Written by John Cusick and Garrett Zatlin
Last year was a great one for this Western Colorado team which didn't have high expectations (from us) coming into the season. They were working with a handful of new names and had just lost a few veteran low-sticks from the year prior. Truthfully, we had concerns.
That, however, didn't seem the faze the Mountaineers as they put together a handful of impressive results during the postseason, surprising us with great depth and good-enough front-running. A 4th place finish at the NCAA Championships capped off an excellent postseason for the women of Gunnison, Colorado.
Six women from last year's national lineup are set to the Big Red Machine in 2020 (and it would have been all seven if Alexa Rodriguez didn’t transfer to Texas). While returning six is great, it also means that our expectations are now far higher.
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The beginning of the season is always hard to gauge with Western Colorado. They usually kick off their fall competition with a couple of meets that fly under the radar and the results don’t always show us much.
However, their one big regular season race they ran at was the Chile Pepper Festival. Their times were fast, but the highest finisher was Thiros in 25th place. Tatum was 34th, Doucette was 59th, Malindi Congour was 69th, Gigstad was 92nd and Bailey Sharon was 107th. Admittedly, it was a bit of an underwhelming performance.
That’s not how the season ended though. At the RMAC Championships, they finished 3rd as a team with Thiros and Rodriguez leading the way by placing 11th and 14th, respectively. A strong pack behind them closed out the scoring with finishes of 20-21-22-23-25.
Fast forward to the South Central regional meet and we saw that their 2-3-4-5 runners were just 23 seconds apart, helping the Mountaineers finish 3rd as a team once again. However, Thiros was the 6th place finisher this time the Mountaineers were only 18 points behind Colorado Mines instead of 28 points behind like they were at their conference meet.
At the NCAA Championships, the Western Colorado women honed their pack-running and put together an impressive string of finishes, as their top seven placed 39-42-46-49-63-66-102.
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We expect this team to make a jump in terms of fitness. They were an extremely young group last year as four of their top seven were underclassmen. Roriguez was one of those youngsters, and although her departure to Texas is far from ideal, this team still has a ton of depth and a ton of upside.
Between Katie Doucette, Alyssa Tatum and Hannah Mae Gigstad, the middle portion of this lineup has the potential to be scary good -- especially if these youngsters develop like past Western Colorado low-sticks have.
There's no guarantee that those three women will be All-Americans when the national meet returns, but they were all within the top 50 of the national meet last fall, so we like the chances of that happening.
We also can't dismiss the fact that they had some of the best pack-running in the NCAA last year and boast a returning veteran in Alexia Thiros who looks like she can be a true low-stick. On paper, this team could be a problem for their conference rivals.
After shattering our expectations in 2019, other top-ranked teams in Division II should be prepared for what this group has in store whenever they return to competition.