Harriers to Havre

UMW cross country heads to conference meet Friday
M.P. Regan
Wednesday, November 4, 2020

It’s proved the vaguest and most unpredictable of fall campaigns for the University of Montana Western’s cross country team.

But the conference season will come full circle this week, concluding where it began— geographically, on the Hi Line, and emotionally, on a sort of psychological high that it happened at all in the year of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“We all had our doubts that we’d get a conference meet this year,” said UMW Cross Country Head Coach Dylan Zitzer, whose men’s and women’s teams will compete at the Frontier Conference Championships in Havre on Friday to conclude a 2020 pocked and rocked by uncertainty and cancellations.

“We’ve put in a lot of work to get to this point and we’re pretty lucky just to get to this point,” added Zitzer, noting all the college conferences across the country that have cancelled sports seasons this year.

The Bulldogs will be represented by five male and eight women runners at the conference meet on Friday, with the Western women paced by returning All-American Eireann O’Connor and her fellow senior and All-Conference performer Marley May.

“I know Eireann is hoping to improve on her third-place finish last season,” said Zitzer, who believes May is also wellpositioned to run into the top ten on Friday and a spot on the Frontier All-Conference team.

“It’s pretty open after those first two spots,” said Zitzer of the prospects for his team’s talented other half-dozen female runners who will compete on Friday—sisters Mason Basely and Morgan Basely and their fellow sophomore Liz Varner, freshmen Jodi Cameron and Sarah Passey, along with senior Emma Lehr, who placed in the top 15 at last year’s conference meet, where the Lady Bulldogs finished second as a squad to help secure a team spot at last year’s NAIA national meet.

“Our women runners proved last year they can run well when they need to. They compete with an aura of confidence,” said Zitzer, whose men’s team will be bolstered in Havre by its confident top performer this season.

Matt Wilson will lead the Bulldog pack for the UMW men on Friday, coming off a series of fine performances so far this season and an All-Conference effort last year, when he finished ninth at the Frontier Conference meet.

Zitzer believes Wilson’s teammate and fellow junior Aidan Vlasaty could also feature prominently in Havre.

“Aidan has been running very well in training,” said Zitzer of the junior college transfer who previously competed for Green River College, finishing 15th last season at the NWAC championships, before coming to UMW.

And Zitzer retains high hopes for sophomore Luke Lutz, whose 2019 fall campaign featured a fine kick that propelled him to 14th in the Frontier Conference meet and a spot in the subsequent NAIA national meet.

“All our kids know we have pretty big goals for Friday and are focused on running their best,” said Zitzer, whose young, senior-less men’s team will also be represented by underclassmen Joel Lavergne and Joe Lamb in Havre.

“Everybody knows what’s at stake.”

But as may befit this odd, mysterious season, nobody knows yet what UMW runners will face meteorologically on the Hi-Line on Friday.

“A weather front looks like it will be coming in just as the meet is set to go,” said Zitzer of a Friday afternoon forecast that currently features a 50 percent chance of precipitation amid falling temperatures.

“We will either just miss the snow or will have some snow,” said Zitzer.

“So, we going into it with the mindset that we can deal with whatever happens.”