|Cross Country earns rankings|
MOSCOW, Idaho – The
University of Idaho men’s and women’s cross country teams open their season
this weekend, and the two experience groups earned some recognition before the
season even started earlier this week.
The U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches
Association (USTFCCCA) announced its preseason regional rankings on Monday and
tabbed the Vandal women at 14th in the West and projected the men at 15th.
“Any time we can be ranked in our region, it says a lot,
because traditionally the West is one of the strongest in the nation,” Idaho
Director of Track & Field/Cross Country Wayne Phipps said. “I think we have
the capability to finish much higher than our preseason ranking would suggest.
It’s nice to have just about everyone returning on both sides, as well as some strong
additions for both teams.”
Idaho’s men return every runner from a year ago, including
three-time first-team All-Western Athletic Conference honoree Markus Geiger, a
senior, and junior Barry Britt, a 2010 USTFCCCA All-Region pick and first-team
All-WAC honoree. The team’s solid supporting cast includes seniors Jeremiah
Dubie, James Clark and Alex Brekke, and junior Jeff Osborn.
“It’s awesome having those two guys as our team leaders and
being two of the best distance runners in the WAC, but our supporting crew is
pretty impressive as well,” Phipps said. “Jeremiah Dubie performed well last
year in track, and I’ve really been impressed with James Clark and Jeff Osborn
and the work they put in this summer, so we’ll really be relying on those guys
to perform this year.”
The Vandal women return 10 runners from last year’s WAC
champion team, including its top two finishers, senior Lauren Schaffer and
sophomore Hannah Kiser, who were both first-team All-WAC picks last season.
The Vandals will have to replace the strong production left
behind by the graduation of 2010 second-team All-WAC seniors Maggie Miller and
Erica Digby, but fourth-year runners Julia Veseth and Anna Kalbrener, along
with junior Laurel Draper and sophomores Alycia Butterworth, Emily Paradis and
Holly Stanton are up to the task.
“Losing Maggie and Erica, who had awesome seasons last year,
is going to be tough to replace,” Phipps said. “A lot of the newcomers to our
team last year made huge improvements throughout the year, so I think we do
have all the pieces in place to be at least as good as we were last year.
“Everyone came back in great shape, and our sophomores have
really done a great job in the last year of putting themselves into position to
be important contributors to the team this year.”
Phipps says he expects the teams to also get a boost from a
trio of international signees. Senior transfer Stephane Colle keeps alive Idaho’s
string of impressive Canadian runners, while freshmen Benard Kigen and Purity
Rotich are a pair of talented Kenyan runners who should give an immediate boost
to the men’s and women’s programs, respectively.
“Stephane has a lot of experience running both cross country
and track in Canada,” Phipps said. “He had a strong year last year on the track
and we’re hoping that continues this year. Benard doesn’t have the race
experience that Stephane has, but I still feel like he as the talent and
abilities to be a strong contributor for us as a freshman.
“Purity is coming in kind of in the same situation as Benard.
She’s a very talented young lady who doesn’t have a ton of racing experience,
but who has the ability to make an impact immediately.”
Another key element in the team’s mental development over
the last season, according to Idaho’s coach, is that so many of the young
athletes performed at a high level right out of the gates, and maintained that
success across multiple seasons.
“We did our evaluations at the end of the year and when I
talked to them, they just expect to win every year,” Phipps said. “In their
minds, they don’t know any differently and they carry that with them in
practice, in competition and really everywhere.”
Perhaps Idaho’s most consistent distance runner over the
past three seasons is Geiger, a senior who was honored as the WAC’s Freshman of
the Year in both cross country and indoor track and field in 2008-09. He’ll try
this season to become the first Vandal to claim four-straight first-team All-WAC
honors in cross country.
In addition to his All-WAC and All-Region honors and his
international cross country competition last season, Britt set two New
Brunswick provincial records on the track and became the first Idaho men’s NCAA
qualifier in the 5000m and the first Vandal male double-champion in the 5000m
and 10,000m races outdoors.
Senior Lauren Schaffer rewrote the Idaho and WAC record
books on the track last season in the 800m and was an NCAA quarterfinalist in
the event, but those accomplishments slightly overshadowed a breakout year in
cross country, during which she was Idaho’s top finisher twice, including a
fourth-place finish at the WAC Championships.
Sophomore Hannah Kiser returns after putting together the
top all-around performance by a WAC cross country/track and field freshman last
season. In addition to her first-team All-WAC cross country honor, she won two
indoor WAC titles, one outdoor crown and was an NCAA semifinalist in the 5000m
Phipps said this weekend’s Inland Northwest Cross Country
Classic is a low-pressure meet that gives his runners a chance to shake off the
rust and get back into the competitive groove. It also gives him a chance to
see how everyone has progressed over the summer and to evaluate some of the
team’s newer runners.
“This first weekend, we’re just trying to get our feet wet a
little bit and get back into race mode,” Phipps said. “We won’t really read
into it a whole lot from a results standpoint, but it’s just nice to get an
early race in.
“We utilize these early- to mid-season meets as indicators
of how the team stacks up compared to last year, and if we need to make any
adjustments to make sure we are the very best we can be when it’s time to
compete for a WAC championship.”
Saturday’s meet will be hosted by Gonzaga and will also features teams from Whitworth, Community Colleges of Spokane and Eastern Washington. It will start at 10 a.m. (PT) at Spokane’s Mead High School.