Battle Mountain runner qualifies for Nike national cross country meet
Get some swag.
That was the gist of Rob Parish’s pre-meet motivational speech to Will Brunner and Porter Middaugh at last Saturday’s NXR Southwest regional championships in Mesa, Arizona. For the 22 teams and 50 individuals fast enough to qualify from each of the country’s eight regions to Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) in Portland, Oregon, next month, the apparel giant provides spikes, shorts, singlets and more.
The coaches? They get one humble long-sleeve.
“I don’t bring them out much,” Parish said of the souvenirs from 2017 and 2018 Lady Huskies’ team national trips. Before Saturday’s race, he gave one to Brunner and the other to Middaugh. Then he told them, “now, go get your own.”
The dynamic duo answered the challenge.
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“Kind of marked that on the calendar at the beginning of the season — knew we were probably fit enough for that to be a reasonable goal — so, super happy with how it played out,” said Middaugh, who covered the muddy Coyote Run Golf Course 5K in 14 minutes, 54.43 seconds, placing fifth out of 250 championship-field entrants. Brunner (15:03.39) rallied from 12th to seventh in the final half-mile.
The top-five individuals not on national-qualifying teams automatically advanced. Nationally-ranked No. 1 American Fork took the team win and their best runner, Daniel Simmons, won the individual crown. Parrish said it’s “highly likely” Brunner will join him on Dec. 2 because Riverton XC Club — which took third in the team race — is expected to be awarded an at-large team bid, and their number one runner placed third overall. The official national field won’t be determined until next weekend.
“Crossing the fingers for Will,” Middaugh said of his teammate, who won the 4A state title on Oct. 28. “I think he has a pretty solid shot.”
Even though dozens of Huskies have gone on to NCAA DI careers, none — not even 2021 Olympian Val Constien — have ever qualified for NXN individually.
“It’s incredibly difficult. It’s so competitive,” Parish said. “I would even say, they could stand to add some more individuals.”
Pealing back the results of the most-competitive championship field proves Parish’s point. The top runner for national-No. 15 Niwot ran an impressive 15:17.82 — but only mustered 16th. Jacob Sushinsky, the state runner-up to Brunner, was less than four seconds back, but finished 24th, one spot ahead of the 5A state champion, Brennan Draper. Plus, the NXR Southwest meet also featured one ‘small school,’ two ‘medium school’ and three ‘large school’ races, each with between 150 and 410 athletes — for both genders.
“There’s good runners all over the country, but the Southwest Region is one of the best individual and team regions in the country,” Parish continued.
“If you’re top five in the Southwest, I would think you have a good chance of being in the top 20 in the country.”
Aware of the depth, Parish advised his pupils to “establish themselves near the front” early on.
“We got out quick,” Middaugh shared before adding, “the pace kind of stalled for that first mile” as the presumptive favorite, Simmons, hung back.
“Everybody kind of looked around at each other,” described Middaugh, who used the opportunity to slide into the the top three and even took the lead at various points. When the American Fork star, also ranked No. 1 in the U.S. individually surged, the peloton’s pace “picked up pretty severely” Middaugh said. The future Project Podium triathlete locked into the breakaway group of five.
“In the third mile, it was looking pretty good for Porter,” Parish said, but Brunner “looked tired,” in drifting to 12th. With his season-long goal hanging in the balance, Middaugh said he was still running “pretty scared” in the final stretches.
“I was just trying to push up the whole race and not worry what was behind me,” he said. Meanwhile, Brunner blew past five runners in the final 500 meters or so.
“He just had a monster kick, and I mean, we’ve seen that from him before,” the coach said.
Simmons crossed first (14:41.13) with Joseph Jourdon (14:51.06), Samuel Ghiz (14:53.65), Austin Westfall (14:54.25), Middaugh, Kyle Steadman (14:55.93) and Brunner following eight seconds later.
“Their times are unbelievable for how nasty it was,” he said. “It was a total mud fest by the time they got to it.”
Middaugh said it might have been his best race ever, even better than the aforementioned Warrior Classic effort, which was two seconds from being the fastest prep 5k ever run on Colorado soil.
“I think so,” he said. “Just with the amount of competition in the race and the poise I needed to stay in the top five.” More importantly, it served as redemption for his fourth-place finish at state.
“I was definitely not super happy with the state race. I definitely had a little more to show than that,” he said. “So, got done, went right back to work for I think two of my best weeks of training and then another week of resting and tapering leading into this race. Definitely had (state) in mind — didn’t want to end on a low note, so, happy I had this one.”
He said the result hasn’t changed his commitment to triathlon, but he views the national meet at Glendoveer Golf Course on Dec. 2, as a “great opportunity.”
“I’m really excited about it. I’m also super excited to get into the tri training shortly after that,” he said. “I feel good. I think I’m the most motivated I’ve been all season. Obviously a little bit of fatigue in there, but I’ll have plenty of time to rest up.”
When asked about his goal for the meet, he answered, “It’s tough to gauge. Anything can happen for sure. … I think I would walk away feeling really, really proud with a top 10.”
Lindsey Whitton (18:50) finished 79th as the only Husky in the girls championship race, while the Battle Mountain team placed seventh out of 24 teams in the girls small-school division. Addie Beuche (19:54) led the way in 21st out of 250 runners. Parish was pleased with underclassmen Ruthie Demino (49th, 20:33) and Snow Swihart (58th, 20:48).
“It was nice to see the next generation of girls assert themselves,” she said.
Kira Hower (110th, 22:04), Bella Williams (139, 22:57) and Coco Boock (236, 26:58) also competed and John McAbee (64, 17:25), Nate Beuche (83rd, 17:39) and Sawyer Blair (136th, 18:11) ran alongside 409 other athletes in the boys small-school division.
Thus, with daylight waning and winter sports starting, cross-country continues.
“The kids sometimes say, ‘cross-country, it never ends,'” Parish laughed. “I think it is a testament to their work ethic and determination. You always talk about running your best in October and November, but it doesn’t always work that way. All the kids — their steadiness to the plan — is so they can hit it when it matters the most.”