By AARON SHILL
Another week, another mountain to climb. But the kind of mountain the BYU women’s cross country team will face on Saturday isn’t of the proverbial type.
The team will take to the course tomorrow for the Mountain West Classic in Missoula, Mont. The 6-kilometer race has a moderately difficult course that features several inclines and one long, 300-meter hill.
But the course isn’t the only challenge awaiting the Cougars. According to head coach Patrick Shane, last year’s national champions will have plenty of reasons to look over their shoulders.
“The level of competition will be several notches above Fresno,” said Shane, referring to the Fresno State Invitational that BYU won Saturday.
Arizona and Washington State, both top 25 teams, are among the schools that will line up against the Cougars. Arizona has perhaps the nation’s top individual runner in Amy Skieresz.
Then there are those who will be chasing dollar signs. The meet also features top professional runners who will be competing for $5,000 worth of prize money.
But the Cougars don’t seem overly concerned with the competition. According to senior Emily Nay, the team is viewing Saturday’s meet as a good opportunity to gauge its early season ability.
“It’s just a starting point,” she said. “It’s not nationals. We’re just going to go out and see what we can do.”
Senior Elizabeth Jackson, an All-American last season, said the coach is not putting any pressure on the team. Instead, Shane wants his athletes to establish a steady precedent for the rest of the season.
“Coach has had us work on running pace so that we don’t run too hard at the beginning of the season,” she said. “We want to peak for nationals.”
According to Shane, the times and film collected at Saturday’s meet will be a measuring stick for the team.
“The results of this race will let us know where we are in terms of training,” he said.
The Cougars will compete with two sets of runners, most of whom did not run in last week’s victory at Fresno. Among the athletes competing for the first time this season are Jackson, Nay, All-American Maggie Chan and freshman Laura Heiner, who was the nation’s No. 1 high school recruit last year.
The Cougars are deep with talent, and Shane is making sure he spreads the opportunities to compete. The reason for doing so is simple — experience.
“Once you have run one race, it gives you more confidence and lets you know what you need to work on,” Jackson said.
Experience could also be a key for BYU in Saturday’s meet. Because the Cougars have made the trip to Missoula an annual event, many of the team members have previously run the course. According to Nay, a Montana native who is competing for the fourth time in the invitational, experience on a particular course can provide a runner with a level of comfort.
“You don’t have to think about where you are going,” she said. “You know how to pace yourself and can formulate a race plan, which is something you can’t do in cross country if you don’t know the course.”