Nov. 20, 2011
Lobo Cross Country -- At NCAA Championships
When/Where: Monday, Terre Haute, Indiana - Lavern Gibson Course
Women: 6 kilometers, 10:58 a.m. (MT) start
Men: 10 kilometers, 10:08 a.m. (Mt) start
Live Streaming: NCAA.com
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Is Lobo coach Joe Franklin a frustrated astronomer? Will the Lobos' cross country coach head to Terre Haute, Ind., with as many star charts in his hands as charts tracking down times of runners over various terrains here and yonder?
One thing is for sure, when Franklin goes to the NCAA Division I National Championships every year he talks about stars aligning and how they might influence his Lobos as they orbit the Lavern Gibson Championship Course.
Franklin has at least two alignments in mind on Monday for his University of New Mexico women's 6K run.
A pretty good alignment of stars - and runners - and the Lobos are top four and standing on the podium at the end of the meet. Franklin would have no problem with that finish.
A totally awesome alignment that has a few Florida State and Villanova runners going the wrong way and his Lobos are national champions.
The stars probably can't help Franklin's Lobo men to such lofty status, but a favorable alignment of stars and runners could push the Lobo men into the Top 20.
"We'll see if we can scare some of those big schools," said Franklin.
On the women's' side there is a strong favorite in No. 1 ranked Florida State which is being chased by two-time defending champion Villanova. The Lobos are bunched in a talented group that includes Washington, Georgetown, Vanderbilt and Colorado.
However, there are other teams who could run to favorable alignment and finish higher than expected. Franklin likes to call that group of teams talented enough to run their way onto the podium as "the clump." He says his Lobos are "in the clump."
His UNM clump is paced by four seniors: Natalie Gray, Sarah Waldron, Kirsty Milner and Ruth Senior. "Florida State is head and shoulders above the rest and then you have Villanova and Georgetown," said Franklin. "Florida State has to stumble a bit, but that happens all the time."
On the men's side, Wisconsin is looking to do the same thing as the Florida State women: Knock a two-time defending champion off the throne. Oklahoma State is back, locked and loaded, and looking for a third straight crown.
Wisconsin is ranked No. 1 going into the meet and the Badgers are the only team in NCAA history to qualify for every national championship (40) since the title runs began in 1972.
The men also have talented teams in Brigham Young, Oklahoma and Stanford. The No. 2 ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys won the NCAA Midwest Region 42-45 over No. 4 ranked Oklahoma.
BYU, led by Miles Batty, carries the No. 3 ranking on the men's side into Terre Haute. The Lobos are paced by Ross Millington, who is the only Lobo in the national run with NCAA championship experience. "On the men's side, we have our hands full," said Franklin.
The Lobos women and the Lobo men swept the Mountain West titles this fall and the women tied Colorado for the NCAA Mountain Region crown. The UNM women, like most teams, have fought back a few illnesses and injuries, but are relatively healthy for Monday's run.
UNM's Sarah Waldron almost missed the NCAA Mountain run after slicing her hand opening a can of beans and having to undergo surgery to repair the damage. If Franklin has room in his suitcase, he might toss in a first-aid kit alongside his star charts.
Of course, the Lobo women would like to stand on the podium on Monday, but these talented Lobos also would like to improve on a program-record fifth-place finish posted in 2010. The Lobos carry a No. 19 ranking into the national finals, but they have not been running at full strength most of the season. Josephine Moultrie did not run in regionals due to training, but is in Terre Haute.
Florida State won the NCAA South Region 34-54 over No. 5 Vanderbilt. The Seminoles were national runners-up to Villanova in 2010. Florida State is strong up top and deep, but things can change in national meets when top runners from around the country pack up and run. The "clump" can be challenging.
The No. 2 ranked Villanova women tied Georgetown for the Mid-Atlantic Region title. No. 3 Washington won the West.
In order to reach the podium, the Lobo women will have to pass a lot of talented runners - especially down the final kick to the finish line.
"You always want to be among the top ten teams toward the end of the race," said Franklin. "If you are in that group, a lot of good things can happen."
Franklin also says he likes his Lobos to approach the national finals as a no-pressure reward for a great season.
"It's a special opportunity to run at nationals and just enjoy the experience of running with the best of the best at that high level," said Franklin. "We'll run hard and see what happens."