The runners stood poised at the edge of the starting line in the frigid, November air, anticipating the start of the NCAA Mountain Regional cross country meet held Saturday, Nov. 12. A shot from the gun, and they were off sprinting on the East Bay Golf Course grass.
The Wolverines qualified to run in the Regional race after winning the Great West Conference two weeks prior. The women’s cross country team has claimed the conference title for the last four consecutive years, while the men’s team has dominated the last three.
The men’s 10k race began the day’s events, and the Wolverines ran hard in the freezing cold against the eighteen competing schools including Region powerhouses BYU and Northern Arizona University. However, the Wolverines didn’t place in the top two positions that will qualify for the NCAA championships. BYU ended up taking the region title, with three of their runners placing in the top 10 positions.
Sophomore Cliff Nielson led the Wolverines with a time of 32:09, with Trevor Sharp coming in second for the team and Mike Felix as the third finisher.
When asked if the cold affected performance in the race, Nielson said, “Maybe a little. It’s all about guts though. Everyone is running in the same weather. We are all at the same starting line. Everyone has to run tough.”
Despite racing against the powerhouse schools in the region, Nielson didn’t seem that intimidated.
“It is really just about who works the hardest,” he said. “They are just people. It was good for us to be able to compete with these other schools after going through the junior college phase. The highlight of our season was definitely winning conference, though. We packed it up really nice.”
The women’s 6k took place after the weather had taken another plunge in temperature. Once again, the Wolverines raced hard, but weren’t quite able to qualify for the NCAA championships while University of Colorado and New Mexico tied for the title. Junior Shelise Walker led the pack of Wolverine runners with a time of 22:36. Walker was followed by Ivie Gonsalves, with MacKenzie Roberts finishing in third.
Walker did feel that the cold weather had an affect on her performance at the Regional meet.
“I wanted to tell my legs to go faster, but they couldn’t move,” Walker said. “Everything froze up.”
Walker did feel good about the season, however, and looks forward to next year.
“We did really well for conference,” she said. “That was the main focus for us. We have more potential for next year. No one ever really expects anything from UVU. We are definitely the underdog so it is fun to surprise people.”
Coach Scott Houle also felt good about his sixth season of coaching cross country at UVU.
“We really moved up in the rankings this season,” Houle said. “Our teams at this regional meet had an average race. Some of the kids did great, and some struggled. All of them have really matured this year, though.”
Houle also contributed some of the growth to the fact that several of the older players were red-shirted for the season.
“We took four of our starting girls out this season, so that they can run next year,” Houle said. “We really should have taken second place at conference, but these kids just ran great. And next year will be a much better year.”