DILLON — The inaugural season for the University of Montana Western cross country team is nearing the finish line. Both the men’s and women’s squads will compete in the Frontier Conference meet on Friday in Great Falls, looking for a chance to qualify for the NAIA Cross Country Championships held in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Nov. 21.
Head Coach Dylan Zitzer is excited about his teams opportunity.
“The last meet in Great Falls we competed very well, I felt much better our performance as a whole,” Zitzer said.
The last time out on Oct. 23, the Montana Western women were able to spoil Carroll College’s perfect score, when freshman Mindy Kauffman crossed the finish line in 19:28 to finish fifth place and edge out Carroll’s No. 5 runner. Beth Jansma finished in eleventh to propel the girls into a third place finish at the meet.
“They are right there and running to compete for a shot at nationals,” Zitzer said.
For the men, freshman Paul Bielawaski finished in seventh place, just one minute behind the leader, while fellow freshman Russel Kujala finished in eleventh place to pace the upstart men’s team.
“They are really close to the edge, they just have to run their race, and maybe something can work in their favor,” Zitzer said about his top two male runners.
As a whole, the Montana Western have made tremendous strides this season and have faced top-notch competition in the Frontier Conference as the men’s side has two teams in the top-10, No. 3 Lewis-Clark State College and No. 6 Carroll College, and the women have No. 6 Carroll College and No. 15 Lewis-Clark State College.
The Bulldogs have also competed against some stiff NCAA competition; University of Montana, Montana State University, University of Utah, Utah State, Idaho State and University of Idaho.
“Being able to compete against NCAA teams was a big wake-up call for our young roster,” Zitzer said.
The Bulldogs roster is compiled of all freshman, and even though it was difficult facing competition of that caliber, it was another building tool for the teams.
“It was key for our athletes to do their absolute best,” Zitzer said, “and to find out how capable they are.”
Headed into what will be most of the athlete’s final race of their first college season, they are hoping to continue to make improvements.
“They are making a lot of progress and their results are showing,” Zitzer said of his team’s steady improvements, “we are looking forward to building momentum for next season.”
Despite having a young roster, Zitzer is confident his runners have put in the time and effort to make a run at some of the top competition in the conference.
“We have a lot of great kids who are dedicated and enjoying their experience while constantly improving,” Zitzer said. “I am excited to see how our freshmen do against the young kids from the rest of the conference.”
— Montana Western Sports Information