Colorado State cross country kicked off the 2017 season in style as Darby Gilfillan (women’s) and Trent Powell (men’s) each were honored by the conference following the team’s first meet of the season on Sept. 1. Along with the individual glory for Gilfillan and Powell, the meet allowed the cross country team to set the tone for the remainder of the season.
This was the first time since 2014 that a Mountain West school has swept the women’s and men’s Mountain West Cross Country Athlete of the Week Awards. Additionally, it was the first time since 2012 that CSU has swept the honors and the first time that either runner has won the weekly award.
The men’s cross country team was projected to win the Mountain West in a preseason poll earlier this season while the women’s team was projected to finish fourth overall. For Gilfillan, getting off to such a hot start is the best way to prove that they belong higher in the rankings.
“It was great to be able to represent CSU and have that kind of start to the season,” Gilfillan said. “Its great motivation for other runners to see that if someone on your team can receive this award then you can as well. I’ve seen other people in the past receive this award and I know what they’ve achieved so I can step it up a level for myself and my team.”
At the CSU Duals, Gilfillan finished first among all collegian runners with a time 17:35. Entering her fourth and final year as a CSU cross country runner, Gilfillan is excited to lead other runners on the team.
“I want to just give as much support and help out as much as possible in my last season,” Gilfillan said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how these girls improve over the next year considering the big step we’ve taken this year and also just leave as big of a mark as I can this season.”
Powell, a junior at CSU, finished the 5k with a time of 14:52, missing first place by just one second. In the process, he finished ahead of All-Americans Joe Kleckler and Zach Perrin who run at the University of Colorado. Following such a successful first tournament, Powell and the rest of the men’s team secured the team’s highest week 1 ranking since 2002 at No. 18.
After finishing off the 2016 season placing 17th overall at the NCAA Championship, Powell believes that this team can reach even greater heights.
“It felt good, we’ve all put in a lot of hard work and now someone is noticing,” Powell said. “I think that we’ve improved a lot, we have a lot of guys that can get us to that first spot. We have a lot of depth, we thought we could do it last year but this year I definitely think we can. I think the guys can be just as good this year if everyone works hard and follows coach’s plan, we have guys that can step up for sure.”
Despite not placing at last year’s championship, the women’s team is looking to turn that around this season.
“I think the girls have improved tremendously and the home meet was a great showing for the whole team,” Gilfillan said. “It really shows that we’ve stepped it up notch from last year and I’m excited to see if we can improve on that predicted fourth place finish and see what we can do with it.”
Head coach Art Siemers is confident in his team, and he does not need any validation from rankings to prove that talent. Though the men’s team is currently the highest ranked team in the Mountain West, Siemers is focused on one race at a time.
“Ranking doesn’t really matter to us,” Siemers said. “You like your team to get the recognition it deserves but they don’t really matter. Our system is set up for qualifying for the NCAA championship. We’ll get a good race in the Midwest in two weeks and we’ll get to show them just how good we are.”
Rather than focus on success in the past, his team understands that there is always room to grow.
“As a team we have a really strong work ethic across the board from every single athlete on the team,” Siemers said. “Everyone buys in to the program and what we’re doing. No one is satisfied with the past success we’ve had and they all want to get better. I think that’s what makes our team special.”
The Rams still have a long season ahead of them before the NCAA Championship. Their next stop is Minnesota for the Roy Griak Invitational on Sept. 3.
Collegian sports reporter Mamadou Balde can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @mamadoubalde62.