Cross Country Teams Head to Missoula for Montana Invitational

Eagles to face off with Big Sky Conference rivals Montana and Montana State

The Eastern Washington University men’s and women’s cross country teams will face off against a fellow Big Sky school for the second-straight meet as they compete at the Montana Invitational Friday (Sept. 28) in Missoula, Mont.

The women kick off the meet with the 5,000 starting at 5:15 p.m. with the men to follow in the 8,000 at 5:45 p.m. (MST). For Eastern, both the men’s and women’s teams finished fourth at the same meet last year with the men scoring 90 points and the women finishing with 103.

“I like to see where our athletes stack up against particular athletes from other programs and this is a great place to do that,” head coach Chris Zeller said.

The host Montana Grizzlies will be competing in the meet along with Montana State, who fared well in the latest USTFCCCA Regional Rankings. The Bobcat men were ranked eighth while the women were ranked 10th in the Mountain Region. 

“Montana State is a very strong team,” Zeller said. “With all the redshirts we have it will be tough to compete with them, but I’m hoping for us to get little wins out of the meet.”

On the women’s side Zeller expects Berenice Penaloza to have another strong showing. The redshirt freshman and team captain has been the top finisher for the Eagles at both meets this season.

“I’m excited to see where Berenice is at,” Zeller said. “She’s been fairly consistent, but I think she’s due for a breakthrough race and I’d like to see that out of her.”

Zeller also made note of how senior Jessi Johnson’s experience will play into this meet. “Jessi likes running in Missoula with her having already ran there three times, I’m expecting her to have a good race,” Zeller said.

Behind Penaloza, the next spots appear to be up for grabs and anyone can step up, according to Zeller.

For the men, freshman phenom David Thor will look to compete with some of the other top individuals in the Big Sky. The true freshman has been the No. 1 runner for Eastern in both meets this season.

“I’m looking forward to see what David can do at this meet,” Zeller said. “He’s been a stellar freshman but this will be his first test against some talented Big Sky schools. I want him to go in there and rub elbows with some other top runners.”

Quin Olivas and Nathan Fall are two other runners Zeller expects to work out the kinks and perform well.

“Quin has had some shin splint issues, but he’s had some great workouts despite that,” Zeller said. “If he can manage his pain level, I’d like to see him make some strides and move closer to David.”

“Nathan needs to be able to run smooth. He tends to get a little choppy so if he can avoid that he should be able to run up with Quin,” Zeller said.

The men’s roster will continue to stay slim with just five runners competing, but Zeller is hopeful to get Jordan Curnutt back for the Conference Championships Oct. 28 in Flagstaff, Ariz. Curnutt had knee surgery a few weeks ago and is in the rehabilitation process.

“I’m optimistic in that I’ve definitely seen improvement in the five weeks we’ve been at it and it’s great to see that in a short amount of time,” Zeller said. “I feel like it’s been a good fall in terms of training. Hopefully they will continue that trajectory and peak at the right time later in the season.”

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