The knowledge that a team can control its own destiny can be a warm blanket, especially heading into a conference championship.
The Lewis-Clark State College men’s and women’s cross country teams have that ability heading into Friday’s Frontier Conference Championships at Carroll College.
Victories in the team standings on either side would guarantee the Warriors berths at the NAIA Championships on Nov. 17 in Vancouver, Wash.
Anything less, however, means both teams will have anxious van rides home from Helena, Mont. as they wait for the final NAIA Coaches’ poll to be released on Monday morning to see if they’ve earned one of the remaining at-large berths to nationals.
The women’s race is set to start at 11:15 p.m. Pacific Time on Friday afternoon, with the men’s race slated for 11:55 p.m PST.
Both teams – as it turns out, the rest of the Frontier Conference as well – have had three weeks since their last race, which has left the Warriors itching to compete.
“We’re definitely ready to race and raring to go,” LCSC coach Mike Collins said. “I think both teams are pretty motivated.”
The casual fan might think that with three weeks off, the Warriors would be resting and recuperating heading into Friday’s conference meet.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of rest,” said senior Kelsey Klettke, who will be among the favorites in the women’s race on Friday. “We’ve had really hard workouts the past three weeks, easily some of the hardest I’ve had in my five years here. We’re pushing through it, and our motivation is up there and we’re ready to go.”
As hard as the Warriors have tried to stay healthy this week, there have been a few injuries on the men’s side that will impact the team on Friday.
“There have been a couple of injuries just recently that are going to affect us and probably hurt us,” Collins said. “You try to control as much as you can control, but things happen. Even with the injuries we should be the favorites, and the silver lining is that the guys that are injured should be ready to go by nationals and will be very motivated from that standpoint.”
Senior Dave Marks is as healthy as he’s been in his four years at LCSC, and he is the clear favorite to win the men’s race. A four-time Frontier Conference Runner of the Week this fall, Marks will lead the Warriors at conference, with No. 17 Dickinson State the prime threat to the No. 8 men’s squad.
“He’s extremely motivated and in two of his four years here he was hurt at this point in the season. The other time he won this race,” Collins said of Marks. “He’s healthy and running extremely well, so he’s got to be the favorite to win this race.”
As strong as Marks is, the rest of the Warrior lineup has to step up to get the team to Vancouver.
The top five runners on each team score points, and if LCSC can get those five in the top half of the field, it will be in good shape.
“On both sides, the No. 3-7 runners will be the difference in the races,” Collins said. “The guys that haven’t been in the No. 4-5 spots now have to be there to stop the scoring. I told my guys this week that somebody has to step up, and I think we’re capable of it.”
The same will be true for the No. 12 Lewis-Clark State women, who have a tougher road to a conference championship with No. 6 Carroll and No. 14 Rocky Mountain both formidable opponents.
Carroll will also be running on its home turf at Bill Roberts Municipal Golf Course in Helena.
Klettke, senior Chelsey Leighton and sophomore Sophie Bush are as good a top three as there is in the Frontier Conference, but the rest of the Warrior lineup has to match the Saints’ and Bears’ depth.
Bush and Leighton finished second and third, respectively in last year’s conference meet with Klettke out injured, but the Warriors had to settle for second as Carroll had the overall champion in Rhianna Grossman and five other runners in the top 15.
Three of those six runners are back this season for Carroll.
“We can’t overlook Rocky, who’s a good team that’s pretty equal with us, but we know the road to nationals goes through Carroll,” Collins said. “If we want to go to nationals, that’s the team we have to beat,” Collins said.
Like with Marks, Klettke is only one runner, and it takes a team to win a meet like this.
But like Marks, she’s a senior who has battled injuries throughout her career and has one last go-round with the Warriors.
“It’s another race, that’s the way I look at it,” she said. “But I want to make it one of the races of my life in my last year. I want to do what I can so I finish the race knowing that I gave it my all and my team gave everything it had.”