By Chris Boline
As a phoenix rises from the ashes, so has the Nevada cross country team from its disappointing finish at the Mountain West championships two weeks ago.
The Wolf Pack racked up its highest finish in the history of the program with a ninth place standing at the NCAA Mountain Regionals this past weekend. After falling short of its expectations at the Mountain West Conference championships, Nevada finished ahead of three squads that were in front of them at the MWC championships (Colorado State, Utah State and Wyoming). Led by junior Demerey Kirsch, who set a school record over 6,000 meters (21:04), the Pack ended their fall season on a high note after battling with numerous injuries and illnesses throughout the year.
Taking place at Schneiter’s Riverside Golf Course in Ogden, Utah, Nevada entered the race with a strategy that, according to sophomore EmKay Myers, was to stay at the back of the running heap and then start picking runners off at the 3k mark.
Her teammate Sam Diaz also echoed a similar statement to Myers.
“Coach said to us that we need to come out hard in the second half,” Diaz said. “That was our mindset, just go out and murder it, and that’s what we did.”
The strategy paid off for the Wolf Pack as Nevada finished ahead of three other Mountain West schools, including the Rams, who finished third overall at the MWC Championships. As mentioned before, Kirsch finished first for the Pack in 17th place, followed by Diaz (24th), Myers (54th), junior Caitlin Devitt-Payne (77th) and senior Julie Pedersen rounded out the top five in 81st.
During the race, Kirsch was in 21st place heading to the finish line with 400 meters to go. The junior pushed hard in the final quarter-mile and finished ahead of four other runners to set a new school mark and finish in the top 20.
“Being able to leave everything on the course is tough,” Kirsch said. “It’s hard to make your body dig that deep down and when you do find that extra fear, it’s pretty rewarding.”
After the race, the team was embraced by coach Elias and was quickly overcome with what they had accomplished.
“I have never seen coach so excited,” Kirsch said. “His emotion overcame all of us, so we all started crying when he came to congratulate us, and it was all just pretty magical.”
The top teams from the race were Colorado with 29 overall points followed by New Mexico (64) and BYU (109). Nevada’s 9th finish was the highest in school history, beating out their 10th place mark from the 2007 NCAA Mountain Regionals.
There were numerous personal records set for the team. Kirsch set a new best by 42 seconds, Myers was 18 seconds better than her last record, and sophomores Erika Root and Laura Palacios each had a personal best by 17 and 49 seconds, respectively. However, the biggest improvement came from Devitt-Payne who has bettered herself by 69 seconds.
After the race, there were numerous positive aspects to come out for each runner.
“This race showed us about what we could do, even if we aren’t in the best shape,” Myers said. “We haven’t had very many great races, but Friday just showed that we are better than we think we are.”
As the cross country season comes to a close, coach Elias has already started to look ahead to the winter and spring season. However, not before he has congratulated his team on a solid season.
“I think we all thought we could be a good team this year and we got derailed and that happens on occasion,” Elias said. “The belief they showed in themselves, I think they came out of the Regionals sky-high and believe we can have a great track season.”
Chris Boline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.