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Courtesy: Spencer Farrin (Moscow, Idaho)
(L-R) Julia Veseth, Lauren Schaffer, Hannah Kiser
Coaches tab Idaho to repeat
Courtesy: Idaho Athletic Media Relations
          Release: 10/24/2011
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MOSCOW, Idaho – Western Athletic Conference coaches picked Idaho’s women to claim a second-straight women’s cross country title and tabbed the Vandal men second in the pre-championship coaches poll released on Monday.

The Vandal women earned five first-place votes and earned 46 points to claim the top spot on the list. New Mexico State posted 43 points and two first-place votes for second on the list, while Utah State was third with the final first-place tab.

“It’s always nice to be recognized by the conference coaches, but we know it’s going to be an extremely tough battle,” Idaho director of track and field/cross country Wayne Phipps said. “New Mexico State has a tough team, Utah State returns a lot of strong runners from last year and Fresno State has run really well this year.”

Utah State was picked to claim the men’s title with five votes and 25 points, while Idaho picked up one first-place pick and 20 points to take second on the list in front of New Mexico State, which had 18.

“We’re hoping to finish a notch higher, but Utah State certainly deserves that position,” Phipps said. “They’ve been conference champions five of the last six years and they’ve been running very well. We feel like we match up pretty well with Utah State, and if we have everyone running their race on the same day, I feel like we’re going to be a tough team on the men’s side.”

Idaho’s women enter Saturday’s WAC Championship meet looking to defend their title from a year ago, and trying to win their fourth team title in seven tries since joining the conference. The Vandal men have been among the top teams in the conference since joining, but hope this is the season they break through and claim their first conference crown since 1965.

Individually, Phipps says he expects a handful of Vandals to be in title contention in both races. Idaho returns four Vandals who claimed First-Team All-WAC honors at last year’s championship in seniors Lauren Schaffer and Markus Geiger, junior Barry Britt and sophomore Hannah Kiser.

Geiger, Britt and senior newcomer Stephane Colle have posted some of the WAC’s top times this season, while Kiser, a three-time WAC Athlete of the Week this season, is undefeated against collegiate runners this year.

“On the men’s side, I think we have three runners who have the ability to win an individual championship with their successes on the track and on the courses so far this year,” Phipps said. “Hannah has had a great year so far. She’ll have some strong competition in this meet, but I feel very confident that she’s going to be in the hunt for the individual title.”

Phipps said that the team has had this meet circled since outdoor track and field ended in June, and that he’s seen significant improvement starting in the summer and continuing through the fall season.

“We had our individual meetings at the end of the last year, and every single person said, ‘We’re going to do whatever it takes to win.’” Phipps said. “They’ve had that mentality since day one. That’s a great attitude to have, and I think it’s part of the reason why we’ve had so much success this season.”

The Vandal women have won either a team or individual title in every WAC season except 2009. The team claimed the 2005 crown – Idaho’s first in the conference – then added another in 2007 and last year in 2010.

Senior Markus Geiger, the 2008 WAC Freshman of the Year, will try to become Idaho’s first four-time First-Team All-WAC honoree in cross country. He was the team’s top finisher at third overall last season following back-to-back fourth-place finishes in 2008 and 2009.

Phipps said the youth movement on the women’s side dates back to the spring 2011 track and field season, during which a number of first-year Vandals broke out. Now sophomores, Kiser, Alycia Butterworth, Emily Paradis and Holly Stanton have paced the team for most of the season so far.

“They’ve been through three conference championships competing at the highest level, and I feel like that prepared them really well for this year,” Phipps said. “That group of sophomores on the women’s side has been a huge part of our team and they’ve really improved immensely in the last year.”

The championship day starts with the men’s race at 11 a.m. (PDT), followed by the women’s race at 12 p.m. The awards ceremony will follow the women’s race.

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