Cross Country Season Opens With Clash Of Inland Northwest
SPOKANE, Wash. – Gonzaga University’s men’s and women’s cross country teams get their first action of the season Saturday at the Clash of the Inland Northwest at Mead High School.
The women will run a 4K at 10 a.m. followed by the men’s 6K.
The Bulldog men return a veteran squad although they lose Willie Milam who still has one season of track eligibility remaining.
“Robert Walgren is back off a redshirt season. We have Nick Roche, Danny Lunder, Troy Fraley and Colin O’Neil; those are four really solid guys,” Gonzaga director of cross country/track and men’s head coach Pat Tyson said. “Conor McCandless is still coming off that plantar fascia injury from last year and isn’t quite ready.”
Tyson said the squad must still work on closing the pack, something that hampered them last season.
“We had our two lead guys and you want your second group about 30 seconds behind. Last year we were closer to a minute, so we have to work on closing that gap,” Tyson noted.
Gonzaga head women’s coach Patty Ley said Saturday is more a fitness test.
“It’s just another test of their fitness to see where they are coming off the summer. Exciting things we’ve seen this week from some of our freshmen and returnees so it’s good to see them in more of a race situation again. It’s not a high-end race,” Ley said. “Seeing how they respond to each other, looking for that fire especially the second half of the race and seeing if they are chasing people. It’s all about running people down and getting in front of them, so that’s what we’re looking for.”
The Bulldog men are ranked 10th in the initial regional rankings, but Tyson, whose team finished a program-best 11th in last year’s NCAA Regional, doesn’t put a lot of stock in that this early.
“It’s basically the regional finish from a year ago,” Tyson said of the preseason regional rankings. “It’s the highest we’ve ever been. It gives us a base. I’d like to see us higher, maybe crack that top five.”
Ley said this time of year is a gauge of where people are now compared to where they were a year ago.
“Shelby Mills is light years ahead of where she was last fall. We’re really taking off with her where we left in June. In a couple of weeks, and especially in October when we’re starting to get racing sharp, we’re really going to see some big things from her,” Ley said.
A couple other runners have made big jumps and have Ley excited for the season.
“Amelia Evans, like Shelby, has made huge leaps and bounds, as has Zoe Urcadez. They’ve done some great work. They came in fit, but not ready to race yet. They are way ahead of where they were, a lot stronger. They are excited about where they are,” she said.
Tyson will run all of his newcomers unattached Saturday until he sees who he wants to put in a jersey and who he wants to redshirt.
Ley, on the other hand, will have five of her six newcomers competing Saturday.
“Jess Mildes had some oral surgery so we’re holding her out. I’m pleased with the freshmen coming in. Three distance kids – Olivia Evans, Elena Slavoski and Jordan Thurston – look really solid. Claren Fraher has been a middle distance 800 runner but is showing some tremendous potential.
Ley said veteran Maggie Jones will redshirt since she will be back for a fifth year of academic work.
“She’ll be around for track in the spring and it will give her another year to mature for cross country,” Ley said. “At the same time as a workout partner she will be awesome for the other runners to feed off of. We’re really setting up for a fantastic year next year with that one extra year of development.”
For the first time the men and women will face slightly different schedules. The men will host Navy in a dual meet Sept. 20 at 9 a.m. at Spokane’s Plantes Ferry, with both the men and women competing in the Erik Anderson Invitational on the same course at 11:45 a.m. that day. The men will also compete at the prestigious Notre Dame Invitational Oct. 3.
“We’ll run our top 12 against Navy. The Notre Dame meet will be a lot of teams and a lot of runners. We’re at the stage in our program where we can go back and be competitive in that meet,” Tyson said. “That’s the type of meet you need if you want to get an at-large berth into the NCAA Championship.”
Ley likes the women’s schedule.
“I like the schedule. It’s a good one to give us some good chances, one more step up. I feel comfortable with it. The Montana meet, looking at that early-season regional ranking, Montana State is ranked fifth and Montana 14th in the Mountain Region so we get to see some people without making a huge travel schedule,” Ley said.