The gun goes off at 11 a.m. Saturday in Riverdale, Utah, for what could be the two best NCAA regional cross-country races going.
Montana will be at the Riverside Golf Course south of Ogden for the Mountain Region meet with full and hale teams of both women and men.
So too will be Brigham Young University, which has the top-ranked and defending national champion women's team, and Colorado, ranked No. 1 in men's cross country. The meet is one of nine regionals around the nation.
"We're trying to put together our best race of the year," said UM coach Tom Raunig, whose women's team placed second while the men tied for third at the Big Sky Conference meet two weeks ago. "We're healthy and hopefully we can still step it up one more notch. That's kind of what we've been pointing for. We've made a special effort to be strongest at the end, which is not always the case."
The women's 6,000-meter race is first at 11 a.m., on a relatively flat course that wanders along the Weber River bottom and at one point passes under Interstate 84. The men go on their 10,000-meter jaunt at noon.
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UM's Sabrina Monro and Heather Anderson, who finished first and second in the conference race, probably will be looking at heels Saturday - but not many.
Colorado's Kara Grgas-Wheeler is a strong favorite in the women's race, after winning the pre-NCAA meet in October by a healthy margin. Wheeler captured the 3,000-meter and 5,000-meter titles at last spring's NCAA outdoor track championships. BYU's Tara Northcutt was the 10,000-meter champion, but is coming off an injury.
Monro, a junior, shoots for her third consecutive trip to the NCAA championships. She was 13th at last year's regional, roughly a minute behind Wheeler. Last month Monro placed seventh at the pre-NCAAs, trailing Wheeler by about 40 seconds.
Anderson, who'll run just her third race of the season after coming back from a knee injury and illness, is eyeing her second trip to the NCAAs in cross country. She made it in '98 before redshirting last fall.
Also running for the UM women: Amy Farmer, Julie Ham, Katie Kneeshaw, Kelly Rice and Kerry Bogner.
Brad Treat of Kalispell and Jesse Barnes pace the Grizzly men. Treat was ninth at the conference meet. Barnes finished 13th after falling in the first half of the race. The 1999 Big Sky champion, Barnes suffered a stress fracture in last year's regionals that set him back throughout track season.
"Jesse's probably looking to avenge not getting a legitimate shot at defending his Big Sky championship," Raunig said. "He's been looking real good at practice, and he's been looking as good as he ever has for fitness, so that's exciting."
The other men competing Saturday are Dickie Bishop, Christian Dullock, Scott McGowan, Casey Perry and Anders Brooker.
Raunig said his women's team has an outside shot at qualifying as a team for the national championships at Iowa State on Nov. 20. The top two teams are automatic qualifiers, but on Monday the NCAA will award 13 at-large berths.
"This is such a strong district I think we're guaranteed four teams, and possibly even the fifth-place team could get in," Raunig said.
The top four individuals not on one of the qualifying teams also go to nationals, which has a field of 255 runners each in the men's and women's races.
Ogden has several inches of snow on the ground. The highs Saturday is expected to be just above freezing, but likely will be below 32 degrees at race time.
Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 523-5266