The Weber State women’s cross country team won its third Big Sky Conference championship in a row on Saturday in Bozeman, Montana, and freshman Summer Harper won the individual conference title with a time of 16:54.2.
Defending conference champion, Amber Henry, had spent the whole regular season out with a foot injury and Saturday’s race was the first race she had run all season. That left the Wildcats with a lot of questions as they attempted to defend their title.
“I told our girls that someone from this team was going to win it,” heach coach Paul Pilkington said, “I didn’t know who it’d be and not having Amber (Henry) train or race leading up to this week, I didn’t know how she’d hold up. So I told them all to put themselves in a position to win. Summer did that. They all did that. Summer ran a really smart race.”
The Wildcats had four all-conference performers on the women’s side, two of which were freshmen, one a sophomore and one a senior. Harper and Hailey Ricks were the two freshmen and Jamie Stokes was the sophomore while Henry finished tenth as the senior. Ricks finished eighth with a time of 17:16.4 and Stokes placed sixth with a time of 17:15.4.
Harper, the Orem, Utah native and Orem High School graduate broke away from the pack about halfway through the race when she passed an unsurprised Pilkington, seeing one of his freshman in the lead.
“With about a mile to go, Summer broke away with a Montana State runner, and ran by me,” Pilkington said. “She smiled at me and I kind of looked at her and told her she could win it and that’s when she let it go and really closed well down the stretch.”
The men’s team finished fourth behind second-ranked Northern Arizona, 25th-ranked Southern Utah and host Montana State.
“We had about as good of a race as we could have with this team,” Pilkington said. “Trevor (Ricks) and Tyler (Robinson) have been really sick and we are red-shirting Mike Hardy this year, so we knew it was going to be an uphill battle, I was very pleased with how the men ran.”
Robinson was so sick that Pilkington pulled him out of the race. Robinson wanted to see if he could race, so the Cats started with six runners but finished with five.
The men had two all-conference runners. Ricks and Thomas Worob both finished in the top ten, earning the all-conference honors for the men’s team. Ricks finished with a time of 25:00.8 to finish tenth and Worob ran his best race as a Wildcat, clocking in at 24:59.4 and placing eighth.
“I’m very proud of everybody on this team,” Pilkington said, “from Amber who could have very easily to said she wasn’t going to race this weekend after her injury to Amber Ward who was the fifth runner on our women’s side to Tip (Worob) who rant he best race of his career.”
The Wildcats will host the NCAA Mountain Regional on November 15, which will be the next time the three-time Big Sky Champions will run as they try to qualify for the NCAA meet.