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  Is Idaho A Running State?

The success of runners from the Gem State in college would indicate that Idaho is more of a running state than some would think.

By: Will Hoenike
Published: 9/11/2018 10:29:35 AM
Jonny Handel runs during a cross country meet for Lewis-Clark State College
Photo By: Becky Paull

Lewis-Clark State College sent out a news release on September 5, proudly announcing that men’s cross country runner Jonny Handel had been named the NAIA National Runner of the Week.

Head coach Mike Collins, in his 22nd season with the Warriors, was justifiably excited.

“He is the epitome of hard work paying off. He has definitely earned the recognition he has received for himself and the positive aspect that it brings to the program as he has become part of a line of national weekly honor recipients at LCSC,” Collins said, via the school’s official announcement. “The fact that he is an Idaho native is even better.”

Jonny Handel, Idaho native.

It’s becoming more and more visible in running circles that the Gem State is a good place to find cross country runners. Handel, for instance, hails from Moscow and attended Logos High School, a 1A school with an enrollment of under 100 students.

“As an Idaho native and specifically from a smaller town, I focus a lot of my recruiting on Idaho kids,” Collins said. “I think that a lot of them get overlooked because we are a smaller state in population and often the times don’t look great because of the challenging courses.”

In part, though, it’s those courses that help make Idaho runners so attractive to colleges.

“I know that, in our NAIA preseason rankings, five out of the top ten men’s programs are either from Oregon or Idaho,” noted College of Idaho cross country coach Austin Basterrechea. “You’ll notice very similar trends in the NCAA as well.”

Basterrechea’s Coyote program has 28 total runners, combined, between the men’s and women’s teams and 16 of them are from Idaho. Collins’ LC State program has 26 runners, 14 of which are Idaho products. The Northwest Nazarene University women’s cross country team has 11 runners, six from Idaho. The second-year cross country program at the College of Southern Idaho, a two-year junior college in Twin Falls, features 18 competitors from Idaho between the men’s and women’s teams.

And they’re not just roster-filler. The College of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State men are both ranked in the top ten, nationally, at the NAIA level. The College of Idaho women are also top-ten and the LCSC women cracked the top 25 as well. Homegrown athletes are pushing these programs to succeed at a national level.

The Idaho ties aren’t limited to the small colleges. Division 1 Boise State has four men who came from the Gem state and two women. Idaho State University in Pocatello has six men and the women’s roster lists three Idahoans. Josiah Anderson competes at the University of Idaho after prepping, like Handel, at Logos. Kara Story, who recently finished second at the “Clash of the Inland Northwest” event for the Vandals, prepped at Coeur d’Alene High School. Twin sister Krista finished fourth in that race. Sandwiched in between the Story sisters was Mountain View’s Erin Hagen.

“Our Idaho athletes help bring a sense of familiarity with the area and they help drive local interest in our program,” Basterrechea said. “Idaho is a very proud state and loves to see its homegrown athletes succeed.”

Cross country athletes don’t often stand in a bright spotlight, but that doesn’t stop them from competing while representing their schools – and their homes – well.

“Many of these kids are from blue collar families,” Collins concluded. “They truly understand from experience the expectation of hard work, sacrifice and often not a lot of recognition for a job well done.”



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