The Wyoming Cowboys cross country team enters the 2019 season in uncharted territory.
Ten months after taking the country by storm with a 12th-place finish at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, the Cowboys begin their season ranked in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches preseason poll (No. 16) for the first time in program history. That’s because the Cowboys return five of their six top finishers from last year, including Mountain West individual champion Paul Roberts.
In addition to those top returners, the coaching staff expects contributions from Laramie natives Philip Henry and Albert Steiner.
“On paper, we return a really good crew,” new head coach Scott Dahlberg said. “Return five of the top six and we’ve got guys who progressed well. We redshirted four guys last year who will be freshmen this year who progressed extremely well. So we’re really excited to see what that new crew does.”
Both the Cowboys and the Cowgirls debut their 2019 squads on Friday at the Wyoming Invitational, to be ran at Cheyenne’s Little America Golf Course. Wyoming excitedly hosted an early season invite last year and local runners are happy to once again start the season close to home, even though it’s not going to be at the level of other meets.
“Kind of low-key in nature, a rust-buster, if you will,” Dahlberg said. “It’ll be shorter than they compete normally, but it’s a good chance to get the competitive juices flowing.”
Still, some of the other teams competing will be top tier. As far as men’s teams go, Colorado is ranked No. 4 and Colorado State is ranked No. 17 in the preseason poll. NCAA Division II Western State is ranked No. 2 in that poll. Competition gets even dicier on the women’s side as defending champion Colorado returns this season as the No. 1 team in the country.
So this weekend’s race will be beneficially especially to the Cowgirls, who will rely on a young squad this season. They have just two seniors: Ashley Bock and Kacey Doner. Bock comes off an injury while Doner returns to the cross country team after a successful outdoor track season.
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“After that it’s pretty much a lot of sophomores and redshirt freshman that we’re really excited about,” Dahlberg said. “Good work ethic, pretty good culture, they’re bought in. Our goal is to immerse in the process and see some progress over the course of the season.”
One of those younger runners the Cowgirls need is sophomore Katelyn Mitchem, who posted Wyoming’s best finish three times last season.
Dahlberg hopes to have more Cowgirls emerge throughout the season in order to ensure a strong season. He’s been with the program for years as an assistant coach before former head coach Bryan Berryhill elected to focus on the track and field program and hand the cross country team over to Dahlberg. As a result, Nick Costello was promoted from volunteer assistant to full-time assistant and former Cowgirl runner Solana Quistorff comes to the staff as a volunteer assistant while she finishes school.
While the Wyoming Invite may not be the premier event either team will attend this year, it is the only meet they have for nearly a month. Following Friday’s race (which will be preceded by a high school race featuring Wyoming and Colorado schools), the Cowboys and Cowgirls return to Laramie for intense training before the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational on Oct, 4. Two weeks after that the Cowboys travel to Wisconsin while the Cowgirls head west to Santa Clara, California. Soon after that it will be time for the Mountain West Championships at Logan, Utah.
Expectations taken into consideration, the team hopes to still have a meet left to run after Utah. The onus is on them to ensure that happens.
“The way to get to the national championship in cross country,” Dahlberg said, “in addition to running well at the end of the season, is show that you’re consistent. So we have to show we can beat quality teams early.”
It doesn’t get a whole lot earlier than Friday afternoon in Cheyenne.