By Mike Stetson
© 2010 Idaho Press-Tribune
They call themselves diamonds in the rough, while coach Pat McCurry says they’re serious students who also want to run.
The results say the College of Idaho men’s cross country team is simply one of the best — at any level.
The Coyotes, ranked No. 9 in the NAIA, have proven their talent time and again this season as they’ve beaten four different NCAA Division I teams — Montana, Eastern Washington twice, Idaho State twice and Gonzaga twice — on the hills, fields and trails.
“This season’s been awesome,” said Andrew Hugill, a sophomore from Colorado Springs, Colo. “We’ve been running at a lot of higher-level meets, with a lot of D-I teams, and we’ve just been coming in, running hard at every meet and doing really well.”
“It’s a lot of fun,” adds senior Paul Sartin, a Bishop Kelly High product. “A lot of people (think) College of Idaho, it’s a small school. We go to meets and don’t get a lot of respect, they think they should beat us easily, but it’s kinda cool when we do run and beat these guys. Their heads will turn and they’ll be like, ‘Whoa, where’d these guys come from.’”
The C of I programs have been historically strong since cross country was re-established for the 2004 season under McCurry.
In the past six seasons, the Yotes have had three NAIA All-Americans, the C of I women are currently the two-time defending Cascade Conference champs, and the C of I has sent six teams to nationals.
Of late, the Coyote men also have been racking up wins over D-I programs, beating Eastern Washington, Gonzaga and Idaho State last season as well.
The addition of sophomores like Hugill, Greg Montgomery, from Boise High, and Dominic Bolin, from Payette High, has helped the C of I men excel.
“A lot of these guys that came here could have run at Division I schools but they didn’t want running to be their entire life, they wanted to have a balanced experience and they’re really, really serious about their academics, and that’s what this team’s been built on,” said McCurry, whose team will be in action tonight at 5 on the Fairview Golf Course, hosting the Coyote Twilight.
Boise State, Eastern Oregon, Northwest Nazarene and Treasure Valley Community College all will be competing with the Coyotes, with the women’s 5-kilometer race starting at 5 p.m., and the men’s 8K at 5:45.
Montgomery, who is coming off an individual victory by eight seconds at the Idaho State dual on Oct. 9, is a prime example of the Yotes’ student-first, student-athlete.
“I came here for the school situation, the biology program was the main thing,” said Montgomery, a teammate of Boise High stars like Eric Fitzpatrick and Max Hardy, now D-I runners at Oklahoma State and Montana, respectively.
Not driven by D-I aspirations, Montgomery, a mountain biker who doesn’t consider himself a runner because he doesn’t run year-round, admits he did enjoy racing, and beating, his good friend Hardy and the Grizzlies earlier this season.
As for that win a week ago?
“I’m not used to being the top guy,” he added, a bit surprised by his success.
The Coyotes aren’t surprised by their success, though, as they truly do focus on working together.
“We have one objective and one goal, we have been working together as a team,” said Kiprotich Langat, a junior from Nairobi, Kenya. “So we have seen definitely some improvement. ... Teamwork’s really good for us and it’s working well.”
It’s been one key to success, as the C of I’s top four in their last race — Montgomery, Sartin, Bolin and Hugill — were within 28 seconds of each other, with Langat 1:10 behind.
“I think we have been using the leading guys to pull the rest of the team up, ... every week we see some improvement,” Langat said of training with such strong runners.
Another key has been coaching, as all the C of I men credit their individual improvement and team attitude to McCurry.
“I think it’s just our coaching is big-time,” said senior Alex Goold, a Mountain View High product. “Pat, he does great with us.”
McCurry appreciates the compliment, but quickly turns the focus back to the team, adding that if all five runners finish with a minute of each other, as fast as the Yotes’ front-runners are, the C of I could contend for the league title and a top-place finish at nationals.
They are big aspirations considering the C of I men will be racing against the NAIA’s No. 1 ranked team, Southern Oregon, on Nov. 6 at the conference meet.
The Coyotes are confident, though.
“We run head-to-head with them,” Hugill said, “we get close to beating them every time. We’ll see what happens.”