The final race of the season was a big one for the Fort Lewis College cross-country teams.
Though there is no regional or national championship races in 2020 during a shortened season because oft he COVID-19 pandemic, national bragging rights were still on the line Saturday at Monument Valley Park in Colorado Springs. It was the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Championships in a conference that boasts the best running teams in NCAA Division II.
Western Colorado University would win the women’s team title, its first conference championship since 2011. The Mountaineers scored 42 points to beat Colorado School of Mines, which was second with 59. Metro State University-Denver was third with 85, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs was fourth with 95 points, and Adams State was fifth with 115 points. Westminster took sixth with 160 points, Black Hills State was seventh with 186 points, and Fort Lewis College was eighth with 220.
Colorado School of Mines won a second consecutive men’s conference title and the Orediggers’ fourth since 2016. It was a dominant performance, as Mines scored 28 points. Western Colorado was second with 60, Colorado Christian turned in its program-best third-place finish with 89 points, and usual powerhouse Adams State was fourth with 95 points. Colorado Mesa scored 131 to finish fifth, and UCCS was sixth with 151 points. FLC was seventh with 208 points.
It was a tough day for the Skyhawks to fall short of the season goal of placing in the top six. Though there is not a true NCAA national championship race, there will be a national invitational event Nov. 14 at Lubbock Christian University. The top six teams in the RMAC and top-three individuals not on qualifying teams would be invited. And though three FLC men qualified as individuals for the national meet, it was the end of the season for the Skyhawks’ hopes of scoring as a team.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t get the help on the back end to get the team over the hump to the national invite,” FLC men’s head coach Josjua Coon said.
Mines swept the individual championships. Junior runner Zoe Baker won the women’s race in 21 minutes, 11.5 seconds with an average mile time of 5:40.9. Erin Norton, a Metro State sophomore, was second in 21:19. Brianna Robles of Adams State, a sophomore, was third in 21:20.
FLC senior Makiah Salzano led the Skyhawks in the women’s race. She was 29th in 23:03. FLC sophomore Angel Curley was 43rd in 23:28. Freshman Katie Fankhouser placed 48th in 23:45. Sophomore Krista Benze placed 55th in 24:06, and junior Dorothy Elder was 62nd in 24:19. Also for FLC, Karla De la Cruz, a senior, placed 77th in 24:47, sophomore Alisia Honyumptewa was 82nd in 24:59 and freshman Jaden Knight was 91st in 25:59. There were 100 runners in the 12-team race.
Salzano was able to qualify as an individual for the national invitational.
“The lack of racing this year showed up in some pre-race anxiety,” FLC women’s head coach Brett Sublett said in a news release. “Racing hasn’t been normalized this year and, of the few races we’ve done, this was certainly the biggest stage. There were a lot of nerves like there should be on race morning. The girls took that nervous energy and buried themselves (Saturday), and I’m proud of that. They worked hard and left it all out on the course, which is all you can ask for and all they can ask of themselves.”
The men’s title was won by Mines junior Dylan Ko in 24:18. Adams State junior Isaiah Rodarte was second in 24:22, and Kyle Moran of Mines was third in 24:23. Another Mines sophomore, Chris Cathcart, was fourth in 24:27.
The top FLC men’s runner was senior Steven Nez, who earned second team All-RMAC honors with his 26th-place finish in 25:41. FLC junior John Ngaruiya was 39th in 26:11, and senior Cody Speece of Bayfield was 41st in 26:17. Elvis Chelak, a junior, was 58th in 27:06, and fellow junior David Wilcox placed 59th in 27:08. Junior Ricardo Trejo placed 63rd in 27:21, and Allen Fowler, another junior, was 69th in 27:39. FLC freshman Kyle Shirley would place 80th in 28:12, while sophomore Nicholas Weber was 81st in 28:14. There were 104 men in the race.
Nez, Ngaruiya and Speece will all get to run at the national invitational.
“We are trending well, overall. We needed more out of some guys, and this will be a growth moment for a lot of them,” Coon said. “I told them to remember how it feels – that sting – and not forget next time they get to race. Steven, John, and Cody getting into the national invite is solid progress for us.”