Records were not safe Friday morning on the Steve and Dona Reeder Cross Country Course at Utah State University.
The Aggies were hosting the Mountain West Championships. With the sun out, perhaps the runners shined despite the temperature hovering in the high 20’s to low 30’s for the races.
USU’s Dallin Farnsworth won the men’s 8K race in a conference-record time of 23 minutes, 12 seconds, becoming the first Aggie to ever win a MW Championship race. New Mexico’s Weini Kelati easily defended her 2018 title, winning the women’s 6K race in 19:11, also a MW record time.
“I didn’t know I had gotten any record,” said Farnsworth, who won by 10 seconds. “Records are meant to be broken so I’m sure my record will be broken. It’s exciting to run well.”
“Was it a record?” said Kelati, who won by a whopping 49 seconds. “I did not know that. I am surprised by that.”
The win by Farnsworth in front of the home fans was made even sweeter as the Aggies had three runners finish among the top six and their five counting toward the team score crossing the finish line among the top 16. No. 22 USU, who came into the meet seeded second in the MW, ended up winning by a large margin over Colorado State, 42 to 74, to capture its first-ever MW title in cross country.
“It was fantastic; I couldn’t be prouder of them,” USU head coach Artie Gulden said of the Aggie men. “They were really patient. We wanted to move up the second half and have some running left the last 2K and they did that really well. They executed.”
Rounding out the men’s field were Wyoming (75), No. 18 Boise State (88), Air Force (106), New Mexico (111), San Jose State (220), Nevada (243) and Fresno State (276).
“Guys stepped up today, and it as a true team win today,” Gulden said. “... Winning this has been the main goal. I’m very happy.”
On the women’s side, the Lobos won their 12th straight MW cross country title, which is the ninth-longest streak in the NCAA — for men or women. No. 11 New Mexico finished with 31 points in a loaded women’s field as they had three runners among the top five and five in the top 13. No. 14 Air Force was second (54) with No. 13 Boise State (63) in third. Rounding out the women’s team scores were Colorado State (114), USU (134), Wyoming (170), San Jose State (194), Nevada (244), UNLV (293), San Diego State (299) and Fresno State (326).
“We wanted to beat Colorado State, and Colorado State had a good day,” Gulden said. “... I thought the ladies ran really tough and executed the race plan well. On the women’s side when you have three teams ranked in the top 20, that’s some amazing competition.”
Farnsworth raced the men’s 8K to perfection. The senior from Pocatello, Idaho, had a little extra motivation to stay back in the pack for the first 6K.
“I felt a little antsy the first 5 to 6K, but my coach said anyone that takes the lead before 6K, I’m going to tackle you,” Farnsworth said. “After leading at the last race in Wisconsin and not finishing well, I thought I better listen to coach on this one. It actually felt really good.”
Farnsworth was named the MW Athlete of the Year, while Gulden took home the Coach of the Year for the men.
The Aggie harrier made his move with 2K left and never really was challenged. He wondered for a moment if he had picked up the pace too soon.
“I felt like it was time to own it and I felt like I had a few more gears,” Farnsworth said. “It definitely gives me confidence heading into regionals in two weeks.”
The top seven finishers were listed as first-team all-MW, while the next seven earned second-team all-MW. Aggies Luke Beattie and James Withers finished fifth and sixth, respectively with times of 23:23 and 23:24. Caleb Garnica was 14th in 23:40. Cache Valley native J.D. Thorne missed out on earning an award, but certainly helped the team win by finishing 16th in 23:43.
“The fifth man is just as important as the first guy,” Gulden said.
Farnsworth was happy to see so many teammates right behind himself.
“A strength of our team this season has been our pack time,” Farnsworth said. “Last year we had just one guy in the top seven, so to have three this year is an exciting thing for us. We want to continue to improve.
“... We had a great advantage being on our home course. We know the course really well. I knew the parts that would be hard and where I could make some moves.”
Unlike the men’s race, Kelati jumped out the early lead and never looked back. Several Lobos tried to go with her, but the junior who was born in Eritrea but grew up in Leesburg, Virginia, smoked the field as she proved once again how strong she is.
“I was not trying to go out too hard, because I wanted to see how we would do as a team,” Kelati said. “I was trying to finish strong and see what position I could be in.”
She left no doubt what place she would be in as the gap widened throughout the race. Kelati is a two-time All-American and was second at the NCAA race last year. She has high hopes this year.
“We have big races coming up,” Kelati said. “We do it as a team always. We will see how nationals goes. I want to do better than last year.”
The top Aggie woman was Katie Struthers-Haviland, who finished in 18th in 21:00. The junior from Lehi was 16 seconds out of earning league honors. The pace was so fast by the leaders that the USU runners make sure to not get caught up in going too fast at first.
“Our coach knows what we are capable of,” Struthers-Haviland said. “We follow the plan and don’t try and go after individuals. ... My approach was to take as many people with me. I wanted to feel good the first half and then push the second half.”
USU was shooting for fourth place, but came up a spot short.
“Our main race plan heading in was to stick with Colorado State and key off them,” Struthers-Haviland said. “We were really hoping to beat them and got close. That’s something to work on for next time at regionals.”
The USU women’s team is freshman heavy with four that ran Friday. Two of those were the second and third finishers for the Aggies in Mimi Miyazawa (21:05) in 22nd place and Sky View alum Arianna Steiner (21:16) in 31st.
“The freshmen have been doing a great job for us all year and that was no different today,” Gulden said. “The future is exciting.”
“I love our freshmen,” Struthers-Haviland said. “They are all very talented and excited. ... They have been doing really well.”