On a beautiful fall morning in Montana, a local golf course turned into a race track — not for cars with big engines, but for the cross-country runners of the Big Sky Conference.
The Weber State University women’s team went and conquered the competition on Saturday, capturing their third-straight conference title. Freshman Summer Harper led the way and was crowned the individual champion. Northern Arizona University won the men’s title for the seventh consecutive year. The WSU men’s team took a respectable fourth place.
Having only returned a handful from last year’s top seven, head coach Paul Pilkington relied heavily on freshmen throughout the year. The freshmen came up big at pivotal moments, as Harper was able to run away from the field in a time of 16:54.2.
Senior Amber Henry made her debut for the season after battling some injuries. She was trying to become the first runner to win the individual title for three years in a row. The Wildcats put four runners in the top 10: Sophomore Jamie Stokes placed sixth, while another freshman, Hailey Ricks, took eighth, and Henry took 10th.
Pilkington said he had a good feeling that one of his runners was going to be the individual champion; he just didn’t know which one, especially with Henry fighting back from an injury. He said he was confident that any of the women were fit to be crowned champion.
“I told our girls that someone from this team was going to win it,” Pilkington said. “I didn’t know who it’d be, and not having Amber train or race leading up to this week, I didn’t know how she’d hold up. So I told them all to put themselves in a position to win. Summer did that. They all did that. Summer ran a really smart race.”
The men’s team entered the race knowing it would have to put a solid performance together to place in the top five, and it did exactly that. Junior Tip Worob led the team for the first time this season, garnering all-conference honors for finishing eighth in a time of 24:59.4 over the 8-kilometer course.
Junior Trevor Ricks took 10th overall, 25:00.8, earning all-conference honors as well. The freshmen came up big the men’s team, as both Preston Johnson and Jacob Calvillo placed in the top five for the team.
“We had about as good of a race as we could have with this team,” Pilkington said. “Trevor and Tyler have been really sick, and we are redshirting Mike Hardy this year, so we knew it was going to be an uphill battle. I was very pleased with how the men ran.”
Even battling sickness, Ricks ran the best he could and, by finishing in the top 10, accomplished one of his early season goals of being an all-conference performer. But he will now turn his sights to the next races and hope to be healthy enough to run even faster then.
“I knew the race was going to be rough; I was going into the race sick,” Ricks said. “But I feel that we did really good and had some good races from our team. During the race, I didn’t feel all that great, but I just kept holding on to 10th place. I really wanted to be all-conference. I am hoping to get healthy and be all-region at regionals, as I took 30th last year.”
The teams will now host the NCAA Cross-Country Mountain Region Championships on Nov. 15 at Schneiter’s Riverside Golf Course in Riverdale.