Head coach Michael Friess had more than just another race on his mind when he took his University of Alaska Anchorage cross country running team to Evansville, Ind.
He was showing his team the same course the national championship race is going to be run on. He was sending the not-so-subtle message that this is what they train for everyday. He was reemphasizing that if the team wants to come back, they are going to have to perform at the conference championships and the NCAA West Regionals.
“I wasn’t making assumptions like, ‘Boy, we are going to go for sure,’” Friess said. “I just wanted to let them know what the course is going to look like. The reason is I feel this team is capable and I wanted to bring that to reality to them.”
The men’s and women’s teams ended up finishing 10th and 11th respectively out of 15 teams at the Pre-National Meet Sept. 25. Both teams came in ranked in the top 25 for the first time in program history. The men are 20th and the women 21st in the latest polls. While the team finishes may not have jumped out, the fact that they placed among some of the top teams in the country did.
Out of the eight teams that finished ahead of the men, seven are ranked in the top 25. For the women, four of the nine teams that finished in front of UAA are top-25 caliber.
Brandon Stum was the top finisher for the men cruising in 22nd place with a time of 26 minutes, five seconds. Aaron Dickson and Brent Knight followed after in 33th and 40th place. Senior Nate Normandin crossed 65th in 27:11. Leif Olson, Drew Dickson and Stig Yngve rounded out the men’s finishers.
Friess was disappointed that only three runners were in the top 40. He had hoped to have five, in addition to better races from Normandin and Drew.
“The guys have to do better,” Friess said. “As a team they didn’t perform as well as they should. If these guys are going to win at the national meet they’re going to have to find a way to get out in front (of the pack).”
For the women, their performance was a little more difficult to judge.
Kamie Jo Massey was UAA’s top finisher for the third straight race, ending the 6K with a time of 23:50. Davya Baker was 36 seconds behind, followed by Danielle Pratt and Sarah Hansen. Three newcomers to the squad, Anjuli Haydu, Jenn Grover and Kaley Strachan, were the final stragglers.
Two of UAA’s best runners, junior Nicole DeYong and dual athlete Mandy Kaempf, didn’t make the trip. It wasn’t because of injury or some other factor. It is part of a calculated plan by Friess to ensure the team sees Evansville again at the end of the season.
“We are making a conscious decision that they will run better in championships if they race less often in the regular season,” Friess said.
Looked at the race as a whole Friess sees a whole lot more potential in his team than their finishes indicate. He thinks with more improvement and full squads the teams could have moved up as high as four places on both the men’s and women’s sides.
“But that is paper running, and ultimately you are evaluated on what you do not what you are capable of,” he said. “And all I can say is that we learned about ourselves and we are going to have to get better.”