Broncos Take One Final Shot at Aggies

In the final year of being in the WAC, the Boise State cross country team would like to go out on top. What are their chances? This article previews the seven conference teams.

Here is the preseason outlook for WAC cross country teams.


Boise State


Second-year Bronco coach Brad Wick guided the team to a third-place finish in the Western Athletic Conference last season and 15ththat the NCAA District Championships.  Utah State dominated last year's WAC Championships for their fifth consecutive conference title.     

Utah State 's Steve Strickland was the only senior in the top 10 at the WAC Cross Country Championships.  Fresno State 's great Frank Sanders and Utah State 's Jason Holt were the only seniors in the second 10.   

So the battle continues among the tremendous number of underclassmen as they have another year's experience.  Boise State lost second place by just 16.50 total seconds to Fresno State .  With Sanders gone, runner-up is the Broncos to claim.  However, until they can move up to Utah State 's level, they will not be the force they could be.  

The freshman class at Boise State was as solid as it ever has been.  Kevin Rosaaen finished fifth last season with a time of 26:25.5.  The Fircrest, Washington product was the top freshman in the WAC Championships by 27 seconds which earned him not only WAC Freshman of the Year but All-WAC honors as well.  Rosaaen was also 25 seconds behind WAC Champion Brian McKenna of Utah State .  While it is likely he can't make up that much ground, I would not put it past him.  

Meanwhile, fellow frosh Jeff Howard finished 14th last year (27:04.1.  For Boise State to challenge Utah State this year, both he and junior Sawyer Bosch (11th with a time of 26:48.0) must finish in or near the top 10.  Bosch was twice named WAC Athlete of the Week by the league office.  He was third at the Bob Firman Invitational (25:44.72) and at the Charles Bowles Invitation (24:13.72).  Utah State placed six in the top 12 last season and that is a logjam that the Broncos simply must break up.   

Kevin Higgs (20th—27:25.1) and Scott Foley (21st—27:29.5) are back for their senior year and must provide leadership by getting in or near that top 15 as well.  Higgs was another WAC Athlete of the Week honoree last season after winning the 5K Roger Curran Invitational with a time of 18:14.23.  For the Broncos to strongly contend, the task for Higgs and Foley is clear—defeat Utah State's Chio Lopez and Eric Larson, who were 18thtand 19th, respectively.  If they can do that, Boise State has strong championship hopes.  Zach Wiles, 25th last season (27:53.5) is another member of the prized freshman class and as one of the runners with the least experience, can improve the most.  Wiles needs a Top 20 finish which means he needs to knock about 45 seconds off his time.  

Sophomore Brian Pierre (30th last year at 28:04.4) also needs to better his time by nearly a minute or the Broncos need to find another that can be near the top 20.  

Those are all tall orders but represent the task ahead for Boise State if they are to unseat Utah State at the top.  

Junior Quinten Hennekam is one team member that Wick is hoping can improve this fall.  Junior Cassidy Bigsby is another and local product Austin Edwards (from Eagle High School ) has a year's collegiate experience under his belt.  In addition, junior Dusty Klein and sophomore Ethan Slight came over from the track team to help the cross country team last year.



Utah State  

USU is led by Gregg Gensel, who hits a milestone this fall.  Gensel enters his 30th season in Logan , 23 of those as head coach.  Gensel, who also leads the successful Aggie track team, has guided his teams to 28 conference championships.  

Gensel bleeds blue, having graduated from Utah State in 1981 and having either been a student, an assistant coach or head coach at the school for the past 33 years.  

As mentioned above, the Aggies placed six runners in the top 12 at last year's WAC Championships.  Just two of them, seniors Steve Strickland and Steve Atkinson, are gone from the conference championship squad.  Junior Brian McKenna paced all WAC athletes with a time of 26:00.1 on the eight-kilometer course.  Sophomore Daniel Howell (26:04.4) was third and junior Nick Bolinder (26:36.8) captured seventh.

Utah State followed its WAC Championship with a seventh-place performance at the NCAA Mountain Regional.  McKenna paced the Aggies with a 19th-place finish over 10 kilometers (30:36.8) while Bolinder was 23rd (31:07.0) and Howell 27th (31:12.7). In addition, McKenna earned a spot at the NCAA National Championships and placed 69thtout of 250 runners on the 10K course with a time of 30:36.8. 

That is an outstanding trio to have back but it also means that one-third of that group around the top 10 is gone.  Lopez and Larson will battle Boise State 's Higgs and Foley in a battle of four seniors that likely will determine this year's WAC champion.   Senior Casey Snider (23rdrlast year with a time of 27:35.9) is the X-factor that could also put the Aggies over the top once again.  If he can sneak into that top 15, Snider would score the points necessary for a repeat.   

Derek Hastings and Hunter Nelson are back for their senior seasons.  Junior Aaron Clements hopes to show continued improvement.  Sophomores Morgan Empey, Devin Lang, Kyle Moffet, Briton Page, Devin Pierson and Drew Povey are the next group of Aggies who hope to continue the tradition at Utah State .



Fresno State  

While Sanders is gone, Fresno State has a good nucleus to once again challenge for the top.  Senior Erick Garcia (26:04.4) finished second to McKenna last season.  Paul Zwama is also back for his final year after a 10thtplace finish at the WAC Championships (26:45.8).  Big things are expected from Danny Vartanian after a fantastic finish to his freshman season.  Vartanian was 13thtat the conference championships with a time of 26:52.8.   

Depth is a problem with a huge drop-off after that group.  Junior Eric Battles (28:04.1) was the next best Bulldog with a finish of 29th.  

Sophomore Elijah Carrillo (33rdrat the WAC Championships with a time of 28:17.4) needs to make great strides this season.  And senior Mitchell Pfyl (47th with a time of 29:08.2) and sophomore Michael Jamieson (48th—29:09.5) must also continue to improve for the Bulldogs to match last season's second-place finish.


New Mexico State  

New Mexico State has all of their top runners returning and could make a run for the conference title.  Junior Ian Ruybalid (9th last season with a time of 26:42.8) and his brother Jonah, a sophomore (16th, 27:10.5) lead the Aggie cause.  Sophomore Robert Selph was 17th in the WAC last season (27:12.7) and fellow sophomore Ryan Fenton was 22nd (27:31.4).  Junior Kevin Taft (26th, 27:56.0), senior Michael Hart (27th, 27:59.4) and sophomore Terry Williams (28th, 28:03.4) are all back for New Mexico State . 






Idaho has a good young team that, while it probably won't challenge for the conference title, should be somewhere around the middle of the pack.  Junior Markus Geiger finished an impressive fourth last season in the WAC championships with a time of 26:23.1.  Fellow juniors James Clark (24th at 27:46.3) and Alex Brekke (32nd at 28:16.2) help form a good nucleus.  Sophomores Cory Ytsma (34th at 28:18.1) and Sam Salus have to make good strides for Idaho to finish fourth this year—Salus was 39th last season with a time of 28:25.3.  Sophomore Lars Lunstrum (45th, 28:58.1) rounds out the lineup for the Vandals.


San Jose State is again projected to finish sixth and Louisiana Tech seventh.

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