NCAA Mountain Region Championships - Ogden, Utah
When/Where: Friday, Schneiter's Riverside Golf Course, Ogden, Utah
Men: Noon MT — 10 kilometers
Women: 1:15 p.m. MT — six kilometers
Results: GoLobos.com, WeberStateSports.com
New Mexico is looking to parlay its stellar regular-season credentials into NCAA Championship bids.
All that’s in the way are the regional championships.
The University of New Mexico's nationally ranked cross country teams are heading to the NCAA Mountain Region Championships in Ogden, Utah, Friday, as both teams eye advancing to the national championships on Nov. 23.
Owners of top-notch résumés, the Lobos have all but punched their tickets to the NCAA Championships, but can still secure automatic bids when the No. 11 men compete at noon MT and the No. 8 women at 1:15 p.m. MT.
“[We want] to get through it, get experience, gain some momentum going into the next weekend,” Lobo head coach Joe Franklin said. “I think it’s just preparing yourself for the next weekend.”
Franklin knows that his Lobos have turned in NCAA-worthy results and won’t have to make anything special happen when they travel to Schneiter's Riverside Golf Course in Ogden.
They just have to do what they’ve been doing.
The New Mexico women lead the USTFCCCA Mountain Region rankings, while the men are tabbed fourth. If both teams can translate those ranks into this weekend’s results, then both are all but in.
The top finishers at the nine regional meets automatically advance to the NCAA Championships. After that, the NCAA will chose at-large teams based their wins over other teams and their 'A' squads to fill out the 31-team roster.
But both the men and women have compiled plenty of résumé-building wins by dint of their performances at the Notre Dame Invitational and the Wisconsin adidas Invitational earlier in the season.
“I think as long they do what they have done, don’t over-think things, put too much stress on and just run as a group, we should be one of those teams that has a chance [to advance],” Franklin said.
For the women, the goal is to claim one of the two automatic bids after their six-kilometer race.
And as the top-ranked team in the region — and one of just two nationally ranked teams along with No. 10 Colorado — the Lobos have the inside track to automatically advance.
“I think the women will be one of those teams that has a shot [to get an automatic bid],” Franklin said.
The women are keyed by incredible parity among their scorers. At the Mountain West Championships two weeks ago, UNM’s placed all five scorers in the top 10.
Looking to score again for New Mexico is Sammy Silva, who took runner-up honors at her MW meet. Silva was one of six Lobos to earn all-conference honors and registered a team-leading finish of third at the Notre Dame Invitational last month.
Charlotte Arter can also vie for the team’s top finish after placing fourth at the MW Championships and leading the women at Wisconsin. The rest of the women’s conference scorers, Calli Thackery, Nicole Roberts and Heleene Tambet, are expected to pace the women again, too.
But, while the Lobos look to be in position to advance, this meet still holds some importance with the national championships on the horizon.
“[It’s about] making sure that you’re closing hard and gaining some momentum for next weekend,” Franklin said.
The men would also benefit from additional momentum heading to Terre Haute, Ind., the site of the NCAA Championships, but need to make it through the region first.
The top two teams in the nation, No. 1 Colorado and No. 2 Northern Arizona, are regional foes, as are fifth-ranked BYU, 23rd-ranked Colorado State, 27th-ranked Southern Utah and 29th-ranked Air Force.
“Without a doubt, this is the hardest regional,” Franklin said. “That’s not even up for debate.”
“Somebody that places fourth in this region, can very easily get one of those trophy spots [at the NCAA Championships].”
Still, the Lobos are in position to make the NCAAs if they run to their rank as the region’s fourth-best team and continue to ride their own remarkable parity.
All four earned All-MW honors for their performance at the conference championships, with Caldwell leading the Lobos for the seventh time in the last eight meets at which he has run. But Bitchell, Zacharias and Stam are all capable of giving New Mexico championships-caliber runs, as well.
However, the key for the Lobos over the 10-kilometer course will be the rest of their runners. Elmar Engholm, Donovan Torres, Ross Matheson and JP Cordova will travel to Ogden, and UNM’s success could lie with the finish of their No. 5 runner.
“They have to work well as a team,” Franklin said. “I think that’s important to do.”
Nonetheless, Franklin knows the most important thing is just advancing, regardless of this weekend’s finish.
“I think it’s, at some level, irrelevant if you get the automatic spot if you get to the next round,” he said.
Franklin would know, too, since he’s taken the UNM men to four straight national championship and the women to five in a row.
Since Franklin's first year in 2007, the Lobo men and women have placed outside of the top five at the regional championships only once (women finishing sixth in 2007), and swept the regional crowns in 2010.
Last year, the women placed second overall, while the men finished fourth. Both teams made the national championships, with the men earning an at-large bid.
But with prospect of making the NCAAs for the fifth consecutive year, the Lobos aren’t dwelling in the past.
Their road to the NCAAs runs through the regionals first.