The Fort Lewis College men’s and women’s cross-country teams were picked to finish in the middle of the pack when the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference released its preseason coaches polls on Wednesday.
The race for the men’s conference crown is expected to be as tightly contested as ever, with a combined six points separating the top three schools from the rest of the conference. Adams State University was narrow preseason favorite, as the Grizzlies picked up six first-place votes out of a possible 15 and scored 212 points. Colorado School of Mines was picked to finish runner-up. The Orediggers received five first-place votes and 211 points. Western Colorado University, who was not to be left out of the mix, also received five first-place votes and scored 206 points.
University of Colorado at Colorado Springs was fourth with 171 points. Colorado State University-Pueblo was picked fifth with 170 points and Black Hills State University rounded out the top six with 161 points.
The Fort Lewis College men’s cross-country team was picked to finish ninth after it earned 108 points, two ahead of 10th-place pick Colorado Mesa University.
While the Skyhawks will be without their lone qualifier from last year’s NCAA Championships, Hosava Kretzman, they will return two key runners that will look to boost the team’s chances come conference.
Andrew Rome and Steven Nez were named to the runners to watch list. Rome, a senior, placed 65th overall at the 2018 South Central Region Cross-Country Championships and also had a career-best in the 8-kilometer race last season when he ran 27 minutes, 16.2 seconds at the Fort Hays State Tiger Open.
Nez, a junior, finished right behind Rome at the South Central regional, where he finished in 67th with a career-best 10K time of 34:26.0.
The RMAC is consistently regarded as the best conference in the country for Division II cross-country, and the Grizzlies can attest to that, as they have won 12 national championships, with their most recent coming in 2017. At last season’s NCAA Cross-Country Championships in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, RMAC schools finished second through fourth in team scores, while the UCCS and Black Hills State were both in the top 20.
Women’s Cross-CountryIn the preseason poll for the women, the Grizzlies were the favorites after they received 14 out of a possible 15 first-place votes and picked up 224 points. Western Colorado earned one first-place vote and scored 207 points, while Mines was the other remaining team to earn a first-place vote and got 201 points.
UCCS was picked fourth with 176 points, Black Hills State was picked fifth with 135 points and CSU-Pueblo rounded out the top six teams with 135 points.
Fort Lewis College was picked 10th with 109 points and just missed out on ninth-place Dixie State, which scored 112 points.
The Skyhawks do not have a senior on this year’s squad. With two juniors, the young team will look to surprise other perennial powers in conference. Last season, FLC finished in ninth at the RMAC Championships. This season, without the now graduated Becca Bramley, the team will rely on redshirt junior Makiah Salzano and sophomore Jessica Ramirez, both of whom were named to the preseason watch list. Last season, Salzano finished 64th at the South Central regional with a time of 23:54.5. During track and field season, Ramirez finished 14th at the RMAC Outdoor Championships in the 10,000-meter run in 42:31.59.
Fort Lewis will open the season at the Joe Vigil Invite hosted by Adams State on Sept. 7 in Alamosa.