MSU Denver cross-country owned both the event title and the results sheet in the Roadrunner Invitational on Oct. 7.
The men’s team finished in first place out of eight teams and the women’s placed second of five in the meet at Washington Park in downtown Denver. The event also featured a citizen’s 5k at the conclusion of the meet, with open registration for anyone who wanted to be involved. Being the final meet on the team’s four-event schedule, it was the team’s last tuneup before the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference championship.
“It means a lot, because a lot of schools don’t host their own meet,” said sophomore runner Sam Berg. “It’s a good event to celebrate the sport of running and celebrate our great state and our great university.”
The race was held in the northern half of Washington Park, featuring numerous turns to utilize the small space, winding through thicker, more uneven grass than most manicured cross-country courses. Most elevation changes were gradual, with the exception of an incline around the one-mile marker.
The women raced first in a two-lap 6k. As has been the case in all four meets up to this point in the season, the team was spearheaded by the trio of junior Sabrina Rautter, senior Mali Smith and freshman Alden Gruidel. They finished 11th, 13th and 14th, respectively, of 52 runners. Spots one through seven were filled by independent track club representatives or unaffiliated runners, meaning the Roadrunners occupied three of the top seven places that contributed points toward the collegiate team placement.
University of Colorado-Colorado Springs placed runners in spots eight through 10, locking down first place in the meet with 28 points. MSU Denver finished behind them with 53 points, with an average time of 25:36.27. Rautter’s 24:34 led the Roadrunners to their highest finish in the event since winning in 2013, even as she recovered from an illness that has bothered her for several weeks.
“I was excited to go into this race, but it was hard being sick,” Rautter said. “I’m not too worried about the time today, but I did push myself out there. My teammates did really well too, we were 1-2-3.”
In the men’s 8k, senior Brandon Krage finished fourth to set the tempo for his team. He posted his personal best in his fourth and final run at the Roadrunner Invitational, beating his previous best by 16 seconds despite vomiting in the final bends of the race.
“I got knocked out of my rhythm in the final stretch, just started puking,” Krage said. “I think I just ate too close to the race.”
Through the upset stomach, Krage finished fourth overall behind a pack of three at the top that were separated by only two seconds. Behind him, fellow senior Jason Carey placed seventh and Berg placed ninth. The team earned points in the fourth, seventh, eighth, 11th and 21st spots en route to 51 points, seven ahead of the Old Zealand Running Club. While it was the first time the team has won the event since 2013, they have finished in second every year in between.
Berg’s top-10 finish comes in his first race of the season after missing nearly the entire schedule with an injury he developed training over the summer. Before Saturday, his last cross-country action was on Nov. 5, 2016 in the NCAA DII South-Central Regional Championships, where he placed 60th out of 193 competitors. The event was also held at Washington Park.
The Roadrunner Invitational marked another important first for the team: new head coach Trent Mack’s first home-field event.
Mack was brought on in July to take the reins of the cross-country team after the departure of Nick Maas last season. He has developed a comfort level and camaraderie with his runners, putting himself in the thick of the race by excitedly cheering them on in the final turns of both races.
“I relate back to what it’s like when they’re out there,” Mack said. “They’re working hard and you have a lot of things going through your mind. I’m excited for them more than anything.”
With their regular season meets completed, all that remains for the Roadrunners are championship events. On Oct. 21, the team will travel to Chadron State College, the hosts of the 2017 RMAC Championship, where they will compete with in-conference foes like No. 1 Adams State University and No. 8 Colorado State University-Pueblo. The Roadrunners will try to earn a spot in the South-Central Regionals and the NCAA Championship from there.