HELENA, Mont. – The Lewis-Clark State College cross country program had hopes for a sweep of the men’s and women’s team titles at the Frontier Conference Championships on Friday afternoon at Carroll College.
Instead, the Warriors will have a nerve-wracking ride back to campus.
Both the men’s and women’s teams finished second behind the host Saints on Friday and will have to wait until Monday morning, when the final NAIA Coaches’ Top 25 poll is released, to see if they claimed one of the at-large bids to the national championships on Nov. 17 in Vancouver, Wash.
There are seven at-large bids for the women and eight for the men.
Lewis-Clark State senior Dave Marks won the individual title in the men’s race, finishing the eight-kilometer course at Bill Roberts Municipal Golf Course in 25 minutes and 50.2 seconds, and led from wire to wire.
Fellow senior Kelsey Klettke notched a second-place finish on the women’s side, behind repeat winner Rhianna Grossman of Carroll. Klettke ran the 5K women’s course in 18:50.1, behind the 18:38.3 registered by Grossman.
It was certainly a bittersweet day for the men’s program, as the joy of Marks’ individual title and senior Jimmy
Oribo’s third-place finish after an injury-plagued senior season was tempered by the ending of the Warriors’ five-year win streak at this meet.
“It’s very somber right now,” Warrior coach Mike Collins said. “We had some very high hopes and very high expectations for this meet and for the season, and right now we’re not feeling real good. We still have a shot of getting into the national meet, a decently good shot, but we’ll have to see how the raters react to the fact that both us and Dickinson got beat by an unranked school today.”
Behind Marks and Oribo, who ran side-by-side with Marks for the first two-thirds of the race before being overtaken by Westminster’s Oliver Lange, the Warriors’ next three finishers didn’t cross the line until 15th place.
Nick Pierson, Andy Keim and Hayden Randall finished in a pack at 15-17, but it wasn’t enough for the Warriors, who competed without Sam Atkin on Friday.
Atkin finished third in this race last year behind Oribo’s championship performance, was injured this week, and his absence was felt.
“We had some guys step up, but without Sam and Pauric (McLaughlin), it was very difficult to rebound,” Collins said.
Collins added that if the Warrior men do receive an at-large bid, Atkin and McLaughlin would likely be healthy enough to compete.
Carroll’s men didn’t have a runner finish higher than fifth, but bunched four guys together in the top 10, and won by 10 points in the team standings.
“Carroll packed it up real well, and had the advantage of running on its home course,” Collins said. “They had a plan and they stuck to it.”
LCSC and Dickinson State, ranked eighth and 17th in the most recent Top 25, each finished with 52 team points, but the Warriors earned second place based on having the faster top runner.
On the women’s side, the Warriors finished with 53 team points, well behind Carroll’s 32 and just four points clear of third-place Rocky Mountain.
It was a three-team race the whole way, as Lewis-Clark State, Carroll and Rocky Mountain produced 18 of the top 20 overall finishers and 21 of the top 25.
Chelsey Leighton, who finished third at the conference meet in 2011, was fourth on Friday in 19:16.8. Sophomore Sophie Bush, last year’s runner-up, was ninth in 19:42.1.
Both Leighton and Bush made up ground in the second half of the race.
“That’s how they’ve raced all year, so it was good to see them stick to their normal race pattern,” Collins said. “The team needed them to do that, and we had others that either held ground or made up ground late.”
Amanda Palmer was the fourth finisher for LCSC, coming in 17th at 20:13.8, and Nicole Dillavou stopped the scoring for the Warriors with a 21st-place finish in 20:45.2.
Carroll put all five of its scorers in the top 11 slots and four in the top eight to pull away with the win.
“They’re an excellent team,” Collins said of the Saints, who entered the meet ranked sixth in the nation. “I thought we raced well today, especially since a lot of the girls are sick, but it just wasn’t good enough.”
Even if their respective teams don’t get at-large bids, Marks, Oribo, Klettke, Leighton and Bush will all compete at nationals as individuals.
The top five individual finishers outside of the winning team earn those berths.
It’s a small consolation for the Warriors, who are left to wait and hope.
“Hopefully we’ll get the at-larges and have two more weeks to get healthy,” Collins said. “I think we’ll be a different team if we get another opportunity.”