MORGAN — Bronson Winter wasn’t quite sure what to expect out of his run Friday afternoon but, once his legs were pumping — and those once-familiar but now novel competitive juices were flowing — he decided he felt good enough to drop the hammer and have a go.

On the second lap around the cross country loop at Round Valley Golf Course, Winter decided to pace with teammates Christian Allen and Dallin Leatham, and push himself.

After three loops around the course, the sophomore and Fremont High alum came up the incline toward the finish line and started hearing footsteps.

It was Brandon Garnica, the junior who was part of BYU’s 2019 national championship, on a dead sprint.

Winter gave it everything he had and edged Garnica for second place in the men’s race at the Weber State Cross Country Invitational — the first official competition for any Weber State sport in eight months after the coronavirus pandemic shut down college sports in March.

“We used to run against each other in high school a lot so it’s a kind of small rivalry again, and I just finished strong,” Winter said. “My legs were getting numb and I was like, ‘come on, two more steps!

“I saw him coming up on me and ... my dad raised me that you can’t let people pass you at the end, so I gave it one more push.”

BYU’s Casey Clinger won the men’s 8K race at 23:50.9 and the Cougars edged Weber State by one point in the team outcome. Aside from those two teams, a handful of runners from Utah Valley University and elsewhere ran unattached, meaning they entered individually and separate from their college teams.

Winter ran 23:57.8 and Garnica 23:58.2. Leatham, a Viewmont High alum, took fourth at 24:03.3 for WSU.

The race came together quickly after the Big Sky approved teams to race up to two times in the fall ahead of the season that was postponed to the spring — and after Weber could not get into a couple big invitationals it was eyeing in mid-October. WSU posted info about entry applications, measured out the course and got to run again Friday.

“These guys haven’t had a chance to really toe the line and push themselves for nine months, some of them a year, and that’s what they thrive off,” said Corbin Talley, men’s track and cross country head coach. “They got that race feel, that gutty you’ve-got-to-push-yourself-to-your-limit feel.

“Now we go into the shadows again for two months, so we just needed to get that feel in a race.”

Teams and runners wanted the fall opportunity to post times to help their resumes when it comes time for national qualification, which will work more like a selection committee process than the usual standards of qualifying times and regional championships due to a shortened schedule in the spring.

Aside from that, Winter pointed out the mental benefits of simply hitting a course and seeing that digital clock counting off the time.

“It makes me more excited now and it will make the next couple months a lot easier for me to stay consistent and work harder,” Winter said.

Talley said it was good for his team to run against BYU racers who helped the Cougars go runner-up in 2018 and win the national title in 2019.

“I think today, my guys finally saw what we’ve been trying to believe is that we can run with the best in the country,” he said.

Montana State was originally in the field for both the men’s and women’s races before pulling out due to a positive COVID-19 test on the team.

Weber State’s Lexie Thompson burned up the women’s field, which ended up being a race of all unattached runners and no team competition, with a 5K time of 16:56.5.

Her teammate Summer Harper-Allen was second at 17:19.5, and WSU senior and Dixie State transfer Billie Hatch was third.

The women’s race was first and the starter spoke over a loudspeaker to explain the start method but, before that, he said “welcome to a cross country race!” which elicited cheers from the runners at the line.

Thompson’s cross country eligibility is up, so the race is part of her preparations for outdoor track in the spring, where she runs the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races. Recognizing the long wait up to this race and how Montana State had to drop out late in the game, she echoed sentiments expressed by Winter and Talley about how much it meant just to lace it up.

“It’s definitely a privilege now,” Thompson said. “You’d get nervous and excited before, but it’s so much more special now because we don’t get this chance very often ... I was grateful I got the chance to race today.”

Former Fremont High multi-sport star Mazzie Melaney, a junior at Utah Valley running unattached, finished sixth in the women’s race at 18:18.8.

Contact Brett Hein at bhein@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter @bhein3 and @WeberHQ.

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