Stevens: Lobos' goal at NCAA Regional is to be smart, be safe, push on
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  11/11/2010
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Nov. 11, 2010

Salt Lake City - Rose Park Golf Course
When: Saturday; women's 6-kilometer, 10:30 a.m.; men's 10-kilometer, 11:45 a.m.
Top Men's Teams: No. 3 Texas Tech, No. 8 Colorado, No. 10 New Mexico
Top Women's Teams: No. 7 NAU, No. 9 Colorado, No. 10 New Mexico. No. 15 BYU
NCAA Finals: Monday, Nov. 22 -- Terre Haute, Ind.

By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

The directions coming from Lobo coach Joe Franklin to his Lobo cross country teams prior to their run at the NCAA Mountain Regional in Salt Lake City on Saturday really aren't part of a comedian's routine.

Franklin is serious when he says:
1- Wash your hands a lot.
2. Don't run into any trees or step in any holes.
3. Run hard, but not that hard.

The thing about the NCAA Regionals is that the nine separate meets are important only in that they are a means to advance to the NCAA Championships. The real deal is Nov. 22 in Terre Haute, Ind., and you can't chase a national title if you are sick, injured or burnt out from your NCAA run at regionals.

So you take care of the germs. You don't run into anything hard or step into any holes. You throw out a strong effort at the regional run, but you max out at Terre Haute.

"It's a trial to make the finals," Franklin says of the Mountain Regional. "This is the first round. You just do what you need to do to get to nationals. It's nice to do well at regionals, but the goal is to advance the team. In the finals, you want the heroics."

Actually, the Lobos don't have to do too much at the Mountain Regional in order to push on. The Lobos' body of work in both the men's and women's teams is strong enough to get at least an at-large bid. "We just can't have a bad meet," said the UNM coach.

The top two teams in each of the nine regionals will grab automatic bids to the NCAA finals. Then a selection committee picks 13 at-large entries and invite some individuals. The Lobos' men and the Lobo women are both ranked No. 10. So, all they have to do in Salt Lake City is, well, don't run into any trees, step into any gopher holes or eat any old sushi.

"They pick the at-large teams through an objective formula. That's good," said Franklin. "We are sitting pretty good with the formula. We've done what we need to do."

The Lobos enter the Mountain Regional coming off another sweep of the Mountain West Conference titles. The Lobos used a MWC sweep in 2009 to roll into the Mountain Region and earn at-large bids to the 2009 finals. The Lobo men were third in the 2009 Regional and the UNM women were fifth.

That set the stage for a fabulous UNM run in the 2009 NCAA Championships where the two teams put together the best combined NCAA finish (No. 4) in UNM history finishing ahead of such powers as Stanford, Virginia, Syracuse, Duke, Brigham Young, Colorado, Georgetown and Arizona State.

The Lobo men's eighth-place finish in 2009 was the best in program history. The women's 13th-place finish was the program's best in 28 years and second-best ever. "We just kind of did what we did all year," said Franklin of the 2009 run -- which is what Franklin wants to see in 2010 and what Franklin saw at the 2010 MWC Championships.

The Lobos swept those two team titles for the second straight year. It was three in a row for the Lobo women, who ran one-two-three behind Natalie Gray, Sarah Waldron and Ruth Senior. Gray's run earned her MWC Cross Country Female Athlete of The Year and she was placed on the MWC First Team along with Waldron, Senior and Vanessa Ortiz. UNM's Kirsty Milner and Delyth James were on the MWC Second Team.

Rory Fraser paced the men at the MWC run finishing fourth, a few steps ahead of teammate Keith Gerrard at No. 5. Those two Lobos were All-MWC First Team and teammates Ross Millington, David Bishop and Brock Hagerman ran well enough to make the Second Team.

More than a few Lobos are talented enough to do well in Salt Lake City and Franklin said he won't hold any runners back. "It's not that you are going to tell them not to do well," said Franklin. "If it happens, great. But it's not a goal to win regionals."

Franklin's goals at regionals are crsytal clear: Stay germ free, eat right, be smart, dodge the trees, and keep something in the tank for nationals.