Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year Josh Glaab only needed three words to sum up the attitude of CSU’s men’s and women’s cross country: “It’s go time.”
Since early June, the 14 men and women that make up both teams have been training endlessly to achieve one common goal: to return to the NCAA national championship meet in Terre Haute, Ind.
The time has come for both teams to make good on that goal at Saturday’s Mountain Region meet in Albuquerque, N.M.
On the men’s side the team should have no problem reaching the national meet, having accrued enough points to qualify, said head coach Del Hessel.
However, until the meet has ended and the points have been added up, there are no guarantees, he added.
It is an entirely different story for the women who find themselves on the bubble needing one of their best performances of the season to qualify for nationals.
“It would behoove them to finish in the top three in the Mountain Region,” Hessel said. “They need to go there and get something done.”
Having passed most of the season through injuries, the women’s team finally has all its athletes healthy and ready to compete at a champion-caliber level, Hessel said.
“We are at a better level now than we have been all year,” he said of the women’s team. “Our chances of returning to the NCAA championships are very good.”
Junior Katie Yemm, who has been recovering nagging injuries all season, said the team believes it is capable of placing high enough at the regional meet to get back to nationals for the fifth time in six years.
“The team looks strong and everyone is excited,” Yemm said. “I think we have a legitimate shot at nationals, we’ve just got to put it all on the line.”
Joining Yemm on her quest to return to nationals are seniors Jen Kintzley, Meg Larson, Kim Watson, Kim Leal and Mary Ridder, sophomore Colleen Blair and freshmen Brittanie Saunders and Danielle Korb.
Running in a region that features 2001 National Champion Brigham Young University and the ever-talented Buffalos of the University of Colorado, the Rams face a daunting task, but that does not mean the team’s chances are qualifying for nationals are slim, Hessel said.
“Everybody’s healthy and ready to run,” he said. “I don’t think we could be any better than we are right now.”
On the men’s side, the task facing the Rams is to recover from the narrow defeat they suffered in Provo, Utah in the Mountain West Conference championships. The Rams lost to the Cougars of BYU 42-37 in a race that Hessel called one of the best he had seen all season.
“I was amazed at how hard everyone tried,” Hessel said.
He added that on a neutral site where BYU fans would not be razzing his athletes while cheering on their own, the Rams would have a better shot at defeating the Cougars.
“I’m not sure they could’ve beaten us away from their home course,” he said.
In Albuquerque, the Rams will be facing their toughest competition of the season going against six of the top 15 teams in the nation including reigning national champion CU.
“It’s unbelievable how tough our region is,” Hessel said. “There really is no clear cut winner.”
As opposed to conference, where the Rams faced the Cougars on an eight-kilometer course, the regional course is 10-kilometers something that several Rams feel falls into their favor.
“We are a better team in a 10k,” said junior Dylan Olchin, who was named to the all-MWC second team after the conference meet. “I think we have more guys who are better suited for longer distances.”
Hessel agreed citing Olchin, Glaab and senior Austin Vigil as some of the better 10k runners on the team.
“Really everyone on the team is capable of running a good 10k,” he added.
Also competing for the Rams are seniors Raegan Robb, Ammon Larsen and Gabe Olchin, junior Bill Michel and freshman Matt Cienculli.
The stage is set, the athletes are ready to run, all of which would indicate that it’s go time.