The University of Montana golf course was filled to the brim with anyone but golfers on Friday, Sept. 24th. Instead, crowds of spectators sprinted across the green in sandals and boots with cameras in hand to catch a picture of the eight teams of male and female cross-country runners as they zoomed by.
The Montana men’s cross-country team took the win at its home turf Montana Open cross-country meet. The UM women notched fourth place.
The Montana Open featured a three-loop, 7-kilometer distance men’s race along with a two-loop 5-kilometer race for the women.
“Running On Empty” by Jackson Browne rang in the background as the Griz men caught the last warm-ups of short sprints and high jumps. The announcer gave the one-minute warning; the music stopped and the crowd went quiet.
With 30 seconds left until the start, shouts of “Go Griz” emerged from a small crowd of students. When the gun went off, a musical rumble of feet sounded as competitors ran shoulder-to-shoulder down the flagged course.
Within the first loop, the Griz established a four-pack of their top runners near the front of the race. The leader at the time –– who remained the leader the entire race –– was Montana State University junior Cooper West.
The course was relatively flat, except for one dreadful, uphill portion in the second loop of the course. By the time the competitors got to the hill, the Griz runners had faded and spread throughout the top ten.
The hill was first conquered by two Bobcats, West and Owen Smith, running within meters of each other. Soon after, the first UM runner to reach the top was freshman Jordan Hansen.
In the final loop, UM held its ground and kept to the front of the race. Hansen ran through the finish line as the lead for the Griz with a fifth place finish overall, followed seconds behind by junior Truman Cohen with a sixth place finish.
Senior runner for the Griz Benjamin Vanderbosch said the team performed well despite missing its top two runners this race, Joel Mendez and AJ Eckmann, because of injury and COVID-19.
Vanderbosch said he had a good race even though the hill was tough. He was happy they changed the course, because in past races on the golf course, they had to run the hill twice.
“It was a good time and a solid day, we got a really good team this year,” Vanderbosch said.
Soon after the last men’s runner crossed the finish line, the 20-minute warning sounded for the women’s 5K.
The race took off in a quick funnel of women as each elbowed for her spot on the course. The women’s race was much more spread out than the men’s, making it difficult for the sweat-dripping spectators to catch everyone at the same spot.
The Griz women kept close to the top at the beginning of the race, but spread out by the time they hit the second loop. UM junior Beatrix Frissell, who is currently unattached to the Griz but trains with the team, rocked dark shades and a plain black singlet.
With a third-place finish, Frissell looked calm and collected as she worked her way back down the course to cheer on the women she practiced with. Runners sprinted down the silver-flagged chute held up by parents and fans.
Post-race, the Lady Griz team could be found panting and lying starfished on the grass in a spread-out Grizzly blob.
UM junior Bridget Boyle took the official first spot finish for the Griz with a time of 18 minutes and 17 seconds.
“Oh man, it hurt, to be expected, but it was so much fun,” Boyle said with a laugh.
Molly Sherman, a UM freshman, was 13 seconds from her personal best time for a 5-kilometer race.
“That’s pretty damn good,” she said.
“It was so good, I set a massive personal best,” UM junior Leah Gath said, smiling through tears as she fought to catch her breath after the race.
This time last year, Gath wasn’t able to run because she broke her pelvis.
“I never thought I’d get here,” Gath said as Sherman and Boyle pulled her in for a sweaty and tearful group hug.