Cross country runners prepare for conference championships

Cross country runners prepare for conference championships

James Heck

The Sacramento State men’s and women’s cross country teams will compete at the Big Sky Championships on Saturday at Buffalo Park in Flagstaff, Ariz.


For the first time in the 2012 cross country season, all 11conference teams will compete in the same meet.


The Big Sky teams include Northern Arizona, Weber State, Montana State, Montana, Southern Utah, Idaho State, Eastern Washington, North Dakota, Northern Colorado, Portland State and Sacramento State.


Assistant coach Scott Abbott said the race will be interesting because the Hornets have not competed against many of their conference opponents yet.


“We are a bit of a wildcard because we do not get to compete against them as much,” Abbott said. “It is an exciting week to prepare for that meet.”


Heading into the meet, the team’s goal is to place in the top half of the conference, Abbott said.


“On the men’s side we are fully loaded,” Abbott said. “I think the guys would love to be in the top three. On the women’s side, we have redshirted a lot of our top women. Where that gets us in the conference meet is anyone’s guess. But the women’s team is peaking at the right time.”


The meet will be hosted by Northern Arizona, the 2011 men’s Big Sky Conference champions and top-ranked men’s team heading into the conference meet. The Lumberjacks are ranked 22 by the Division I U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Coaches’ Poll.


At roughly a 7000-foot altitude, the home course for the Lumberjacks will offer a difficult challenge for teams used to training at sea level.


“The way we have to prepare for it is manage our strategy and approach on race day,” Abbott said. “It is not a level playing field. If the team can run together and be smart, I think we can be successful.”


Almost all of the Hornets’ races have been at sea level. The only significant altitude the Hornets have competed in this season was roughly 4,500 feet at the Nevada Chase Race in Reno – and only the women competed.


The men’s team will be led by junior Reesey Byers, the top performer in each of the five meets the men’s team has competed in so far this season.


Byers said the disadvantage of the high altitude could have an impact on how well the team performs, but the goal is to just race and see what happens.


“I am going to go into it and run pretty conservatively,” Byers said. “I am just going to go out there and try to compete and see what I can do. I am not looking for anything amazing to happen.”


Training and competing at mostly sea level meets puts the Hornets in a slight disadvantage against teams such as Northern Arizona that are used to high altitudes, Byers said.


“Honestly, I have no expectations for this race,” Byers said. “It is pretty much at the opposite end of the spectrum for us. I definitely want to try to beat some guys up there, but I am not expecting anything. We have to run as conservative as possible and then see what we can do from there.”


However the outcome of the race, Byers said he knows he can challenge and beat many of the runners at sea-level courses.


“Considering the disadvantage, we are going to go up there and just run,” Byers said. “It is not going to have an effect on our future meets.”


Since hearing the Big Sky Championships were being held in Flagstaff, the thoughts of the course have brought both excitement and nervousness, senior Justine Rea said.


“I am really excited to see what we can do at conference,” Rea said. “But it is going to be really hard because they are so used to running at altitude and we are not.”


Heading into the conference meet, the Hornet women will need to keep close to No. 16 Weber State, as the Wildcats are the top team in the conference.


“I think everyone has been putting in hard work and doing their best to prepare,” Rea said. “I actually do not have any defined goals right now, I just want to do good for the team.”


The men’s 8k race will start at 10 a.m. and the women’s 5k race will start at 11 a.m.


James Heck can be reached at [email protected].