Drake, Boyle Lead Feel-Good Day For Zag Cross Country
SPOKANE, Wash. - There were plenty of feel-good stories surrounding Gonzaga University's men's and women's cross country teams at Saturday's season opener in the Clash of the Northwest at Mead High School.
The final results topped the feel-good chart with the Gonzaga women scoring 22 points to finish first and the Bulldog men with 30 points and being edged by Washington State University by just two points. The meet, which featured Eastern Washington University, the University of Idaho and Whitworth University in addition to the Bulldogs and Cougars, was also scored as dual meets. The Gonzaga women won all five head-to-head showdowns and the Bulldog men lost only to WSU.
Both showed they are back in more ways than one.
Drake finished second over the 4K course in 14:11.2, just two seconds behind Caroline Austin of WSU who won in 14:09.6.
Boyle was ninth in 18:48.7 for the 6K men's course, nine seconds behind senior teammate Tate Kelly who was eighth in 18:39.1 as the first Bulldog across the finish line.
"It feels good afterwards, but it was a pretty tough race today," Boyle said after his first cross country action in two years. "Being back with the team and competing with them is something you can't simulate in practice. The only way you can get that is to step to the line and see your brothers next to you."
Drake was also happy to be back in competition again after missing the spring track season.
"Pretty good," she said when asked how she felt. "I love racing so it was a lot of fun."
She said she followed the race plan she and assistant coach Patty Ley had put together.
"The plan was to do the first "K" kind of feeling it out and see how it goes, the middle get a little aggressive and at the end go as hard as you can. Not being quite in shape as I normally would be I was a little worried. Patty had faith, I trusted her. She said if worse came to worse and I blew up we would laugh about it later."
She was far from blowing up.
Perhaps the best feel-good story of the day was the overall performance of the Zags. Both the men and women established some packs.
And nobody was happier to see Boyle back than Kelly.
"Ohhhhhhh, it's nice to have him back," Kelly smiled. "Super proud of him. It's so nice to look at him and see him on the line. It brings me back to my freshman and sophomore years. It pumps you up when you look over your shoulder or look up and you see him. It makes it easier to feed off of."
Ley probably couldn't have asked for a better start to the season.
"Looks like they did their work over the summer," Ley said of the women. "It was awesome to see some surprise improvements with a lot of kids who obviously did a lot of work and bought into being something different than they've been in the past. Just individually for them. For instance, Meghan Blanchet as our No. 5 runner ran 15:07 today and last year she ran 16:21 in this meet. It's cool to see those individual improvements."
And Ley said the Bulldog men turned in an equally impressive opener.
"It was a big step up from last year looking at last year's times and where they are now. Obviously, the WSU guys are very strong. They are coming off a national berth last year and a fourth-place finish in the region, but our guys are so much closer. I think there was a lot of positive out of here, but there are still things to learn and it's always a learning experience. But they are on track for where they want to be at the end of the year, and that's a good start," she said.
If Gonzaga gave out a "newcomer of the meet award" there's no doubt Evans would have been the hands-down winner.
The freshman out of Air Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., didn't back down from the lead pack, finishing third in 14:15.6. The effort didn't come as a shock to Ley.
"After watching her the last couple of weeks I wasn't surprised," Ley beamed. "I am very, very pleasantly surprised with her. She's got a great attitude, a great focus. She's going to be a good one, a real good one. That's fun to see."
There's also an air of confidence among both teams about what can be this season.
"Great team start," Drake said of the Zag women. "This is definitely the best team finish I've ever been a part of or seen for Gonzaga. I'm really excited about us and I know this will be a great year."
Kelly and Boyle are also looking for big things on the men's side.
"It's not only Boyle. It's Walgren, Brent, Willie and all of those guys up there," Kelly said. "We're just rolling. A 6K is totally different from an 8K and an 8K is totally different from a 10k which we run at regional. We're rolling in the right direction and we're about 30 seconds faster. Our seventh guy is where our first guy was last year. That's exciting and something to look to and say some success is going to happen. I'm a cup-half-full guy and we're rolling in the right direction."
One of the reasons Boyle redshirted was to be a part of this year's team, which saw several youngsters get some experience last year.
"We obviously would have liked to achieve a little bit more as a team and individually (today), but we're going to improve throughout the season. (Head coach Pat) Tyson will have us ready when it really counts and today is only the first of September and we have until the middle of November."
And Boyle, sidelined during outdoor season last spring, said he is healthy and ready to go.
"I'm healthy. I wouldn't say I'm the fittest. I'm probably going to try and progress throughout the season in a manner to keep my body healthy but also get me ready for the end of the season," Boyle explained. "Today was shaking off some of the rust I've had for the last year, but by the end of the season I think I'll be ready to go."
The Bulldogs will be idle until Sept. 15 when they begin a stretch of three meets in as many weekends. Gonzaga will be at the WCC Preview Sept. 15 in Portland, Ore., compete in the Erik Anderson Invitational at Spokane's Plantes Ferry Sept. 22 and head to the Bill Dellinger Invitational Sept. 29 in Springfield, Ore.
Hopefully there are more feel-good stories to come in this young season.