Lobo Invitational — Albuquerque, N.M.
When/Where: Saturday, UNM North Golf Course in Albuquerque, N.M.
Men: 10:15 a.m. MT — five kilometers
Women: 10:45 a.m. MT — five kilometers
It’s no secret Joe Franklin’s cross-country runners are good.
Sweeping four consecutive Mountain West championships and sending both of your teams to four straight NCAA Championships will do that.
It’s just a question of how good the Lobos might be.
After another dominating season in 2012, the University of New Mexico men’s and women’s cross-country teams are gearing up to defend their conference titles and post another round of strong performances at the NCAA Championships.
“I think the first [expectation] is to challenge for a conference championship on both sides and to make the NCAAs,” Franklin said. “And, like usual, we’ll see how high we can get at the NCAA Championships.”
The Lobos—who debut this Saturday at the Lobo Invitational—have been picked as conference favorites for the third straight year and have been earning respect in the preseason polls, which points to another banner year for Franklin and UNM.
Luke Caldwell was an All-American in 2012 and could do it again in '13.
And the preseason accolades and grand predictions are pretty well substantiated.
Both the men and women are returning stellar crews of runners and, coupled with strong incoming classes of new faces, both groups are shaping up to be contenders at the national level.
“If you can go the right direction [heading to the national championships], anything can happen,” Franklin said. “I wouldn’t put a limit on what can happen.”
And for the men’s, there don’t seem to be many limits in the early going.
Simply put, the men are stacked.
The New Mexico men bring back their entire conference and NCAA Championship lineup (not just scorers, mind you, but the entire lineup), and have brought in a group of similarly stalwart newcomers.
“It’s the deepest team we’ve have at the University of New Mexico,” Franklin said. “As a coach, it would be the deepest team. … Right now we’re probably 11, 12 [runners] deep.”
With 2012 All-American Luke Caldwell returning, that might have been enough in years past to challenge for a conference title and make the NCAAs.
But, Caldwell—the 2012 MW individual champion, too—has plenty of talented Lobos running alongside.
All-MW runners Adam Bitchell, Sean Stam and Patrick Zacharias will help pace UNM with Caldwell, a recipe for success that the Lobos rode throughout the 2012 season.
The men also return 2012 MW Freshman of the Year Elmar Engholm, who was second for the Lobos at the NCAA Championships, into the fold.
However, beyond the returnees, the Lobos have added more high-caliber runners to the team, including Princeton transfer Peter Callahan and British runners Alex Cornwell, Ross Matheson and Jake Shelley.
To that end, the Lobos are undeniably loaded, a fact not overlooked by the conference coaches, who voted the men as the favorites to win their fifth MW title in a row.
Flotrack.org—a website dedicated to track & field and cross-country—also recognizes the men’s potential, projecting UNM to finish seventh (which would be a program best) at the 2013 NCAA Championships in Terra Haute, Ind.
On the women’s side, however, there isn’t the same level of overwhelming depth like the men have.
Charlotte Arter is the women's best returning runner after a stellar 2013.
But that’s no indictment of the women, who have the potential and sufficient depth to best even the lofty projections set for their male counterparts.
“We may not be quite as top heavy as last year,” Franklin said, “but I think we’re deeper than last year.”
The women’s potential will likely be keyed by Charlotte Arter, who was one of the women’s top runners in 2012 after finishing second overall at last year’s conference championship.
However, unlike years past when one runner shouldered the entire load, Arter won’t be counted to single-handedly carry UNM.
Chloe Anderson and Kirsten Follett, both of whom ran for UNM last year at the MW and NCAA championships, will lend additional veteran leadership.
“They are all quality women that have run really well in the past,” Franklin said. “…There’s a lot of parity.”
However, the story for the women harriers might be newcomers, who actually outnumber the letterwinners from 2012.
“It’s an interesting dynamic,” Franklin said regarding all of the new runners. “You wouldn't guess that being around them. They all help each other, they all get along great. They’re all selfless. They all want to be very good, but they want their teammates to be good.”
Among the new faces are a handful of British runners, including Tamara Armoush, Nicole Roberts, Calli Thackery and Alice Wright. Armoush, Roberts and Thackery have high-level experience from the UK and look to be able to help UNM right away.
The Lobos also add Harvard transfer Sammy Silva and Tennessee transfer Amber Zimmerman, while returning Joanne Harvey and Suzi Boast, both of whom sat out last year.
Sean Stam is one of the men's proven returning runners and could factor in during the postseason.
Combined with the returning talent, the women have the makings for postseason success, including their sixth straight conference title, for which they have already been selected as preseason favorites.
“These women all trust each other,” Franklin said. “They all want to be good and carry the tradition that’s been going on. If the women make the national championship, this would be the sixth year in a row. That’s a pretty good number.”
However, the Lobos will have to wait until the Notre Dame Invitational on October 4 to see the top runner debut.
For now, New Mexico will host the 13th straight Lobo Invitational on Saturday at the UNM North Golf Course, with 5-kilometer races for both the men and the women.
Almost all of New Mexico’s heavy hitters will continue training and bypass this early season meet, which gives the younger runners a chance for competition experience at the Lobo Invitational.
“I deem this as essentially preseason because the NCAA doesn’t start counting [meets toward NCAA at-large berths] until September 27,” Franklin said. “We just want to get through it and nobody get hurt and nobody get sick.”
The meet starts at 8:00 a.m. with a 5-kilometer Community Fun Run, which will also feature high school “C” athletes. The high school varsity races will take place afterward, with the boy’s 5K at 8:45 a.m. and the girl’s 5K at 9:30 a.m.
The collegiate division kicks off at 10:15 a.m. with the men racing a 5K, while the women’s 5K starts at 10:45 a.m.
High school JV races will go off at 11:15 a.m. for the girls with the boy’s race will start at noon. Awards for the high school races are at 1 p.m.
Check back a GoLobos.com on Friday for entry lists, and on Saturday for results and a recap of UNM action.