The Bronco men's and women's cross country teams will run in the West Coast Conference Championship this weekend the Crystal Springs Course in Belmont, Calif. The men's 8K begins at 9 am and the women's 6K begins at 9:45 am.
The WCC Championship might have the strongest field ever with the edition of BYU this year.
Something has to give in the men's race. The Portland Pilots have won the WCC Men's Cross Country Championships the past 32 years in a row, but the BYU men are ranked No. 3 nationally (Oct. 18) and Portland is ranked No. 8. Only the University of Arkansas has won more conference titles in a row than Portland with 34 titles – including 17 SEC titles (streak was snapped in 2008).
On the women's side USF is ranked No. 29. Regionally on the men's side in the West Region Portland is No. 2 behind No. 1 Stanford. Gonzaga is No. 14. BYU's men are ranked No. 1 in the Mountain Region. On the women's side regionally, USF is No. 6 and Portland is No. 10. BYU's women are ranked No. 4 in the Mountain Region.
SCU: What are your expectations for the women's team? The team is older this year but maybe not as experienced race wise.
CW: True. Our goal really is to minimize our spread, meaning shorten the time in between our first runner finishing to our fifth runner finishing; if we can have a spread under 20 seconds we should have a really good day. We are looking to freshman Mary Kriege, junior Mary Reynolds and senior Erin McCarthy to continue leading our pack as they have done all season. We expect to see Nicole Giove, Hayley Ney and Kelly Ryan right on their heels working to minimize the amount of runners in between them. A fifth-place showing for us on the women's side would be excellent in this deep conference!
SCU: Is it really competitive this year with the addition of BYU?
CW: With the addition of BYU, the huge strides made by USF in the last few years, Portland, LMU with Tara Erdmann, who is one of the top 10 runners in the country, and Morgan Haws from BYU, the league will be very competitive this year. But if we can run as a pack, we'll be just fine. That's our goal as a team.
I think we have a really nice mix between the upper classmen, or returners, and the freshmen. Things have really been progressing well all year, especially in practice, which is important. If we can translate that to race day, just worry about what we can control, not get caught up in the other teams race strategy or plan and run what were capable of, then we will be competitive and have a solid finish.
SCU: How do you practice running as a pack?
CW: Doing intervals and running as a team has actually gone really well in practice over the last three weeks. Ever since the Willamette race, the team realized that we could be successful if they run together. So right now it is important for everyone to stay healthy.
SCU: So what kind of intervals do you run?
CW: We do mile repeats and kilometer repeats while running as a pack together.
During the cross country season intervals range based on where we are at the season. Early season is filled with lots of aerobic work including 3-6 mile tempos on the women's side and 5-8 mile tempos on the men's side. Mid-season we start doing some more race pace work with kilometer or mile repeats and then like most collegiate teams, prior to post-season we crank up the intensity, lower the volume and prepare to run fast when it counts.
SCU: Now as far as the men Coach Montoro, Robbie Reid red-shirted last year and has really been looking forward to running WCC's for two years basically. He was runner-up two years ago. What are his expectations and what are your expectations for him for this weekend?
FM: The dynamic is a lot different this year with the No. 3 team in the country participating; and while Portland has competed some of their top guys in years past, they haven't run their full squad. Portland will have to run their full team to keep their streak of winning alive. There are two top 10 teams in the country running with multiple XC All Americans on each team, so we are a little bit more realistic that maybe running for the win isn't necessarily in the cards this year.
But we do not want to put limits on anybody, and Robbie is in excellent form and knows that course better than any of those guys do, having ran it all through high school and all through college. He is going to compete like he would in any other race and try and go for his highest finish possible. He is sharp, he is fit and so top 10 would be a good finish. We are not going to put limits on him. He competed with some really good runners at the Bronco Invite a few weeks ago and he is in better shape now, so we will see if he can mix it up with those front runners in the WCC.
SCU: You've known Robbie since high school, and regionals will be big but this is his biggest race so far. What does it mean for you as a coach to be in that position? Are you excited for him, nervous for him, what's your take on it?
FM: Absolutely, I'm very excited for him. Robbie has been the face of Santa Clara men's cross country the last four years. I hope he can really enjoy the experience.
SCU: When you recruited him did you think he would be that type of athlete?
FM: We knew he had a lot of potential. I think it is important to note that most of the top guys he will be racing with were sub nine-minute high school two milers or successful international runners. Robbie ran 10 minutes for two miles in high school. He has done a lot of work to improve as much as he has. He is very confident and extremely tough mentally and physically.
SCU: And the weather is supposed to be good on Saturday?
FM: The weather is supposed to be good. It is exciting because Robbie has put himself in a position to really represent himself and the school in the best possible manner on race day. I'm really proud of everything he has done, and obviously the better he finishes the happier everybody else will be. He has really done a lot for the program already, so it's exciting that he can do even more.
SCU: You also have a super sophomore as well. How about Ben Demaree?
FM: You can ask Ben, but maybe he would not of come here if it wasn't for Robbie running those times previously. We expect Ben to run with Robbie the whole race. They both are looking great in practice. Ben has the fastest freshman and sophomore times in school history, so he is on track to have a stellar career.
We are really excited for seniors Austin Jones and Chris Sampson to run their final championship race and really lay it out there.
SCU: As you get ready for this race, do you think at all about the NCAA's or do you really just focus on the WCC's and how you are going to finish there?
FM: I think the coaching staff has to think about the whole season in terms of preparation and recovery after the race, but definitely for this week and on race day, that's our focus—what is in front of us, the WCC Championship. The athletes focus on that and let the coaches worry about the meets down the line.
SCU: You have a secret weapon on your coaching staff with 2009 WCC Champion Stephanie Wilson. Stephanie also was the school's first All-American with her 28th place finish at the NCAA Championships. Will she speak to the team about what it takes to be a champion or how to compete on that level?
CW: That's a good idea! We have our meeting tomorrow. Stephanie communicates with them on a regular basis. She has a lot of knowledge about the course, and since a lot of our kids are local and have run the course in high school, they put their knowledge together. But for people like Robbie, he can run this course in his sleep. So just knowing what's around the corner usually puts runners in an advantage and allows them to distribute their energy properly throughout the coarse.
SCU: You normally get a lot of Santa Clara support out at the meet. Are you expecting that again this year?
FM: Well we would just like to see as many people out there as possible to support. It's just 30 miles up the road and is one of the more competitive conferences in the country with two of the top 10 teams in the country running on the men's side. On the women's side it is very deep and also highly competitive with No. 29 USF and three other regionally ranked teams. It's as challenging a cross country course as you'll find anywhere.
SCU: Will the addition of BYU make this the best WCC race ever?
FM: Yes, definitely. BYU is expected to win, but Portland has the record chase going and wants to win and again. The WCC has never had two top 10 teams in the conference or five woman's teams that have been ranked regionally or in the nation. This definitely is the most competitive it's been in the history of the conference. If you're a spectator, it's going to be a good race to watch, a lot of races within the race.