Cross Country Gets Final Tune-Up Prior To WCC Championship
SPOKANE, Wash. - Gonzaga University's men's and women's cross country teams get their final tune-up prior to the West Coast Conference Championship when they compete at the Inland Northwest Classic Saturday hosted by Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho.
The meet will be staged at a new course being developed in the Lewiston Orchards by LCSC head coach Mike Collins. The women's 5K starts at 10:30 a.m. with the men's 8K at 11:15 a.m.
For the Bulldog men, ranked 11th in the latest USTFCCCA West Region rankings, head coach Pat Tyson thinks his nine runners who will compete in the WCC Championship in two weeks are set. But the top alternate spot could be up for grabs.
"I feel good about our nine that we've established. Tate Kelly, Colin O'Neil, Willie Milam, Chris Boyle and Robert Walgren, those five are up front. They are being chased by some decent guys like Nick Roche, Patrick Richie, Brent Felnagle and Conor McCandless. Those are the nine with Alex Foote knocking at the door as alternate number one, with Andrew Walker and Andy Phillips kind of in the mix," Tyson said.
The women, meanwhile, still have three or four spots up in the air. When asked if it was more like a last-chance invitational, assistant coach Patty Ley said the women, ranked 14th in the latest West Region poll, probably do feel that way.
"The emphasis with the ladies is to try not to see it that way, but let's face it, to a certain degree they are going to have to. The message has been all season to race, race the other teams, be responsible to your team for scoring and good things will happen. I guess the good thing that happened is we have a lot of people going for those last few spots. If they keep their heads about them and follow the same formula it will all fall into place. But there will be some disappointed folks," she said.
Tyson, meanwhile, said he is upbeat about where the men are at this point in the season.
"I feel good about where we are. I like kids to know early what's up so they don't feel pressure in a meet like this. In the past we had to use this meet to determine West Coast Conference (participants)," Tyson said.
But there's always a chance an injury or illness could force Tyson to go to his alternate pool of candidates.
For instance, Conor McCandless hasn't been cleared to run since competing in the Dellinger Invitational two weeks ago and suffering from dehydration.
"Conor had his health issue in Eugene and he hasn't been green-lighted to train yet. It's been a solid week plus, and that makes a kid rusty. He's not going to run this weekend. We have to get him a green light to train to start with. We'll have to see how things are going and we'll make the best decision for the team. Foote is ready. We know Conor is frustrated. You can see it in his face every day and hopefully he'll get the green light," Tyson said.
But Tyson said it will be difficult for somebody to crack the top nine off a solid performance Saturday.
"All they are going to do is secure the belief that if I need you to take over one of those top nine if somebody is hurt or injured, I feel good about that. We're not only nine strong, we're a dozen strong. If somebody has a crazy performance it may help me decide who the alternate going in is if one of our top nine is not healthy," Tyson noted.
Ley, on the other hand, has to take a different approach to Saturday.
"I'd say three to four," she said when asked how many of the nine spots are still up for grabs for the WCC Championship. "We've had six different women run somewhere in the top nine at some point this year with some other people who are running pretty well potentially there as well. It makes it pretty rough. But it's a good thing and a rough thing. As coach I'll have to sooth a couple of people. But at the same time that's my job, too. But it's also (my job) to get them to be as good as they possibly can."
Some of the top women may not compete Saturday, including Lindsey Drake.
"Lindsey probably won't run. She's had the hip thing (femur injury last spring) so let's not go to the well once too often. She feels pretty comfortable with what she's done and where she ran at Dellinger. We don't believe she really needs another tune-up. If we get to Lewiston and it's super muddy we're probably not going to risk some people," Ley said.
The new course is compact dirt that has been rolled and watered several times, but anticipated rains could make for muddy conditions. It is the hope of Collins to have the surface seeded by next year.
The new course means nobody has seen it, and with the meet so close to home the Bulldogs will bus to Lewiston Saturday morning.
"I tend to remind the kids this is like a high school venue in a sense. You get up early, get on a bus, drive a couple of hours, you get off the bus and you compete. You'll only explore that course when you get there as part of the warm-up. It's not much different if WSU or Idaho comes up to our Mead meet," Tyson said in comparing his team's trip to Lewiston to when Washington State University and the University of Idaho come to Spokane for the season opener at Mead High School. "They (WSU and Idaho) get up early and show up. We'll be able to jog over the course as part of the warm-up and get a feel for it. Most of these athletes experienced the similar unknown in high school, so that's the way you have to look at it."
Ley said this is a tough point in the season.
"It's a rough time. We're five weeks out from the end of the season so there's a little different kind of work you have to do when you're thinking in terms of that, you're two weeks from the WCC's which you have to be ready for and they are finishing mid-terms," she said. "I'm probably feeling like every other coach in the U.S. right now that would like to know a little more about them (their runners), and feel more comfortable with their stress levels. But I think we're in a good place. Their confidence has grown. They are ready and they are excited. What they've done this year has them excited and they know there's more there," she said.
Tyson is feeling good about the men.
"You can tell just by practice where this team is. The way they talk; the way the walk, their facial expressions, their energy. It's probably something I've never experienced since my days of coaching at Mead High School where there is a lot of confidence," Tyson said. "They like where they're at, they like knowing they are one of the better teams in the West Region. They feed off each other and the team unity is just so great. These guys really like each other. You see that with Willie and Brent and Conor and Patrick and all the guys. In the past I've had to bring them up. But I don't have to do that; they are already walking around with more confidence, like they have arrived, that they deserve to be in the same place as a Portland, a BYU, Oregon or Washington."
The progression in his five years has also been satisfying, both to Tyson and the team.
"When you are knocking on the door on some of the Pac-12 schools like California ranked right ahead of us it's a cool thing. It's neat to see the progression. It takes time to develop athletes, it just doesn't happen right out the door. I give great credit to Chris Boyle, Tate Kelly and Andrew Walker. Those are the three leaders, the captains. Boyle has been dreaming about this for four years, as have Andrew and Tate," Tyson said. "Our women have made the same strides, and Patty has been an integral part of that growth since she arrived. The veterans like Lindsey, Emily Thomas, Catherine Theobald, Megan Blanchet, Lauren Bergam and Krista Beyer are just like the three men's seniors. They've waited a long time for this."