Nov. 1, 2012
NCAA Mountain Regional Championships - Fort Collins, Colo.
When/Where: Nov. 9, Collindale Golf Course, Fort Collins, Colo.
Women: 12 p.m. MT -- six kilometers
Men: 1 p.m. MT -- 10 kilometers
For Lobo Patrick Zacharias, the plan coming out of Albuquerque Academy was to find a college that was a good fit academically and athletically.
But initially, his choice wasn't New Mexico.
A transfer from the University of Arizona, Zacharias has turned into one of the University of New Mexico's top cross country runners as the Lobos head into the NCAA Mountain Regional Championships on Nov. 9.
Zacharias, a junior originally from Albuquerque, found New Mexico to be the perfect landing pad after a two-year stint at Arizona didn't work out as planned. Since transferring back home, Zacharias has consistently produced for the Lobos, scoring for New Mexico's nationally ranked men's cross country team at its last three meets.
"He brings a great competitiveness," New Mexico head coach Joe Franklin said. "He's a former basketball player -- a successful Albuquerque basketball player -- and runner, so he brings a little different competitive edge to the team. He's funny, he wants the run well and he's supportive of others. He's a great student and a very rounded kid who's helping tremendously."
For the thin and bespectacled Zacharias, his competitiveness was honed as a Wildcat at the University of Arizona.
"I got to race alongside two of the best NCAA runners in a long time: [Arizona's] Stephen Sambu and Lawi Lalang," Zacharias said. "Those guys I built a great friendship with as teammate and as competitors and I think they taught me a lot about running."
Running with a pair of All-Americans helped season Zacharias at Arizona, as he claimed top-25 finishes at the Pac-12 Cross Country Championships and NCAA West Regional Championships in 2011.
However, in spite of the start of a promising running career as a Wildcat, Tucson ended not being the right fit.
"Honestly, I was losing track of my goals at Arizona being away from home, being at a party school setting," Zacharias said. "To tell you the truth, it was just time.
"At that moment in my life, I was ready to come home."
Enter New Mexico.
Coach Franklin, always on the lookout for talented runners, found one within city limits and without a plan.
"I wasn't every thinking about running when I came back," Zacharias said. "But I met with Joe a couple weeks before the [cross country team's] tryout and he was so understanding about everything that was happening in my life and I could feel instantly that he cared a lot. He said he would give me a shot and we played it by ear. I was going to redshirt and things just worked out and here I am."
Zacharias, taking advantage of the NCAA's one-time transfer exception, bypassed sitting out a year as a transfer and began his run with the Lobos in August.
In just a few months, Zacharias has burst onto the scene in the Duke City and has begun to shine at New Mexico.
"Patrick is a kid we didn't know would be on the team," Franklin said. "We didn't know if he was going to run or not. And for him to come out and join the team and run like he is is phenomenal."
With a pair of top-100 finishes at the nationally-competitive Notre Dame and Wisconsin adidas Invitationals, Zacharias was in a good position heading into the Mountain West Championships.
"Going into it, I told my family 'this might be one I could actually win for the first time in a while'," Zacharias said.
And while he didn't claim the individual crown, he came close, finishing 12 seconds behind teammate and titlist Caldwell for third place overall and First-Team All-MW honors.
"I think we all knew that one of us four was going to win," Zacharias said. "I would have liked to have gone one-two. That's all I was thinking about late in the race."
But in spite of the tumult of the conference meet, Zacharias is already thinking ahead to the upcoming NCAA Mountain Region Championships.
A showdown between 16 schools for a spot in the national championships, the men's NCAA Regional meet is shaping up to be a brawl with four nationally ranked teams, including No. 2 Colorado, No. 7 BYU, No. 18 Northern Arizona and the 16th-ranked Lobos.
"I think we know what we need to do and we're all working together to reach that goal. Going into regional, we'd like to go for the win and just see how high we can finish in the regional."
But win or lose, it's an opportunity Zacharias is happy to have.
"Coming back, the fit has just been unbelievable and it's been so awesome so far and I'm just happy to back home now."
As are the Lobos.