Nov. 14, 2009
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - One team can book its travel plans, the other must remain cautiously optimistic. However, when the at-large bids to the NCAA Cross Country Championships are announced on Monday morning the University of New Mexico expects to see both its men's and women's teams appear for the first time in the same season after their performances today at the NCAA Mountain Regional at the UNM North Golf Course.
The 12th-ranked men's team left no doubt about its NCAA qualifying status with a third place finish - it's best at the regional meet since 1988. New Mexico placed three runners in the top-15 and all five scorers in the top-30 en route to a regional record 77-point score.
UNM defeated No. 4 Northern Arizona (fourth) by nine points and was 81 ahead of fifth place UTEP. No. 14 BYU stunned No. 5 Colorado, 54-55, to take the team title.
The women's race, unfortunately, did not go as smoothly. The 20th-ranked Lobos fell victim to a late surge by UTEP and finished fifth with 120 points - four behind the Miners and just six back of third place and 22nd-ranked BYU. No. 6 Colorado edged No. 8 Texas Tech, 48-53, to take the team title.
The UNM women, however, may have done just enough to secure their second straight trip to the NCAA Championships. According to early projections, New Mexico is still in line for an at-large bid to the national meet based on its head-to-head victories over qualifying teams during the regular season.
A large, active crowd made its presence felt on a chilly, drizzly morning at the UNM North Golf Course, which was also the site of the 2002 and 2006 NCAA Mountain Region Championships.
Northern Arizona's David McNeill and BYU's Miles Batty distanced themselves from the group with roughly 2K remaining. McNeill eventually pulled away, defending his regional crown with a time of 29:51.6.
Next week he will attempt to join Colorado's Jorge Torres ('02) and BYU's Josh Rohatinsky ('06), who both won Mountain Region titles in Albuquerque before capturing NCAA individual titles in the same season.
Kirwa finished a strong third (30:17.3) - 19 spots better than his performance in 2008 - to lead the Lobos for the sixth time in as many meets this fall. The Eldoret, Kenya product has finished no lower than seventh in '09.
Fraser, meanwhile, was the story of the day for the UNM men, surging to a seventh place finish (30:35.5). After struggling for much of the regular season, Fraser picked off several runners over the final two kilometers and improved 16 spots on his '08 finish in his best race as a Lobo.
Barnicle, meanwhile, finished a solid 13th (30:45.5) to join Kirwa and Fraser on the all-region team.
UNM received strong efforts once again from middle distance specialists David Bishop and Lee Emanuel to cap its scoring. Both men used strong final kicks and rode the crowd's energy down the final 50 meters to finish 26th (31:12.3) and 28th (31:14.7), respectively.
New Mexico's pack spread - the difference in time between the first and fifth scoring runner - was just over 57 seconds. It was the second time in as many meets this fall that the scoring five finished less than a minute apart.
Later in the women's race, New Mexico received a strong performance from junior transfer Ruth Senior, but was unable to match its dominant effort two weeks earlier at the Mountain West Conference Championships.
Senior finished 11th, covering the 6K course in 21:17.2 to secure her individual berth to the NCAA Championships if the team were to be left out. She has led New Mexico in five straight meets since making her official Lobo debut on Sept. 19.
Nicky Archer joined Senior on the all-region team with a 20th place finish (21:30.4), but faded a bit down the stretch - likely the result of a week-long battle with an illness - after running with the lead pack throughout much of the race.
Sophomore Lacey Oeding placed 26th (21:41.2), despite a solid effort to gain ground over the second half of the course. Junior transfer Delyth James was 30th (21:55.5) in her regional debut, while senior Carolyn Boosey fought through a painful side ache to finish 33rd (22:05.0) and cap the Lobo scoring.
New Mexico's pack spread was 48 seconds after finishing less than 30 seconds of each other the past two meets.
Despite the team's struggles, the Lobos achieved back-to-back top-five finishes at the regional meet for the first time since an eight-year run from 1981-88.
As expected, Colorado senior Jenny Barringer cruised to victory with a time of 20:29.0. Barringer - the American record holder and a Beijing Olympian in the 3,000m steeplechase - will the overwhelming favorite at next week's NCAA Championships.