On October 21st, Rocky Mountain College’s cross country team contended against five teams in the NAIA conference. Carroll and Lewis-Clark are two tough teams in the conference At this invitational meet, Rocky’s men took 1st place, with Carroll trailing right behind. On the women’s side, Rocky took 2nd to the competitive Carroll team. This was a great race to scope out the competition that the team would be seeing two weeks from the date at the conference meet in Helena on November 4th.
The Rocky men’s team brought eleven runners to compete in the 8k (4.98 mi.) course at the Great Falls Invitational Meet. Benson Koech took 1st with an outstanding time of 25:40, Fred Petsch followed with times of 26:17 (3rd) and 26:49 (7th). Finishing off as the top six runners for Rocky were Bryce Hugs at 27:17; Riley Ruppenthal at 27:21; and Shane Ketchum at 27:21. Other finishers included, Joshua Waldram at 28:33; Gilly Szweda Mittelstadt at 29:00; Dakota John- son at 29:42; Brenden Leaming at 32:07; and Jack Shultz at 34:34. This resulted in a 1st place finish as a team. With many runners’ times improving over the season, the Rocky men’s team was ready for conference.
Rocky also had thirteen women that were healthy and ready to compete. The women came out very strong in the 5k (3.1 mi.) race. Even though Mackenzie O’Dore, the team’s top runner, was injured, she still finished strong and came in first for Rocky with a time of 19:45 (6th). Following close behind were Courtney Hallock and Cassidy Rude with times in respective order of 19:55 (7th) and 20:02 (9th). Corrine Hamilton ran a time of 20:54, with Rebecca Sarabia at 21:58 and Jaylen Henderson at 22:16. The next four women pushed each other, leading with Erika Gwinn-Musser at 22:50, Jessica George at 22:50, Carrie Cota, 22:51, and Kelsey Crona, 23:11. Stephanie Wilson brought in a time of 23:49, trailed by Alexandra Ziemer, 31:53 and Bailey Scott, 31:59. The women were excited for the NAIA conference meet in the following weeks.
By November 4th, the cross country athletes had trained smart and hard in order to run at the NAIA Conference Meet in Helena. There were many nerves, but only because Rocky was ready to compete and wanted a victory on both sides. Coach McLean and Coach Eayoall believed the men and women were more than capable and knew that every athlete would give it their all, but still the anticipation was intense.
Rocky ran a complete men’s team of twelve people at the conference meet and hoped for the best results. Benson Koech fell short of 1st place, but impressively ran his best time and third-ever fastest Rocky all-time of 25:05, taking 2nd overall. Fred Petsch, ran in at 26:11 (9th), followed by his brother Isaac Petsch at 26:17 (10th). These performances added to the team’s overall points by placing in the top ten. Riley Ruppenthal came in at 26:52, Bryce Hugs at 27:10, and Shane Ketchum at 27:16, Gino Giovagnoli at 28:13, Josh Waldram at 28:29, and Gilly Szweda Mittelstadt at 28:55. Finishing strong for the men were Dakota Johnson at 29:08, Brenden Leaming at 30:28, and Jack Shultz at 36:42.
The men took 3rd place at the NAIA Conference Meet to the teams of Lewis-Clark and Carroll, placing one place better than the previous year. The team’s captain, Brenden Leaming said, “We didn’t necessarily get the end results that we wanted, but we all ran our hearts out and gave it our all, and that’s all you can really do. I’m proud to be part of this team.”
However, with Benson Koech taking an overall finish of 2nd place, he earned himself a trip to Nationals, which is very thrilling for the team. Narrowly missing a National qualifying time, Fred Petsch and Isaac Petsch competed very well.
On the women’s side, Rocky brought a complete team of twelve to compete as well. The twelve women’s times, some being personal bests, are shown as following: Mackenzie O’Dore at 19:19 (8th), Courtney Hallock at 19:20 (9th), Cassidy Rude at 19:32,Stephanie Robbins at 20:06, Corinne Hamilton at 21:36, Rebecca Sarabia at 21:41, Jaylen Henderson at 21:50, Jessica George at 22:08, Erika Musser at 22:17, Stephanie Wilson at 22:33, Kelsey Crona at 22:57, and Carrie Cota at 23:26.
The women also took 3rd place, improving an exceptional amount since the previous year’s 5th place. Last year, the women’s cross country team struggled with having healthy runners ready to compete and finish races, but this year twelve women crossed the finish line and two individuals made it to Nationals. Mackenzie O’Dore, the women’s team captain, expressed her feelings of how the meet went by stating, “A third place finish for this team at conference is something we should be proud of. We came together as a team. When somebody had a bad day, there was always someone who stepped up. The team is mostly made up of underclassmen, which is very exciting for the program and these ladies in the years to come.”
O’Dore, a senior, and Courtney Hallock a freshman, will be representing the Rocky Women’s Cross Country team in Illinois on November 19th. They will present the best Rocky has to offer and it is very exciting to be able to support these two women in their future competition.
At the conference meet there were awards presented for All-Conference, as well as Champions of Character. Benson Koech, Fred Petsch, Isaac Petsch, Makenzie O’Dore, and Courtney Hallock received Frontier All-Conference Cross Country Awards for their exceptional Top Ten Finishes. The Frontier Conference Champions of Character Awards, selected by the coaches, were presented to Carrie Cota and Brenden Leaming for showing integrity, respect, responsibility, sportsmanship, and leadership. Rocky is extremely proud of all members of the cross country team for their will to work hard throughout the season.
The cross country season is over, but the team greatly supported the three individuals who competed at Nationals in Elsah, Illinois, on November 19th. “I’m excited to represent Rocky at Nationals and hope to run well. I really want to do it for my team-mates and set a good example for those who look up to me,” said Nationals runner, Benson Koech, before competing. And running well is exactly what Koech accomplished by taking an 9th place at Nationals with a personal best time of 24:51, making him Rocky’s first ever cross country All-American athlete. Mackenzie, a senior, finished her last cross country season race strongly with an 18:59. Courtney, a freshman, ran a great time of 19:42 to finish her season.
Coach McLean expresses his opinions of the National races as simply as, “It was a good day.”