The last time the men and women of CSU cross country competed, the Yankees still had a shot at winning the World Series, the University of Colorado Buffaloes were an unranked joke and the New England Patriots were the scariest team in the NFL.
In other words, it’s been awhile.
Following an awe-inspiring performance in Terre Haute, Ind., where the men finished first as a team and the women fourth, the running Rams took a month-long hiatus from competition to prepare for the Mountain West Conference Championships in Provo, Utah on Friday.
For the Rams, the time to return to competition has arrived.
CSU leaves for Provo today, intent to live up to its preseason billing as the team to beat in the MWC on the men’s side, and second to defending national champion Brigham Young on the women’s side.
“Those things don’t mean much until we go out and prove we can make it happen,” said junior Bill Michel, who, along with fellow lead runners Austin Vigil and Dylan Olchin, will attempt to lead the Rams to a victory over defending conference champion BYU on its home course.
Accompanying Michel, Olchin and Vigil on the men’s side are seniors Raegan Robb, Gabe Olchin and Ammon Larsen, sophomore Josh Glabb and freshman Matt Cienculli.
Though a long layoff from competition may hurt most teams, Hessel said the team looks stronger now than it did four weeks ago when the team last competed.
“Our original concern as a team was the lack of competition for an extended period of time,” Hessel said. “But now that (the runners) are through it, they see that it was the best thing they could do. I think we are more fit now at this time of the year on both sides than we have ever been.”
With the fitness level of his men’s team at an all-time high and the members performing up to expectations, Hessel said he is confident that the team will challenge the Cougars for the conference title.
One piece of the puzzle that will be missing for the Rams is junior Mike Nicks, who until mid-season had been running up front as one of the leaders of the team. Fatigue and a deficiency of iron in his blood stream forced Nicks to heed his coaches’ advice and take the remainder of the season off.
“It’s hard to predict Mike’s impact right now,” Hessel said addressing the loss of Nicks. “Right now the way we’re running aggressive and together, it is difficult for anyone to slip in our top seven.”
The outlook on the women’s side is a whole different picture, Hessel said.
As with the men’s team, the women are going into the meet without one of their lead runners, senior Kim Leal, who will sit out the meet to nurse a sore knee.
However, Hessel said that with the Rams looking strong and BYU a near lock to win, risking further injury to Leal would not be worth it at this point in the season.
“We’re not going to throw Kim out there just to make the injury worse,” Hessel said. “We want her healthy for regionals and nationals.”
Rather than trying to knock of the defending national champion, Hessel said the focus of the women’s team – consisting of seniors Meg Larson, Kim Watson, Jen Kintzley and Mary Ridder, junior Katie Yemm, sophomores Colleen Blair and Crystal Clark, and freshman Brittanie Saunders – is to run tough against BYU and get ready for the NCAA regional championship meet Nov. 9.
Win or lose, at least the running Rams are competing again.
Edited by Jon Ackerman and Josh Hardin