This Saturday, the Idaho State cross country team will hold its only home meet of the season and will serve final before the teams send seven runners from each team to the Big Sky Conference Championship meet in Ogden.
Most of the courses are designed on golf courses, but the Idaho State Invitational course begins on campus in an open field off of Alvin Ricken Drive by the RISE complex.
“The whole season for me is a process of how we want to handle the conference and the regional meet,” said head coach Nate Houle. “Every one of these meets is geared towards going to conference and running well there. It’s the polishing coat on the season. One last chance to figure things out.”
The meet is used as a final tune-up for runners who have sealed their place as a top-seven runner and serves as a final opportunity for runners outside the top-seven to prove their worth.
“I want to take it as a showcase,” Houle said. “The biggest race for us is the Big Sky race. I want to use it as a last tune-up for going into that.”
Although all expect for one of the meets is within a day’s drive of Pocatello, the runners say it is a nice change of pace to finally be at home, but it was exciting to fly to Chicago and run against stiffer competition.
“I’m able to sleep a lot better when I’m at home,” said Joe Simmons. “Everything you could possible need is right there.”
In the Notre Dame Invitational, Jenica Dodge finished second among 203 runners. The women’s team finished fourth behind Northern Iowa, Temple and St. Louis. The men finished sixth out of out of 19 teams.
“I learned that even when you are in a big crowd, you cannot be afraid to be up there,” Dodge said. “That’s the biggest thing I am trying to improve on is being comfortable in those big races.”
The Notre Dame meet is the farthest the team will have to travel this season and served as a learning curve for the men’s team, who got out to a slow start and couldn’t make up the distance that was lost.
“The big thing that the team took from it is we need to make sure we put ourselves in it from the start instead of counting ourselves out,” Simmons said. “We went out too slow and struggled to come back from that throughout the whole race. That is something we are trying to fix.”
Last weekend, the team traveled to Southern Utah, a team that is ranked sixth in the country on the men’s side and receiving votes on the women’s side for the Color Country Invitational. Next week at the conference meet, the team will go up against the nation’s top-ranked teams on the men’s side in Northern Arizona.
Houle said on the Big Sky, “We are the equivalent of a Pac-12 in cross country.”
Last year, Dodge won the Color Country Invitational, but Southern Utah typically doesn’t send their top runners to their home meet.
“It’s just because they have bigger fish to fry then that,” Houle said. “Occasionally they will run their top-dogs, but they won’t run hard. That will take away a little bit of the competitive edge, but it doesn’t matter because they are so good.”
Going into the conference meet however, everybody will be running their top-seven, as a chance at running in the regional and national meet is on the line as well as a conference crown.
“Our goal here at Idaho State is making us known as one of those premiere teams, not only in the Big Sky, but in the whole region,” Houle said.