Can The Broncos Topple The Aggies?

It will take some doing, but Boise State hopes to challenge four-time defending WAC Champion Utah State at this weeke's league championships in Reno, Nevada. (Photo by Foto208.com--all rights reserved.)

The Boise State men's cross country team will try to wrestle the Western Athletic Conference championship away from four-time winners Utah State this weekend in Reno .  Coach Brad Wick's team was chosen second by the league's nine coaches while the Bronco women were picked seventh.  New Mexico State will be back to defend the women's title.  

Jason Holt won the men's 8-kilometer run last year and returns for his senior year at Utah State .  The Aggies have been loaded in the distance events for years and this year is no exception.  Fellow senior Steve Strickland finished seventh last year, while Daniel Howell was 16th last year as a freshman.  Juniors Brian McKenna (20th), Hunter Nelson (23rd) and Chio Lopez (33rd) will help the Aggies in their quest to repeat.  McKenna won the Montana State Invitational with a time of 25:11.00 in the five-mile course.     

Juniors Sawyer Bosch and Kevin Higgs have been splendid this fall for Boise State .  Bosch finished ninth while Higgs was 13th last year.  Higgs from Nampa High School won the Roger Curran Invitational in September, beating 70 other runners in the 6K course (18:41.23).    Bosch was third at the Bob Firman Invitational, crossing the finish line in 25:44.72 to help Boise State win the team title.  He was also fifth at the Santa Clara Invitational.   

Brian Pierre was fifth in the WAC Championships as a freshman last year but has not regained his form due to an injury he sustained at the WAC Track Championships last spring.  Scott Foley has improved tremendously this season and finished fourth at the Bob Firman Invitational in September (25:44.86).  Senior Cameron Lockard (18th), sophomore Cassidy Bigsby (25th) and sophomore Quinten Hennekam (47th) will be pushing themselves for improvement this weekend.  

Help arrived with an amazing recruiting class this year.  True freshmen Jeff Howard and Kevin Rosaaen are going to be superstars for the Boise State program.  Howard showed what he can do by finishing 10th at the Santa Clara Invitational (24:49) while Rosaaen was seventh at the Charles Bowles Invitational, running the 8K course in 24:25.02.  To the degree that these talented freshmen can be a factor this weekend will greatly help Boise State 's championship hopes.   

Fresno State could be a factor as well as they return their top runners from last season.  Erick Garcia finished second to Holt by three seconds last year as a sophomore, while senior Frank Sanders was eighth and sophomore Eric Battles 12th.  Paul Zwama, who was a star on the Bulldog track team last year, finished second at the Santa Clara Invitational, beating Boise State 's Bosch by 10 seconds.  He set a career best with a time of 24:33 to help Fresno State to a second-place team finish.  

Idaho will pin its hopes on Markus Geiger, who finished fourth as a freshman last season.  Geiger, who is from Bad Neustadt, Germany, won the Clash of the Inland Northwest with a time of 20:10 over 6-K, taking the title by 15 seconds.  Fellow sophomore James Clark finished 17th a season ago while senior Jeremiah Johnston was 22nd.  

Host Nevada has to be considered a favorite as well since they are familiar with the course.  Sophomore Jordan Burke was second at the 5K WAC Preview Open earlier in the month, crossing the finish line in 20:05 .   

Junior Brandi Gutierrez of New Mexico State is the top returning finisher from last year's championships—she was fourth in the 5-kilometer run.  The Aggies have three other stars that finished in the top 20 from a year ago—senior Ingrid Flores (13th) and juniors Brittany Hurtado (16th) and Amy Arenas (19th).  Sophomore Courtney Schultz is beginning to make her presence known as well.  Schultz clocked a 17:20 in the 5K race at the Santa Clara Invitational to finish third and help the Aggies beat out 16 other squads for the team title.

Nevada and Idaho both have strong contingents from last year's championships.  Junior Amanda Moreno (5th), sophomore Jordan Burke (7th) and junior Alma Janet Martinez (20th) are back and will make the Wolf pack a force to be reckoned with.  Idaho's Allix Lee-Painter won the event last year but is gone, leaving senior Maike Holthuijzen (12th), sophomore Teegan Schoch (14th),  junior Erica Digby (18th) and senior Melissa McFaddan (21st) to carry on without her.  

Boise State is a very young team, losing Breanna Sande and Kendra Hernandez to graduation.  Junior Carly Gerard (28th in the 5K last year) is the top returner for the Broncos.  Junior Karleigh Gempler (31st) and sophomore Melody Braden (47th) are the only women with championship experience for Boise State .  Shannon Porter was part of that great freshman class and is already one of the leaders on the team, having finished first at the 4K Curran Invite (14:19.20), second at the Bob Firman (18:05.47) and sixth at the Bowles Invite (17:53.68).   

Fresno State senior Roxanne Sellick was named WAC Athlete of the Week in September after winning the Nevada Twilight with a time of 15:18 on the 4K course.  She won over competitors from Stanford and Nevada among others.  The Bulldogs are also hoping senior Jennifer Hernandez can improve upon last year's eight place finish and senior Marissa McPhall (17th) is back as well.  

Jessica Forrester will lead Hawai'i 's charge.  Forrester won the title at the 4K Big Wave Invitational with a time of 15:05.44  

The WAC runners will test the Washoe County Rancho San Rafael Park course in Reno this Saturday.  This is the first league championship of the year and will produce the early leader in the WAC Commissioner's Cup race.



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