UMW runners stride through home meet

By 
M.P. Regan
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Fire, sweat and ice

UMW’s Marley May leads a group of runners across a tee box at Beaverhead Golf Course during Friday’s Montana Western Open in front of snowcapped peaks from the Pioneer Mountains. M.P. Regan photo

A long layoff and chilly temperatures may have made the long-distance course seem even longer at last Friday’s Montana Western Open college cross country meet in Dillon.

But the hosts still enjoyed the experience and results.

“Our runners were just really excited to get out there and see where they were at,” said University of Montana Western Cross Country Head Coach Dylan Zitzer, whose women’s team grabbed silver and men’s squad finished fifth at the annual event held on Beaverhead Golf Course.

“It’s been a different kind of season, so it was nice to experience a little normalcy,” said Zitzer, whose team got to run a competitive race for the first time in a month.

UMW’s redoubtable Eireann O’Connor met the challenges head on Friday, when the returning NAIA All-American led the Lady Bulldogs by finishing fourth in the women’s 5k race, despite suffering from a cold on a cold day.

The Bulldogs’ top men’s runner, Matt Wilson, also enjoyed a good outing, placing fourth in the men’s 8k race at the local links.

“Matt Wilson ran the best he has all year,” said Zitzer of the junior from Hamilton who has been surging this season.

“He has chance to do something special at the conference meet,” said Zitzer of Wilson’s chances to shine at the Frontier Conference Championship meet set for Nov. 6 in Havre, where the Bulldogs began their pandemic-plagued fall season six weeks ago.

“The physical side is not so different this season, but the emotional side is more chal lenging,” said Zitzer of a 2020 campaign that’s been plagued by meet cancellations due to the coronavirus pandemic that’s inspired an almost complete revamping of protocols for practices and competitions to try to keep runners safe.

“We are all a little more anxious than usual.”

The Western women proved as solid as usual behind O’Connor on Friday, when each UMW female competitor placed in the Top 25, including Marley May (11th), Elizabeth Varner (15th), Jodi Cameron (18th), Emma Adams (19th), Morgan Basely (22nd) and Mason Basely (25th).

“Liz Varner had an awesome day for us, which was nice to see. She has made massive improvements from last year,” said Zitzer of the sophomore strider from Corvallis.

Montana Tech’s Becca Richtman took the gold in the 5k women’s race as the only runner to break the 19-minute mark with an 18:58 in Dillon on Friday.

Tech’s Henry Kakalecik took the men’s race with a time of 26:56 on the 8k tract.

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