Nov. 25, 2009
"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?" -- Robert Browning.
"Some people see things as they are and say, `Why?' I dream of things that never were and ask, `Why not?'" -- Robert Kennedy
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
With Lobo coach Joe Franklin, that's never really a question. It's more of a statement, a plan, a mission, and if you know anything about this energetic Lobo track and cross country coach, you can't help but look at it as an inevitable.
Franklin sees no reason why his University of New Mexico Lobos' cross country teams can't win a national championship. "The sky is the limit," said Franklin, no doubt really contemplating the solar system beyond.
A national championship at any university is a lofty goal and no doubt, it is beyond the grasp of many programs. But probably not for UNM cross country. There are just too many positives to be found under that breathtaking and endless New Mexico sky and you probably start the impressive list with Franklin.
What he has done at New Mexico in a few short seasons is nothing short of amazing and you only have to go back a few days and a few weeks to accentuate that statement with hard facts.
Franklin's cross country teams (men & women) just put together the best combined NCAA finish in UNM history finishing ahead of schools such as Stanford, Virginia, Syracuse, Duke, Brigham Young, Colorado, Georgetown, Arizona State.
The Lobo men's eighth-place finish was the best in program history. The women's 13th-place finish was the program's best in 28 years and second-best ever.
You combine those points and UNM's total score was No. 4 in the nation among the 18 schools that advanced both a men`s and women`s team to the NCAA Championships. "We just kind of did what we did all year," said Franklin of his runners' times.
You go back a couple of weeks and the Lobos stunned the Mountain West Conference by sweeping both championships in the league's finale. It was UNM's first sweep ever. It was done on Utah soil. The Lobos also finished third (men) and fifth (women) at the NCAA Mountain Region.
It's not that these events and spectacular finishes place Franklin's Lobos on the NCAA map of outstanding programs. The Lobos were already there. The 2008 men were ranked and had their best-ever score at the NCAA Regionals.
The New Mexico women won the school's first-ever cross country conference championship in 2008. That team had the most all-league picks in UNM history and went on to finish 18th in its first NCAA appearance since 1985.
11th -- Jabob Kirwa
20th -- Jeremy Johnson
53rd -- Rory Fraser
85th -- Chris Barnicle
91st -- Lee Emanuel
142nd -- David Bishop
150th -- Ross Millington
161st -- Keith Gerrard
46th -- Ruth Senior
68th -- Nicky Archer
79th -- Lacey Oeding
126th -- Delyth James
135th -- Carolyn Boosey
191st -- Ashley Gibson
228th -- Vanessa Ortiz
"We had an unbelievable year," said Franklin, the 2009 MWC Coach Of The Year for both the men's and women's side. "But what this should tell all the great runners out there is that there is a reason they should come to New Mexico and there is a reason for this success.
"We are in one of the best endurance-athletic climates in the world. We have a big sky out here, it's blue almost all the time, and that sky is our limit. There is a reason world-class runners and world-class cyclists come here to train. This is truly an endurance Mecca.
"We're more than happy at UNM to show the United States and the rest of the world what we have here and why we plan to get to the top."
Part of Franklin's plan is to attract world-class runners from around the nation and around the world. Another part of that plan to reach the top, reach for the sky, is to get the best New Mexico runners to become Lobos.
Of course, there are tremendous reasons to stay home and run for Franklin. The neat thing about endurance running is that you don't need a 50,000-seat stadium or a state-of-the-art gym in order to become the best. You need weather, altitude, coaching and a lot of that blue sky stuff.
The Lobos have all of that stuff and more.
"We have all the resources," said Franklin. "We have an unbelievable leader in Paul Krebs. We have an unbelievable running climate. We have a great university.
"There are no reasons the great runners in New Mexico and the Southwest shouldn't consider joining the great runners from around the world, who are dying to come to New Mexico. I understand that there are kids who want to go away to school, but it's our goal to keep those kids here."
Franklin is confident that his program will continue to attract blue-chip runners. New Mexico's fast-growing reputation as a cross country power is a powerful attractant when combined with altitude and climate. But Franklin also knows a strong influx of local talent will provide the much-needed depth a cross country program needs.
"The message we are putting out isn't just to men or just to women," said Franklin. "We have a total program at New Mexico. To win a national championship, the stars have to be aligned, things have to happen for you. But you also have to have the people, the talent, in order to have the chance to get the stars aligned."
The message from Franklin to potential Lobos also might be this: Come to New Mexico. Run. Have Fun. Let the coach align the stars. Franklin has a big reach.
"We have gone places we have never gone before," said the Lobos coach. "And we will build on that success. It's going to get better as more athletes realize that the University of New Mexico is a great place to go for a quality education and a quality track and field experience."