Stevens: Franklin's Lobo Runners Out To Win -- And Defend Titles
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  10/28/2010
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Oct. 28, 2010

MWC Cross Country Championships - Laramie, Wyo.
Friday -- Jacoby Golf Course.
Women: 10 a.m. at six kilometers.
Men: 11 a.m. at eight kilometers.
Results: On GoLobos.com, The MWC.com.

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

Do you really defend a team title or do you go out to claim a new crown? Lobo coach Joe Franklin sometimes gets philosophical late at night when sleep has lost out to his competitive juices and an inquisitive mind.

"I was lying in bed thinking about it," said the UNM track & field/cross country coach. "Do you actually defend the championship or do you go out to win the next one. This is a different team."

In a way, the semantics involving the Lobos' chase at the 2010 Mountain West Conference Cross Country Championship doesn't matter. The theme, the push, for Friday's run in Laramie, Wyoming is to beat the Brigham Young Cougars.

Do that, and the Lobos will have won the 2010 titles and will have defended their 2009 titles. They also will have said goodbye to a longtime UNM rival in, well, everything.

"It's BYU's last run in the conference and we are excited to give them a run for the money," said Franklin. "I like to go in as the underdog. That's just my philosophy. Even if we were favored, we'd turn it around someway to be the underdog.

"They (BYU) are going to have their new television contract so they are going to have everything in the world. We are just little old New Mexico trying to compete with the big dogs."

The underdog role doesn't exactly slope over Lobo shoulders like a warm shawl, which might be needed on a chilly, Laramie morning. The Lobos won the MWC titles in both the men's and women's runs in 2009. The Lobo men are ranked No. 12 in the nation and the Cougars carry the No. 13 mark. That's close.

On the women's side, the Lobo are ranked No. 10, favored to win the 2010 title, and claim their third consecutive MWC crown.

Franklin has no problem envisioning the end of this race. It will be a pack of Lobos mixed in with a congregation of Cougars with a smattering of quality runners from other MWC schools. It will be a dogfight to see who grabs the 2010 crown.

""I expect the men's meet to be one or two points either way and the women five or six points either way," said Franklin. "Our goal is to get everybody in the top ten on both sides.

"We want to be right there with 1,000 meters left and then it's a tossup. I have no doubt the fifth runner will decide the championship for both teams."

The closeness of this BYU/UNM men's thing was seen last year in Orem, Utah when the Lobo pack and the Cougar conglomeration made their kick at the end. Amazingly, the Lobo men beat the Cougars by one position at every scoring spot. "That's rare," said Franklin.

That rarity cost the No. 7 ranked Cougars the league title in 2009. That could be motivation for BYU. UNM was ranked No. 19 last year. The Lobo win snapped BYU's five-year run as MWC champions and also made UNM only the second MWC team to ever defeat BYU in 11 years.

In a small meet like the MWC run, every score carries more weight than it might at a bigger meet - like at the NCAA Regional to be held Nov. 13 in Salt Lake City or at the NCAA Championships to be held Nov. 22 in Terre Haute, Ind.

There are only six teams at the MWC meet in Laramie. Franklin says a key is how the runners handle the challenge - physically and mentally - of running at 7,200 feet.

UNM's Ruth Senior

"If you push yourself past a certain oxygen line, you aren't coming back at that elevation," he said. "Anything can happen the last 2,000 meters. And hopefully we aren't running in a blizzard."

Franklin says the Lobo women have four frontrunners expected to lead the pack: Natalie Gray, Sarah Waldron, Kirsty Milner and Ruth Senior. The Lobo women blew away BYU last season, 24-45, thanks to outstanding depth that saw four Lobos finish in the top seven.

Senior was the MWC runner-up in 2009. BYU's top runner is senior Cecily Lemmon Lew, who finished tenth at the 2009 NCAA finals. The Lobos are deep again behind Vanessa Ortiz, Alexandra Darling, Delyth James and Nicola Hood.

The Lobo men also have some speed up front in Nicholas Kipruto, Rory Fraser, David Bishop and Keith Gerrard. The men have solid depth in Ross Millington, Brock Hagerman, Sean Stam and Alex Willis.

The top five runners form a team's score. BYU's Miles Batty enters the race with the MWC's top time at 8-kilometers (23:42.4) this season.

The MWC meet does not determine who advances to the NCAA Regional. All teams go. At the regional run, the top two teams advance from each regional and then 13 at-large teams are picked off a formula. No politics.

"It's objective, which is great," said Franklin. "We have done what we need to do to get into the nationals, but we can't have a horrible day at regionals."

The Lobos don't want to have a horrible day in Laramie either. They have a couple of titles to win, and if you aren't too philosophical -- a couple of titles to defend.

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and Sports Columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at rstevens50@comcast.net