The conditions in Ashland, Ohio, on Saturday for the 2002 NCAA Division II cross country nationals weren't ideal for the normal breed. But the ice, snow and cold were just what the runners from Colorado teams, including Moffat County High School alumni Kelly Christensen and Emily Mortensen, were ready for.
"It was to our advantage because we run in cold weather all the time," said Mortensen, who earned All-American status with a 23rd-place finish. "We had to dodge puddles and ice patches throughout out the race. It was fun."
After the Mountaineers won the national title by 46 points, Christensen, who finished 15th, and his teammates were accused of having the home-course advantage by second-place team Abilene Christian University a school in Texas.
"They were complaining that they never train in such cold and miserable conditions," he said. "But at Western (in Gunnison) we run in this a lot."
While both former Bulldogs were running in their first cross country nationals, the paths to get there were rather different.
Christensen finished fourth in Class 4A in cross country his senior year at MCHS and is in his third year at Western. After red-shirting his first year, he wasn't on varsity of last year's national championship team. This summer, he stayed in Gunnison and trained with the rest of his team and molded himself into an All-American.
"Going into the race, I wanted to help the team win a title, place in the top 15 and be the top sophomore in the race," he said.
He was able to accomplish two of the three as his teammate, sophomore Will Banks, had the best race of his season and finished fourth, after running behind Christensen most of the season.
Coming into this year, Mortensen hadn't even run in a cross country race. After transferring from Dakota Wesleyan, where she played basketball, she laced up the cross country spikes for the first time this fall. The volleyball player at MCHS was a pleasant surprise for the Adams State team, which was ranked first throughout the season.
"We had so many things that didn't go as planned at nationals," she said. "Our second runner was injured, one of our other runners lost her shoe during the race and our top runner wasn't dressed when the gun went off."
Despite all of the misfortune, the Grizzlies finished second, three points behind in-state rivals Western.
"It was pretty disappointing because we had beat Western all year," she said. "It just wasn't our day."
As for Mortensen, earning All-American status after just starting to train for the first time in May was fairly satisfying.
"I was happy with my finish although I would have liked to have been in the top 15," she said. "This season was a learning experience for me because I never knew how much I had left toward the end of the race as I was just learning."
After getting a break for Thanksgiving, the athletes will travel back to their respective schools and start preparing for indoors and the seasons ahead
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.