Bulldogs Get Another Opportunity To Compete At Regional
SPOKANE, Wash. – It’s a long time between now and August, and nobody knows that better than Gonzaga University’s men’s and women’s cross country teams.
They’ll compete for the last time as a team this season at the NCAA West Regional in Sacramento, Calif., Friday at Higgin Oaks Golf Complex. The men’s 10K starts at 10:30 a.m. with the women’s 8K at 11:45 a.m.
The men have three regional veterans on their squad, while the women have four regional returnees. Roche was 79th last year in Seattle, O’Neil placed 109th and Milam was 115th for the men. Bergam is the top returning finisher for the women from a year ago in 77th, Jones placed 94th, Evans 96th and Tuthill 108th.
The Gonzaga men finished fourth in the WCC Championship, missing third by two points, while the Bulldog women were fifth.
Tyson said his squad will use this meet to hopefully prove a point.
“We felt a little stunned by our near third-place finish; we got fourth two points away. There were many possibilities of getting those two points,” he said of the WCC finish. “We’ve been a little haunted the last two weeks and that’s a good thing. We do have another opportunity to compete; we’re not ending the season on a sour note. Things are going well for the seven men we’re bringing down.”
Tyson said it’s been a pretty good two weeks of training.
“I wanted them to go out the day after the WCC for a nice ten, twelve, fifteen-mile pounder. It’s funny how runners are. They have a rough race and they want to take it out on the next workout. I’m sure they had a good brisk run that Sunday. We ran into a little snow a week ago Tuesday so we had to adjust our workout a little bit. Workouts have been good, a marvelous one last Saturday. It’s great team unity among those top seven guys we are bringing. There’s confidence; now we’re just tapering and everybody is healthy. Hopefully we’re going to be able to reach our goal this Friday.”
Ley said the ladies have been working on fine tuning the last couple of weeks.
“This time of year there’s not much more you’re going to do fitness wise. We just need to fine tune what we’ve got, get them in a position where their bodies are feeling fresh and ready to go, ready to run fast,” Ley explained. “Those kids dinged up a little bit have a chance to get healthy. It's tough because you reach that point in the peaking stage where things are a little more tender. You have to recognize the difference between tender enough to feel pretty good and running really fast, and this is not a good hurt. We’re healthier going into this weekend than we were going into the WCCs. Lauren Bergam is healthier. She was really struggling with a bit of a flue issue. The girls have looked solid in workouts and I think it’s another step up for them.”
For both teams it’s another opportunity to compete, but at the same time take a quick peek at what might be next year.
“I think that’s always true,” Ley said of looking at the present while at the same time looking ahead. “That’s what you keep your focus on, but at the same time there’s always that little voice in the back of your head going if we do this or do that then next year will look like this. This experience for a young group is awesome but we’re going to maximize the experience and not give them any excuses. We want them out there hammering away and taking a shot at some of those Northwest schools we’ve been beaten by this year and see if we can chase them down and see if we can go head-to-head with them a little better than we did earlier in the year.”
“We are a team that is about now. We’re not about next year,” Tyson said. “But if you look at this, six are back. Mix in there guys like Conor McCandless, Ned Fischer, Nate Gesell, possibly Brent Felnagle for a fifth year. We’re a better team if we can stay healthy,” Tyson said of the future.
Tyson said a question from University of Portland coach Rob Conner prompted him to change his strategy a little bit.
“Rob asked me if Willie is looking at getting one of those NCAA berths at Terre Haute (Indiana, site of the NCAA Championship). I said I never thought about that, good question. So we planted that seed. It’s not an easy one to be one of the extra guys in. It’s an interesting formula. He’d definitely have to be in the Top 20 to have a consideration. Our plan for him is to get as low as possible point, if he gets in the top 20 sweet, if we get lower great, but no pressure; just get a nice low number to help the team,” Tyson said.
The Bulldog men have never had an NCAA Championship participant.
Tyson looks for Milam and Roche to lead the way once again, but he said the pack has to get closer to those two lead runners.
“Willie and Nick have been our top two guns all season. Both of those guys have regional experience. Colin O’Neil had a trough conference meet coming off an injury and had a little problem with the heat in Malibu. He’s bought another couple weeks. He’s looking strong. A 10K venue might be better for him than an 8K because he’s one of those longer kinds of guys. I’m hoping he can be our solid third and maybe get into that top 50,” Tyson said of the pre-race hopes.
The Regional and NCAA Championship are 10K outings for the men, rather than the conference meet which is 8K.
“It’s not just Colin. The third, fourth and fifth runners have to close the gap. It’s a big gap between Nick Roche and our third guy. O’Neil is in the mix, Branch, Fraley and Crichlow are in the mix. Fraley is getting more and more experience, getting healthy after having some cold issues. Crichlow was our third guy in conference, did that give him enough confidence to continue to roll to help our team,” Tyson questioned. “In a perfect world if we can get our top two guys going out in the top fifty and moving up, moving up, then have our three, four, five and maybe six guy start in that 75 or 80 range and then move it up and finish in that top 50 or close to it that would make our day.”
Ley is looking for some good showings from a healthy squad as well.
“Maggie Jones could have a pretty good showing. Finally, last week we had a workout for her where we didn’t have to cut her off, she was moving well at the end of the workout and had some energy left. Alison Fraher and Amelia Evans look strong right now. Those four particularly. Taylor Cherry and Katy Culver are always solid, so if those kids are having better races they’ll mix it up with them and it will be a good solid day,” Ley said.
The men aren’t worried about who else might be in the race, but about themselves.
“It’s about us, all about the Zags. Can we ace our day; have the perfect day we haven’t had yet this year. That’s kind of our mode,” Tyson said. “Teams it would be fun to capitalize on would be Loyola Marymount University who is ranked 12th in the West while we’re 13th. It would be nice to beat the University of California and the University of Arizona who are ranked behind us. They had a rough Pacific-12 Conference meet. It would be nice to get in the top 10. That’s our goal. Can we get closer to Washington State University or the University of Washington and maybe upset one of them, or both of them? Obviously, LMU is a conference rival and we’re going to try to get into the top 10 and see what we can do against those Pac-12 schools.”
Ley is looking for the women to finish in the top 15 and perhaps exact a little revenge on some regional teams the Bulldogs have failed to do well against.
“I think we’re looking to sneak into that top 15. Those regional teams we faced this year and struggled with a little bit – University of Idaho, WSU, Eastern Washington University, Oregon State University, Santa Barbara is another sitting on that edge. It’s getting closer to the LMU’s and Portland within our conference. We’re always looking at how we can get closer and how we can compete better with them even in a bigger meet,” Ley said.
After all, it’s a long time until fall camp starts.