A memorable race for Aggies: Maggard, Carter shine at Mountain Regionals
The most prestigious cross country meet ever to be held in Cache Valley ended up being a memorable one for Utah State.
For starters, Dillon Maggard became the seventh Aggie since 2003 to punch a ticket to the NCAA National Championships. Maggard will be headed to nationals because he flat-out shined at the NCAA Mountain Region Championships on a beautiful Friday at Steve and Dona Reeder Course.
The top four individuals in each of the nine regional meets from non-qualifying teams will earn the right to compete at nationals, and Maggard will surely be one of those after finishing eighth — believed to be the best finish ever for a USU men’s harrier at this meet — in a loaded field. The junior covered the 10K course in 31 minutes, 2 seconds, only eight seconds behind champion Futsum Zienasellassie of Northern Arizona, the nation’s top-ranked team.
“It’s feels really good,” said Maggard, who was a second-team All-American in the mile during the 2016 indoor track & field season. “I feel lucky to have the privilege to go represent Utah State, and I’m really excited. It’s kind of what I’ve been training my whole life for, so it’s a dream come true.”
Maggard will find out today if he will be joined at the NCAA Championships by teammate Kashley Carter. Like Maggard, Carter put together arguably the best performance of her career by finishing 15th in a deep women’s field. The sophomore crossed the finish line with a 6K time of 20:28.
“It was so exciting,” Carter said. “It was everything I hoped for. It was so fun to be here in front of the home crowd and it was an amazing race. I was planning on a good start, and I got that. I stayed strong throughout most of the race, setting a goal of making it into the top 15, and I hit it.”
Unfortunately for Carter, if Colorado State doesn’t receive an at-large bid to nationals, she will miss out on a trip to Terre Haute, Indiana, by two-10ths of a second. If the Rams do get into the field of 31, Carter will be the third individual qualifier from the Mountain Region.
A pair of CSU harriers finished 13th and 14th, both less than one second ahead of Carter, who managed to beat every competitor from Top 25 teams Utah and BYU. The Aggies haven’t had a women qualify for nationals since Tiffany Strickland in 2005.
“Dillon’s worked very hard and Kashley’s worked very hard, and (assistant coaches) Artie (Gulden) and Sarah (Griggs) have done a great job of coaching them,” USU head coach Gregg Gensel said. “And it’s been a lot of fun watching them progress this year and do the things that they’ve been able to do.”
As heartbreaking as that scenario would be for Carter, she still helped lead the Lady Aggies to their best performance at regionals since 2008, when they also placed eighth.
As expected, top-ranked Colorado cruised to the women’s title. The Buffaloes placed their first six runners in the top 12 en route to an ultra impressive team score of 35. No. 6 New Mexico was second with 109 points, two fewer than third-place Air Force.
USU finished ahead of 12 teams in the women’s competition, including Wyoming, which outpointed the Aggies at the Mountain West Championships two weeks ago. The Aggies finished with 232 points.
Likewise, Utah State’s men’s squad placed eighth with 230 points — their best showing since finishing seventh in 2011, and a noteworthy eight places higher than last year. There were 17 teams in the men’s field.
This was the Aggies’ best collective performance as a program at regionals in at least 10 years.
NAU, Colorado and BYU are the top three ranked men’s programs in the country in the latest USTFCCCA Poll, and they finished in that order Friday. The Lumberjacks recorded 60 points, followed by the Buffaloes (76) and Cougars (79). NAU and BYU rested a couple of their top runners at the meet.
Maggard was actually in third place with 100 meters remaining, but was edged at the finish line by five athletes. Nevertheless, Maggard still managed to hold off former Logan High star Jerrell Mock, the 2015 MW champion and 2016 MW runner-up.
Mock, an All-American for Colorado State in cross country and indoor track & field last season, was ninth, a half-second behind Maggard.
“I talked to Jerrell actually before the race and told him I was going to try to run with him, so we were duking it out a little bit the last little bit of the race,” Maggard said. “So, it was good, good competition and, yeah, Jerrell’s a great guy.”
The 19th-ranked Rams finished fourth and are surely headed to Terre Haute. This would be Mock’s third straight appearance at the NCAA Championships. The redshirt junior thoroughly enjoyed running on a course he is very familiar with.
“Usually this meet has so much pressure and nerves involved and to be back home on a course I’ve run on so much kind of puts you at ease,” Mock said. “And, I don’t know, I was almost nervous that I wouldn’t be nervous enough being here, (but) I just felt so relaxed … and was kind of worried I’d lose sight of what a big race it actually is. But it’s just great to be in a familiar place for a meet like this.”
New Mexico’s Alice Wright gapped the field just minutes into the women’s race, and never looked back. The four-time All-American — cross country and track — finished in 19:59, 18 seconds ahead of the silver medalist.
Conversely, nobody took control in the men’s competition until the final 800 or so meters. At least half of the men’s field ran in a tight pack for the first three-plus miles.
Former Preston High standout Colby Wilson held off a trio of teammates for the No. 2 spot for USU’s men. The senior was 50th with a time of 32:19, while teammates Adam Hendrickson — a Box Elder product — Darren Harman and Luke Beattie finished within three seconds of Wilson and were 55th, 56th and 57th.
True freshman Bailee Parker was the second Lady Aggie to cover the loop course. She clocked in at 21:14 and was 37th overall. Rounding out the team scoring for the Aggies were Cierra Simmons (51st, 21:35), Kelsey Yamauchi (54th, 21:38) and Tavia Dutson (76th, 22:06).
Of USU’s scoring runners Friday, Wilson is the only senior. Not only will the Aggie women welcome back their entire varsity lineup, but Mountain Crest product Tori Parkinson should return from her season-ending injury. Parkinson was the top placer for the Lady Aggies at this meet a year ago.
Nationals will be contested next Saturday.