Aug. 25, 2010
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
When a program comes off a sizzling season of brilliancy and record setting, sometimes you are a bit wary about asking a coach about an encore. It's not always easy to repeat excellence or add another layer of wonderment.
It's not that way with Coach Joe Franklin and his 2010 Lobo men's and women's cross country teams.
They seem to have sprinkled some fairy dust on their cleats and have unwavering visions of unbroken finish lines waiting a few steps in front of them.
Just consider two statements from Franklin concerning this season's long-run Lobos:
-- "On paper, this is probably my best women's team in 16 years."
-- "The guys should be able to take it up a notch."
Take it up a notch? Are you kidding us, Joe? Your Lobos are just coming off a season in which they registered the best combined (men/women) finish in UNM history. Your Lobos gave the school its first-ever sweep of Mountain West titles when you shocked Brigham Young and the rest of the league.
At the 2009 NCAA Championships, the UNM men's eighth-place finish was the best in program history. The women's 13th-place finish was the best in 28 years and the second-best ever.
So, what are you dreaming and scheming about, Joe? A national title?
Yeah, that's pretty much it. Franklin can see his men and women finishing in the Top Ten at nationals and "if you get into the Top Ten, if the stars are aligned and it's your day, you can win it.
"And there is no reason either team can' finish in the Top Ten in the country. Our goals are very high and we have the talent."
If you want to throw out another quote from Franklin that might encourage you to share his dream, here's a good one concerning transfer Nicholas Kipruto. "He's one of the best I've seen in a long, long time. He has some real gifts. He's good, really good."
OK, the men might have a star in the making, but national titles are won with five runners pulling in quality points. You need depth. You need a No. 6 and No. 7 runner, who are capable of finishing in the top five, which are the positions that bring the points.
So, Joe, how's the depth. "It looks pretty good. I don't anticipate any problems," he said. "We just have to stay healthy."
Kipruto, from Dine College, N.M., has star potential, but he's not alone in the talent department. Franklin surely will get some points this season from Keith Gerrard, Alex Willis, Rory Fraser, Brock Hagerman and Ross Millington - just to name a few sure-footed Lobos. .
The big losses on the men's side from 2009 are Jacob Kirwa, who finished 11th at nationals. Fraser, who finished 53rd at the NCAA finals, is the top returnee when it comes to NCAA points.
The Lobo women probably have a star, too, in senior Ruth Senior. Senior was the top Lobo finisher at the NCAA finals coming in at No. 46.
Franklin lost Nicky Archer, who was 68th at nationals, but he returns Lacey Oeding (79th) and Delyth James (126). The Lobos also have a lot of solid depth with Vanessa Ortiz, Kaitlyn Barry, a transfer from Baylor, Natalie Gray, Nicola Hood, Sarah Waldron and Kirsty Milner.
"It's a talented group and it's deep," said Franklin.
The Lobos were picked to finish second to BYU in both the men's and women's side. That's not an unusual pick since BYU is the league's traditional power and always loaded.
But the Lobo women are looking at their third consecutive league title and the men are looking to defend their 2009 crown. This is a Lobo group that deserves to be respected and feared.
"BYU and Colorado State, on the women's side, are very good," said Franklin. "BYU and Air Force are very good on the men's side. On both sides, that's three Mountain West teams that are at least Top 15. It will be a great conference meet.
"This group is motivated to be good and do the things necessary to be good."
Franklin said the recent success of his cross country program is attracting some of the best long distance runners in the world - and in New Mexico.
"This freshmen recruiting class is the best I've had in my 16 years (as a head coach)," he said. "We are getting a name. We are getting kids who a few years ago wouldn't even talk to us. The two freshmen from New Mexico (Edwin Herring and Kyle Pittman) would have had no interest in us a couple of years ago."
The Lobos open the season Saturday, Sept. 4 with the running of the 11th Lobo Invitational, held at the UNM North Golf Course. The run also includes interscholastic races, as well as a Community Fun Run.
Franklin, who was the MWC Coach of The Year for both the men's and women's teams in 2009, is in his fourth season at UNM.
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.