Head coach Joshua Coon has led the Fort Lewis College running programs for less than two years, but the work he has done is noticeable.
The Skyhawks hosted the Tom Strandt Memorial meet Saturday at the Old Fort campus in Hesperus. It was the first time FLC has had a home race since 2014, and it was the first Tom Strandt Memorial race since 2013. Though it was not attended by the rest of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, it was a chance for the Skyhawks to bring back a home event in hopes of growth in future years.
Some of FLC’s top runners did not compete, as they are focused on preparation for bigger races coming up quickly. Rhylyn Jones won the women’s 5-kilometer race in 20 minutes, 15 seconds. She is new to the team as a freshman from Albuquerque. She won a state championship in Class 3A. FLC’s Rose Chemeli was second Saturday in 21:01.
“With 22 women, we have some depth, which will be our strength,” Coon said in a news release. “We have so many strong women; it will be fun to see what they do this year. They will surprise some people. Becca (Bramley) and Carly (Wilborn) were held out. They will be focusing on later season races. We raced 11 freshmen unattached as we sort out our varsity. The potential is there for sure.”
The men’s race was won by Hosava Kretzmann. He completed 8-kilometers in 27:18. Bismarck Kipkilach was second in 27:38.
“We know what we have,” Coon said of the men. “We return our top seven from last year, and they are ready. This was mostly a workout for us with some specific objectives. It’s a long season, and they will be ready to rip when we get them to Griak at the end of the month.”
Coon was happy with the race as a whole. It was run at 7,600 feet of elevation, and he had the team focus on racing tactics more than their finishing times.
A year ago, FLC finished fifth in the RMAC with its women’s team and sixth for the men. FLC returned its top-seven men and boast strong women’s runners. Still, the RMAC coaches voted FLC to sixth in the preseason women’s poll and ninth in the men’s poll.
“The RMAC coaches ignored us in the polls,” Coon said. “That’s fine with us. Polls mean nothing. This is only fuel for us.”
FLC will go into the Western State Colorado University Invitational on Sept. 14 in Gunnison ranked seventh in both the men’s and women’s South Central Region. The team is excited to attend the Roy Griak race hosted by the University of Minnesota. That race is Sept. 29 in Minneapolis.
Several runners have all-region aspirations, including Bramley, who was only three seconds away from qualifying for nationals last year.
“Becca is ready to jump in with the top women in the nation,” Coon said. “She’s put in her time and training. She’s our school record holder and hasn’t forgotten the bitter taste from being so close to nationals last year.
“Our women expect to gun for a nationals birth, as well. We have been one place out for the last two years, and our standard is to be right in the mix.”
The men’s team was only four points away from sending the entire team to nationals a year ago. Seniors Bismark Kipkilach, Kretzmann and Shawvan Levi also should contend for all-region honors, Coon said.
“And the rest of the guys know that four through nine will be what lifts us to nationals,” Coon said of the rest of the varsity spots.
FLC has added men’s track and field this year after adding women’s track and field in 2014. Coon said that will help the team recruit more men going forward, as many runners want to compete in cross-country in the fall and track in the winter and spring.
Assistant coach Brett Sublett, owner of Durango Running Company, also has been a big benefit to the program, Coon said.
Now, FLC will prepare to see if it can run with perennial national contenders in the RMAC such as Adams State, Western State and Colorado Mines.
“We hope to continue to build this into a national caliber program aligned and lifted by the strong Durango running and endurance culture,” Coon said.