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Rams cross country looks to win 1st women’s title in 16 years

Collegian+file+photo
Collegian file photo

Just two years ago, head coach Kelly Hart was listed on a DI roster in her final season as a cross country athlete for Notre Dame.

Now she has the chance to accomplish a feat 15 years in the making: bringing the Colorado State women’s team home with a Mountain West championship.

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Originally projected to win the conference in the Mountain West preseason poll, the women’s squad has lived up to expectations, taking home first at the Wyoming Invite and third at the Roy Griak Invitational.

In addition to their stellar performances in Wyoming and Minnesota, the women attended the Nuttycombe Invitational in Wisconsin, where the women’s team placed 17th. Nuttycombe was filled to the brim with tough competition, including nationally ranked North Carolina State. The Rams held their own, placing above every other Mountain West team that attended.

“The whole team did really well,” Emily Chaston said. “(Everyone) had an amazing day.”

In response to the CSU women’s success in their regular-season meets, the Mountain West pre-championship poll saw the Rams receive 10 out of 11 first-place votes, making them the overwhelming favorites.

“It means a lot,” Hart said. “Conference championships always meant a lot to me in college. … It means so much to compete for a team title.”

The Mountain West women’s conference has previously been dominated by New Mexico, who has won the conference for 15 consecutive years. Recently led by three-time NCAA All-American Amelia Mazza-Downie, the Lobos have held a strong grip over the women’s 6K race, but she transferred to Florida, and the Lobos have struggled to fill that void.

On the other hand, the Rams have been in close hunt for years upon end, with this year shaping up more and more to look like the women’s team has a true shot. The team has not finished outside the top five since 2018, and after adding some fresh faces this fall, including NCAA championship qualifying transfer Yasmin Austridge, the women are poised to make a play for the title.

“(The women) want to write their own new legacy and new chapter for Colorado State,” Hart said. “We’ve got this opportunity, so let’s go try and compete for a title.”

The CSU women’s team will be sending 10 runners to Idaho to compete. Some of their top runners include Sarah Carter (20:15), Chaston (20:27.2) and Anna Petr (20:47.4).

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The men’s team will be sending nine runners, and their top runners include Mason Brown (23:45.1), Lars Mitchel, (24:03.3) and Tom Oates (24:03.7). 

The men’s team finished second in the Mountain West championship in 2022 and have their work cut out for them this Friday. The team has previously seen a high amount of success, winning the 2017 conference title and remaining competitive ever since. 

After the end of the 2022 season, the men’s squad lost most of their veteran runners, including their highest scorer at last season’s Mountain West championships, Thomas Chaston.

To compensate, the team brought in transfer Sam Griffith, as well as tripled the amount of first-years from last season. This huge influx of new faces can be difficult for a squad to adapt to, so growing pains are expected. Despite this, many veterans on the team are dedicated to embracing the new young energy.

“I’m just doing my best to get to know all the young guys as best I can (and) … just trying to remember what that transition was like for me,” Oates said. “Going from running at the front of the pack every race as a high school senior to being spat out the back in a college race — (I remember) how difficult that adjustment is.”

Finishing second in the Wyoming Invite and eighth in the Roy Griak Invitational, the CSU men’s team found some success early this season. At the Nuttycombe Invitational, the largest meet of the season, the team struggled. They finished last without a single runner in the top 100.

The Rams men refuse to let that be the case. Instead, they want to strike back. 

“We want redemption. I mean, it’s obviously kind of embarrassing to be dead last in the field,” Oates said. “(Conference) is a much smaller and more intimate field. … It’s kind of personal. We don’t like these teams. We don’t want to lose to them. So I think we just see an opportunity because the title is wide open.”

The men’s main competition over past seasons has been Air Force, who have won the title for the past three years and were projected to bring the championship home once again in the preseason poll. 

With some competitive performances from Boise State and New Mexico and some falters from Air Force at Nuttycombe, many believe the title is more competitive than ever. Hart and the squad is hopeful that if they stay true to their training, they too could have a chance to replicate their success in past years. 

“There’s six teams that are going to be really competitive,” Oates said. “We just want to go out there with the attitude that there’s nothing to lose.”

The Mountain West pre-championship poll saw the CSU men ranked sixth, receiving no first-place votes. Air Force received the most votes, followed by Boise State and New Mexico.

The Rams don’t believe the regular season represents them wholly. Hart and her athletes know the championship atmosphere is night and day when compared to their previous meets, and they plan to be ready. 

“(The championship) is so different than a regular season meet,” Hart said. “We always emphasize that the regular season is important, but the days that really matter are the conference championships. … It’s the ultimate test.”

Will Engle can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @willengle44.

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