MOSCOW, Idaho - For the third time in six years, Idaho women's cross country hoisted a Western Athletic Conference title, and this time around, it was four Vandals finishing in the top 11 and impressive balance that did the trick.
"I knew our strength going in was going to be our depth, that we could pack up really well, and we did exactly that," Idaho cross country coach Wayne Phipps said. "All year long, we really relied on our depth, with a different placing order every time, and we just did a great job of preparing all through the season and executing today."
Led by junior Lauren Schaffer, who took fourth overall, Idaho's women claimed seven of the first 22 spots to score 48 points and outdistance Utah State, which came in second with 69 points. Idaho's men put two runners in the top six and scored 88 for a fifth-place team result.
Six Vandal student-athletes earned all-WAC honors, with Schaffer and freshman Hannah Kiser earning first-team honors on the women's side, junior Markus Geiger and sophomore Barry Britt earning men's first-team awards, and seniors Maggie Miller and Erica Digby taking second-team all-WAC for the women.
In a very tight men's lead pack that saw numerous lead changes during the race, Geiger finished third overall, while Britt came in sixth to pace Idaho.
"It was really anyone's race among those first six guys," Phipps said. "They were very close, and I'm really proud of the way those guys stuck with the front pack and ran really well all the way through."
The Idaho women talked about using depth to their advantage, and then backed it up on Saturday. For the fifth time this season, Idaho had a different top-five scoring order, and for the third time in 2010, Idaho's women claimed a team title.
"It's good to see your fellow runners running beside you at the finish," Digby, who also helped Idaho claim the 2007 cross country crown as a freshman, said. "All of us are so close together that if one of us is having a bad day, there are others right behind to fill that gap, and even the runners who don't score - six, seven, eight and nine - have a huge part in the team standings, because even if they don't score, they're pushing the other teams back."
Schaffer ran a 17:47.84 on the 5,000m course for Idaho's top time, followed by Kiser's 17:51.00 in sixth place, Miller's 10th-place 18:03.34, Digby's 11th-place 18:09.67 and junior Anna Kalbrener's 17th-place 18:17.89. Junior Julia Veseth was Idaho's sixth finisher at 18:19.25 and 18th overall, while sophomore Laurel Draper was 22nd overall in 18:28.29.
For the men, Geiger posted an 8,000m time of 24:39.12, while Britt finished in 24:44.93. Junior Jeremiah Dubie was the team's third finisher at 18th overall in 25:37.38, and sophomore Michael Armon (31st, 26:23.04) and junior Alex Brekke (33rd, 26:33.80) rounded out Idaho's team score.
The women's team title is the fifth in school history and the third since the Vandals joined the WAC. Idaho has earned either an individual or team title at the WAC Cross Country Championships in five of its six years of competition.
Phipps described Saturday's championship performance as a culmination of months of preparation and work for Idaho's first time hosting a WAC championship event, and first time hosting a cross country championship in 26 years.
"We've done a lot of work in the last couple weeks, but this has been months in the making, and we couldn't have gotten it done without the help of people in the community, our student-athletes, administration and everyone who stepped up and got involved," Phipps said. "I'm so proud to be a Vandal and so proud to be from Moscow, with the people who came out and were willing to help with anything and support the team in any way possible, it was just really great to see."
With another boost of confidence from Saturday's meet, Phipps said he thinks Idaho is in a good position to make strong runs at the NCAA West Regional in two weeks at Eugene, Ore.
"We've just been getting better and better every weekend, and really, we didn't have a perfect race today," Phipps said. "I think if we put everything together, we have the ability to really surprise some people in Eugene."