A freshman-led men’s and women’s Idaho State cross-country team dusted off the cobwebs a few weeks ago in a meet at Utah Valley.
Although top runners Jenica Dodge and Wyatt Didericksen sat out the first race of the season, Reagan Badger and Garrett Condelario, both freshmen, were the first to cross the finish line for Idaho State.
“I consider having two freshmen upfront a good thing,” said head coach Nate Houle. “Our recruits are coming in and aren’t afraid of college running.”
Houle said that Didericksen didn’t run in the Utah Valley meet because he is coming off some minor injuries over the summer. Dodge didn’t run because she had a longer track and field season by going to regionals and Houle is preparing her for a run at the NCAA meet.
Condelario finished the three-mile race in 16 minutes and 1.5 seconds, good for a seventh-place finish, while Badger completed her three-mile run in 19 minutes and 6.9 seconds, finishing fifth.
After losing five seniors and a transfer on the women’s side Houle has brought in seven freshmen, and three on the men’s team.
“It is more difficult because you are starting with people who don’t understand your program,” Houle said. “On the women’s side, the majority of your team has no idea how you operate your program. In those circumstances, you rely on your returners to guide them.”
Now in his third full season as head coach, Houle has an opportunity to build the cross-country program his way, a way that is catered differently to every one of his 24 athletes, which is the reason he keeps a small team.
“That is where I really see my job being important, the psychological side,” Houle said. “Some of the kids I don’t have to do a thing, it’s better if I stay out of the way.”
The mental side of running, according to Houle, is not that much different than the difference between a bomb and a rocket. A bomb has a lot of power and energy, but if it is not channeled to go anywhere and does not have direction like a rocket does, it is wasted energy.
“You may be fit and have the firepower, but is it exploding in your face?” Houle asked. “Or is it executed and programed to take you where you want to go?”
The team will travel to Montana State for a meet against mostly conference competition this weekend and will travel to a meet at Notre Dame after a week off, two meets which are very different in terms of competition and altitude.
“I would say difficulties are the same,” said sophomore Joe Petty. “[At] the lower elevation it is easier to breathe, but you run faster, so it is just as hard. A race is a race.”
For Houle, the Notre Dame meet is the meet where he will test how his team responds to high-stress situations.
With a bigger crowd and faster competition many Idaho State runners, who are used to being in the middle of the pack, could find themselves in the back of a meet that features over 200 runners.
“Notre Dame is where we test it all out,” Houle said. “It’s not conference, so if we totally screw up, it really doesn’t actually matter that much. It is very overwhelming so it teaches a lot of emotional control.”
The Montana State meet this weekend, however, is an early season test to see how the team matches up with conference competition.
“The Montana State meet I see as the first actual meet of the year,” Houle said. “Half of our conference is there and so it is a really good indication to see how we matchup with our in-conference competition.”
The team has been able to avoid injuries to this point, something Houle says is a rare occurrence. The women’s team lost Samantha Johnson and Rachel McGovern to serious injuries last season but they are now back for the 2017 campaign.
“It is really rare to have everybody healthy or almost all the way back,” Houle said.