After five regular season meets, the Idaho State cross country team is in the final preparations for its biggest meet of the year, the Big Sky Conference Championships.
The Bengals will send seven runners from each team to the championship race that is being held in Ogden. The men’s team will send Jesse Allen, Kyle DeGraaff, Ricky Kuciemba, Garrett Condelario, Wyatt Didericksen, Conner Oswald, Joe Petty and Joe Simmons while the women will send Sam Johnston, Rachel McGovern, Jenica Dodge, Ashley Sondag, Molly Olsen, Katie Weedn and Reagan Badger.
“We try to train all season so that we have as much built up for this as possible,” said head coach Nate Houle. “It’s a fine balance between over-trained and over-balanced.”
The women’s team, who was picked to finish eighth in the preseason, has not seen the respect that Houle says it deserves and has caused some runners to come into the race with a chip on their shoulder.
“I think we woke some people up after Montana State,” Houle said. “The rankings haven’t really reflected that. I think some people are smart enough to see what we have done. We have a bit of a chip on our shoulder.”
Jenica Dodge, who claimed a victory at the Montana State meet and placed seventh in the meet last year, is looking to make a run at the title.
“It’s the big dance so I’m pretty excited about that,” Dodge said. “I think our girls team could turn some heads.”
Northern Arizona, the nation’s top-ranked team and Southern Utah, the nation’s 12th-ranked team on the men’s side are expected to run away with the conference team title while the other teams compete for third. Northern Arizona recently broke the top-25 on the women’s side as well, as the Lumberjacks are the only Big Sky team that are nationally ranked in both polls.
This has caused the other teams in the field to seek a balance between competing against themselves while recognizing the nation’s powerhouses.
“We cannot afford to sit back,” Houle said. “There’s a race within a race. It’s tough. It’s kind of an NAU-SUU battle up front and then there is us. We have to look at each team separately. We have to disregard some because it’s now our race right now. We are racing teams and individuals around us. I don’t need to be the number one team in the country right now, and going after that would be foolish.”
With the race being held in Ogden, Idaho State will be at an advantage over about half of the conference who has to come up to Ogden’s elevation from sea-level.
“Our conference is interesting because half of us are at elevation and half of us are not,” Houle said. “Being that it is an event that is at identical elevation to what we have here, there is no difference in sensation to what we have been doing training wise.”
The Bengals will have advantages over Sacramento State, Portland State, Eastern Washington, North Dakota and the University of Idaho.
“We have the sea-level teams that come up and I can guarantee they don’t like it,” Houle said. “It is an advantage for us.”
With the race being a short car ride away, the Bengals will also be the closest team to the race other than Weber State, who hosts the meet.
“The less travel time the better,” Allen said.
Following the conference meet, Idaho State will send runners to the regional meet in Logan where runners can then qualify for the NCAA national meet held in Louisville but since very few runners from the Big Sky go to the national meet, most the runners say this is the biggest meet of the year.
“I personally get really excited,” Dodge said. “You get to showcase what you got.”