LARAMIE, Wyo. - The 1998 cross country season could be a veryexciting one for the University of Wyoming, according to second yearhead coach Larry Judge.
The men's team, which finished sixth out of 13 teams at the 1997Western Athletic Conference Championships, welcomes back five of itstop six runners. The top returnees include sophomore Chris Lee (Eagle,Colo.), who was named the 1997 WAC Freshman of the Year for crosscountry; junior David Roberts (Loveland, Colo.); junior Joe Hall(Buffalo, Wyo.); sophomore Ryan Boysen (Laramie, Wyo.); and juniorNathan McLeland (Gillette, Wyo.). Add to that young group redshirtfreshman Greg Schabron of Laramie, and you have an extremely strongnucleus for the next two years.
"On the men's side, we return virtually everyone from a team thatplaced sixth at the WAC Championships," said Judge. "We also have aredshirt in Greg Schabron from Laramie, who we feel will make our teameven stronger than it was a year ago."
"I honestly believe our men's squad can challenge for one of thetop three spots in the WAC. I really feel that with the added maturityof this team, that goal is achievable."
In addition to Lee's obvious potential, Judge likes the depth onthe '98 version of the Cowboy squad.
"In cross country, having a balanced squad is very important if youwant to win a conference championship," added Judge. "You have to havea great deal of consistency from your first to fifth runner. Therecan't be a lot of difference between your five runners if you want toscore well as a team.
Our front runner again this season should be Chris Lee. A yearago as a freshman, Chris placed 14th at the WAC Championships and wasnamed the 1997 WAC Freshman of the Year. Now with that year ofexperience at the collegiate level under his belt and with another yearto train and develop, I believe Chris should have an excellent chanceto qualify for the nationals.
Right behind Chris, I see Dave Roberts. Dave really blossomed inthe track season for us. He was fifth in the mile run at the WACIndoor Championships and finished second in the 3,000-metersteeplechase at the WAC Outdoor Championships -- nearly winning a WACindividual title. Dave also came back to score team points with aseventh-place finish in the 5,000 meters outdoors. Chris and Daveshould be solid No. 1 and 2 runners for us this coming season.
Joe Hall and Ryan Boysen are looking to take the third and fourthspots. Joe and Ryan are real solid competitors, and I look for both ofthem to place a lot higher in the WAC Championships.
Greg Schabron should be right up there with Boysen and Hall. ALaramie native, I really see Greg as having a bright future for us.
Rounding out the top five to six runners for us will be NathanMcLeland (Gillette, Wyo.). Nathan was a very consistent runner for usin cross country last year and also performed well during the trackseason."
What Judge hopes to accomplish with the cross country schedule thisyear is not to punish his athletes physically, but build them towardthe NCAA District Championships in November at Brigham YoungUniversity.
"We're going to start off at home on Sept. 4 with the WyomingInvitational that will feature some of the top teams in our area,"Judge commented. "The next week we'll travel to Colorado State wherewe will again get an opportunity to see some of the top areacompetition. After taking a week off, we'll go down in altitude torace at the University of Minnesota.
We've scheduled a couple of other races at altitude -- the RockyMountain Shootout in Boulder (Colo.) and the BYU Invitational. One ofthe reasons we've done that is because our District Championships arealso going to be in Provo (Utah). The District meet is obviouslyimportant to prepare for because it is the qualifying meet for the NCAAChampionships. Prior to the District Championships we will travel toHouston, Texas, where Rice University will host the WAC Championships."
While the men's squad returns its squad virtually intact, the UWwomen's team will be looking to replace many of its top performers. Infact, the Cowgirls lose three of their top five finishers on a squadthat placed sixth out of 16 teams at the 1997 WAC Championships.
"On the women's side, we will be in a rebuilding year," said Judge."When you lose your top two runners from the previous season, it'sdifficult to immediately replace those types of individuals. HeatherAnderson (Missoula, Mont.) was an All-District performer in crosscountry, finishing 24th at the District Championships, and MollyMoulton-Cochran (Rush City, Minn.) was our other top runner, going onto qualify for the NCAA Indoor Championships in the mile run. Theyboth had great careers at Wyoming.
This coming year weire looking at Amy Hill (Duluth, Minn.) to beour front runner. Amy actually was our second best finisher at theconference championships a year ago, placing 32nd out of 120 runners.I not only feel Amy has the talent to have a successful year, but shealso has the dedication as she is staying in Laramie for the summer towork on her fitness level.
Kirsten Mathison (Worland, Wyo.) is very fit, and I think withadded maturity could be a big contributor for us this season.
Both Amy and Kirsten were contributors to our sixth-place finish inthe WAC on the women's side.
Another individual I see being a big contributor next season willbe Melissa Greer (Littleton, Colo.). This will be Melissa's seniorseason in cross country. Iim looking for Melissa to step in and be ourthird runner.
Rounding out our top five should be two Wyoming natives. Lisa Simsis from Laramie. Lisa will be a redshirt freshman in cross country.She didn't begin competing for us last year until the indoor season.Jessica Strahan (Sheridan, Wyo.) is the other Wyoming native. Jessicawas injured last year during cross country in a car accident. Sheworked very hard in the fall to get back in shape and came back tocompete in the indoor and outdoor seasons for us."
Judge's main concern on the women's side is depth. But he saidthat he and his staff were still in the process of recruiting women forthe cross country program. His other concern is the same concern as 14other cross country coaches in the Western Athletic Conference -- theBYU women's cross country program.
"Cross country on the women's side of the WAC is not very balanced,due to the domination of BYU," said Judge. "BYU not only dominated ourleague last year, taking four of the top five individual spots, butthey went on to capture the National Championship.
But even with a young team, I think we have the ability to finishin the upper division if we can get a balanced effort from everyone onthe team."
The 1998 cross country season begins for the Cowboys andCowgirls on Friday, Sept. 5 when they host the Wyoming Invitational inLaramie.