Two of the Flathead Valley’s all-time great runners will be racing at the NCAA cross country championships this weekend in Louisville, Kentucky.
Makena Morley, a freshman at the University of Montana and former state champion at Bigfork High School, and Zach Perrin, a redshirt sophomore at the University of Colorado and former state champion at Flathead High School, will compete at nationals this Saturday.
The women’s six-kilometer race starts at 10 a.m. Mountain Time and the men’s race starts at noon. The races can be watched live at NCAA.com.
Morley, the Big Sky Conference champion, qualified for nationals after placing eighth at the NCAA Mountain Regional in Albuquerque, N.M., on Nov. 13. She is the first runner from UM to compete at cross country nationals since Katrina Drennen in 2009.
Colorado and New Mexico earned the region’s automatic team bids and Utah, BYU and Weber State were selected for at-large spots, leaving Morley as the No. 3 runner from non-qualifying teams.
The top four individuals from non-qualifying teams from each of the nation’s nine regions join the 31 automatic and at-large teams at nationals.
“We knew Makena had the potential to be here, but it’s still exciting that she’s actually done it,” said UM coach Collin Fehr. “She’s certainly earned it. She had to go through some ups and down this season, and that created some doubt, but she worked through all that. Now she’s more confident than ever.”
The top 40 finishers Saturday earn all-America honors.
“Makena has to have a good day to be top 10. Things have to come together, but it’s realistic,” Fehr said. “If anything goes even a little bit wrong, you could get spit back 30 spots easily. She realizes that and knows she is going to have to be on her game and bring her absolute best effort and focus.”
Morley led the race at regionals through four of six kilometers. She was still in the top three through five kilometers before getting passed by five more runners over the final kilometer.
“I’m going to try to run a smarter race so I have some more in me with 2K to go,” said Morley. “Hopefully I can pass people instead of having them pass me. I want to have something to race with when the real race actually starts.
“I know it’s going to be a lot of fast girls. A lot of them are older too. They’ve been training for a long time and have raced at this level before. You can’t make mistakes, because you know they are not going to make them. You’ve got to focus on your own race plan.”
Perrin is racing on the two-time defending NCAA champion team from Colorado.
Perrin placed 68th at Pre-Nats last week. He has consistently been the Buffs’ No. 4 runner this season.
He redshirted last year after a stellar freshman campaign that saw Perrin quickly earn a position on the varsity roster. His first varsity race in uniform for the Buffs was NCAA Pre-Nationals where he finished 114th overall. Perrin’s next race was Pac-12 Championships, where he helped CU claim its third straight team title. Perrin placed 37th overall as CU’s No. 8 runner. He served as the alternate at regionals, but was back in action at NCAAs where he took 107th and was CU’s No. 6 scorer, helping CU win the team championship.
Here’s a breakdown of runners and teams competing at nationals this weekend.