three-time reigning champs Weber State to win the conference championships. The Northern Arizona team didn’t have a single finisher outside of the top-25 and looks to repeat again. The MSU women’s team finished 10th in the Mountain Region Championships in 2014.
Neither team placed high enough to earn a spot at the Division I Championships, but Jake Turner individually qualified. The University of Colorado won the Mountain Region Championship in both 2013 and 2014, with the men and women winning in 2014.
The Montana State schedule is pretty light with only six races listed, one of which is the Division I Championship that requires advance qualification. With only three regular season races to prepare for the Big Sky Championship the Bobcats will need to quickly kick into gear. The Cats host their only home meet for the season this weekend, so unless travelling to the Montana Invitational in Missoula or the Pre-National Cross Country Invitational in Louisville, Ky. sounds like fun, make sure to get out to the Bridger Creek Golf Course on Sept. 19 to see the Bobcat cross-country team in action.