Sept. 4, 2009
Lobo Cross Country
What: Lobo Invitational
When/Where: 9:45 a.m., UNM North Golf Course
Also: 8 a.m. Fun Run; 8:45 a.m. High School Meet
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The dinosaur man played by actor Sam Neill in the movie "Jurassic Park" once was described as a digger. Lobo track coach Joe Franklin can be described as a planner, which makes him a visionary of sorts.
Franklin likes to look down the road. It's something you need to do when you are a builder of teams and a builder of programs.
What he sees down the road for his loaded University of New Mexico cross country teams is a great battle for Mountain West Conference titles and great success at NCAA Regionals. You could say Franklin's Lobos are loaded for Bear, but they also are loaded for Cougars.
It's easy to get Franklin to glance into the future and see the conflict emerging between BYU Cougars and New Mexico Lobos. It will be a conflict fought at the MWC finals on the BYU course. It will be a conflict run at NCAA Regionals on the UNM course.
"If you match up BYU's women's team with our team, the layman would think there is no way we can compete with BYU," said Franklin. "But we have some great cross country runners.
"On the men's side, BYU lost their first three runners from last year and we bring everyone back except Mat Ashton. We also add in Chris Barnicle, Ross Millington and Brian Vallie. So you look at the men and you wonder if BYU can run with us. But BYU has a tradition of coming up with great cross country runners.
"It will be interesting."
The interest -- and the planning -- begins for Franklin's Lobos at the 10th annual Lobo Invitational to be held at the UNM North Golf Course at 9:45 a.m. Saturday. The Lobos will host the NCAA Mountain Region Championships on that track on Nov. 14. A Lobo man has not won the individual title since 2004. UNM's Nicky Archer won the women's race in 2008.
If Franklin's Lobos have a theme for Saturday it will be along the lines of "let's have fun and see what we got." Franklin will be doing a little building in the Lobo Invite.
"We won't run everybody this weekend," he said. "In this sport, you are judged by your last weekend (NCAA finals) and you have your one shot. But you also want to do well in conference and regional runs. We'll be looking to peak in November.
"There is zero pressure on us this week. We'll run a lot of people unattached, but they'll be out there running (hard). Two of our unattached runners from last year's Invite ended up in our top seven and one was Lacy Oeding, the Mountain West Freshman of The Year."
What that means to Franklin's young runners on Saturday is that even though the Lobo teams are top-heavy with talent in 2009, there could be room on the final roster. The answer is in the stop watch.
Still, it will be tough to crack into the top seven on either the men's or women's side. The women return NCAA All-Region performers in Archer, Carolyn Boosey, Oeding and Ashley Gibson . The men are paced by All-Region runners Jacob Kirwa, Barnicle, Lee Emanuel, Rory Fraser and David Bishop. Both teams have talented depth.
The Lobo women won their first conference cross country title last year, defeating eight-time champion BYU, 31-33, in the closest championship meet in MWC history. The UNM women went on to finish second at the NCAA Mountain Regional and 18th in their first NCAA Championship appearance since 1985.
The Lobos were picked to finish second in Mountain West on both the men's and women's sides. The Lobo women won the conference title in 2008.
"BYU will have an advantage running at their place, but if we can stay healthy and make solid progression, we will be in great position for the conference meet," said Franklin.
The return of Emanuel is a big plus for UNM. The transfer from England, who won the NCAA 1,500 indoor title, was awarded an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA.
"If Lee wants to become an elite, international 1,500-meters runner, he needs to show success in cross country," said Franklin.
Emanuel is an example of a Lobo runner pushing hard to improve his cross country skills to help the Lobo team and to help himself as an individual. Emanuel did not finish well at the 2008 MWC meet, but did make the NCAA All-Region team. Franklin said he likes the attitude to be found on his long-distance teams.
"A few years ago, the gap from No. 1 to 15 was huge. Now, it's dropped. It's closer to one," he said, smiling. "We have a lot of runners out for cross country who are training hard to be good at that sport and they just aren't out there to get a New Mexico shirt."
Saturday's run will include a Fun Run, a high school meet and the non-scoring collegiate race between UNM, UTEP, New Mexico State, New Mexico Highlands and Diné College.
"We'll have a good turnout," said Franklin. "We don't have a ball and that creates a problem for some fans, but there is a die-hard core of long-distance fans in Albuquerque."
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner