TWIN FALLS — A couple years ago, Minico High School graduate Zak Montoya was a student at Idaho State University, no longer playing any sports and wondering in what direction he was headed.
Ezekiel Stelzer was a graduate of Dufur High School in Oregon, looking to prolong his running career.
They both ended up at the College of Southern Idaho to help restart the Golden Eagles’ cross country program, and, after finding success in their time at CSI, both sophomores are ready to move on, and do so in the same spot.
On Monday, Montoya and Stelzer signed their letters of intent to continue running at Southern Oregon University next year.
“These are two great athletes,” CSI head coach Lindsey Anderson said. “They’re good leaders. They’re going to help Southern Oregon immediately. I’m super sad to say goodbye.”
Neither athlete said they seriously considered signing with another school, as Stelzer gets a move slightly loser to home, while Montoya looks forward to heading to Oregon, a place he said he’s visited a few times and loved.
Stelzer is going to study in Southern Oregon’s business program, while Montoya will go into physical education and health. Both said academics were a factor in the decision, too.
Another important aspect to both Montoya and Stelzer was that they’ll have the opportunity to be competitive at Southern Oregon.
“Southern Oregon’s been on the podium, top four at the national championships 10 out of the last 11 years,” Montoya said. “I really like the coach and the team atmosphere. All those factors added together just seemed like the right decision.”
Anderson said it does bring her pride that competitiveness played such an important role in the decisions of both her athletes.
The coach said that, before the season began, she told her sophomore runners to research any schools they considered and understand the history of the program, and whether the school will be able to make them better.
Anderson told her runners that, as much as she loves working with them and wants them to excel for the Golden Eagles, she doesn’t want their best two years to come at CSI, and that’s where the next level can come in.
“I feel confident Southern Oregon is going to be a good fit for these guys,” Anderson said.
As far as that competition goes, like Montoya said, it’d be hard not to be enticed by what running for the Raiders has to offer.
After Montoya (20th overall) and Stelzer (55th) helped CSI to fifth place at the NJCAA National Cross Country Championships, they’ll be ready to contribute in that same sense at Southern Oregon.
“They’re a school that’s competing at the top level,” Stelzer said. “It’s gonna be really fun to go from competing at a national level here to competing at a national level there again.”
Last week, three CSI women’s runners signed with two different schools, becoming the first signing class for the Golden Eagles since the program rebooted two years ago.
Montoya and Stelzer become a part of that now, signing a few days later and setting a standard for other CSI runners to try and meet during their time with the Golden Eagles.
Both were very appreciative of all the opportunities afforded to them by the program, and credited the coaching staff for getting them to the point where they can move on.
“Coming here, I kinda discovered my identity,” Montoya said. “Not to be cliche, but kinda my purpose and where I want to go in life, I feel like this gave that to me. I’m super grateful to CSI for that.”