Both cross country teams will be taking to the skies this weekend as they enter the Mountain West Conference Championship meet Saturday in Salt Lake City.The women’s team is returning to action after their pre-nationals race in Terre Haute, Ind., while the men’s team will be racing for the first time since the Oklahoma State Cowboy Jamboree back in late September. The men’s team has been paced by freshman Festus Kigen, and the women’s team has been following the lead of senior Calandra Stewart.
Stewart finished 14th in the pre-nationals meet among 242 competitors.
The women’s finish at 29th in pre-nationals had them near the bottom of the pack, but a few of the runners set new personal records, said sophomore Ashley Young.
Competition from pre-nationals featured 11 nationally-ranked opponents, including Brigham Young University, which falls in the Mountain West Conference.
“We have probably the most competitive distance running conference in the nation,” Young said.
The men’s team has been training with lighter workouts to rest before the meet.
“In our last week before conference we take it easy,” junior Matt Manly said. “Today we were going off of our own feelings (of fatigue) rather than running against the clock.”
The men’s team, as a whole, is healthier this season than compared to last years squad, Manly said.
Practices during the season have been orchestrated by the new head coach, Eric Heins, and the teams have risen to his style of intensity, Manly said.
“With the new training system this year, we have really elevated our performance to the next level,” Manly said.
Heins said he wants the women’s team to go out and run a more competitive race than the its showing at pre-nationals. He also said he is looking for Stewart to finish near the top of the competition.
“She’s going to put herself in with the lead pack and see if she can get her best finish in conference yet,” Heins said.
The consistency with the men’s team will be key during their conference showdown.
“We’ve run great team races so far,” Heins said, “and I want us to continue pushing each other through the race.”
In order to travel to the conference meet, the teams need to cut their roster sizes down to seven runners a team.
Heins said he made his final squad decision at Tuesday’s practice, but the results have not been announced.
“When you choose your top seven, it is a pretty tough call,” Heins said. “We’ve got eight guys and eight girls who have been competitive all year.”
The final choice came down to who would be better suited for the race, Heins said.
Last year’s conference results had the men’s team finishing in 6th place out of 6 teams in the conference, while the women’s team took eighth in the nine-team field.