LCSC cross country teams win FC titles
Led by a sweep on the men’s side and 10 of the top 12 finishers in the women’s race, the Lewis-Clark State College cross country teams captured their second straight Frontier Conference titles at Hell’s Gate State Park on Saturday.
LCSC had the top five finishers in the men’s race to sweep the top five scoring positions and run away with the conference race with 15 points. Great Falls, which had five finishers in the top 15, was second at 57, while Carroll finished third at 76.
In the women’s race, LCSC had the top two finishers and the No. 4-12 finishers in also rolling to the title with 21 points. Carroll finished second with 68, while Rocky Mountain was third with 90.
Cross country is still a relatively new sport in the Frontier Conference as this was only the second year the meet has been held, and again it was dominated by LCSC. The Warriors had 15 of the 20 runners – seven men and eight women – who received all-Frontier Conference honors by finishing in the top 10 at the conference race.
With the titles, the Warriors qualify for the annual NAIA Cross Country National Championships, which will be held Nov. 22 in Kenosha, Wisc. It will be the eighth consecutive trip for the national meet for the Warrior women, while the Warrior men will be making their seventh straight trip. Until the results from all of the conference meets are posted, it won’t be known in any individuals from the other four conference teams met national qualifying standards. Amber Watson of Rocky Mountain has the best shot as she finished third in the women’s 5-kilometer race in 18 minutes, 39.2 seconds.
LCSC coach Mike Collins said he’s happy with the performance from both Warrior teams on Saturday, especially with the men.
“My men had a little bit of an assumption that we would win the title, and while confidence isn’t a bad thing, there might have been some complacency so I challenged them,” Collins said. “I told them I wanted a 1-5 sweep and that was our goal. In my 12 years of coaching, I have never had a 1-5 sweep at any meet.”
With junior Eric Tuwei leading the way, the Warriors met Collins’ goal, although it took a kick near the finish by freshman Grant Eldridge to secure the fifth spot. Tuwei won the 8-kilometer race in 25:39. Senior Mickael Sopel, who also plays on the LCSC tennis team, finished second in 25:42, while sophomores Sean Huey and Chris McConnell were third and fourth, respectively.
Tuwei’s performance helped atone for a mistake two weeks ago on the same course when he was among four lead runners who strayed off the course and sprinted for the finish line a lap early. Tuwei eventually made it back on the course and finished fifth.
“I know Eric wanted to win this and he’s really had a great season,” Collins said. “He’s really matured this season and I’m happy for him.”
The top non-LCSC runner in the event was Carroll’s Gregory Taylor, who placed sixth overall, while Great Falls had Shane Donaldson place seventh and Jared Reyes finish ninth. LCSC had Jake Miller in eighth, Adrian Ramirez finish 10th, and Frank Lagrimanta placed 11th.
On the women’s side, freshman Stephanie Shuel of Yakima, Wash., won the race in 18:21.98, setting a personal best by more than 20 seconds.
“I thought Stephanie had a chance at a p.r. (personal record),” Collins said. “She is one of the smallest persons out there but her intensity is really something. She has led us all year and did a great job today.”
“I just wanted to stay up with the lead pack and go from there,” Shuel said about her race strategy. “I wanted to push things.”
Shuel broke away and was on her own for the second half of the race, winning by 16 seconds over fellow LCSC freshman Tayler Harrington. The Warriors actually had four freshmen among the top eight overall finishers and had four freshmen, four juniors and a sophomore in the top 11 overall.
“These gals are a very tight-knit group and that carries over to racing,” Collins said. “They do whatever they can to help each other out and stick together.”
Collins said he’s excited to see both teams at the national meet. He says the men’s team may have something to prove, while the women’s team will have a tougher time cracking the top 10 because the level of competition is the best he’s seen at the NAIA level.