When Coach Joe Franklin took over the University of New Mexico cross country program in 2007, the men’s team had won just five conference titles since 1962 and the women had not won a single title. Now, the men boast a total of 10 conference titles and the women six, showing that Franklin is building somewhat of a dynasty at UNM.
The first men’s conference title came back in 1963 when the Lobos were part of the Western Athletic Conference, and they were able to win again in 1965, 1966, 1968 and 1988. The Lobos switched to the Mountain West Conference in 1999 but had to wait 10 years to take home their first MWC title. In 2009 UNM managed to wrestle the title from a strong Brigham Young University team on their home course in Orem, Utah in a nail-biting 29-34 points win.
The women’s first conference title came in San Diego in 2008, just one year into Franklin’s reign, and they haven’t lost since. On that day the women felled eight-time champions BYU by just two points, 31-33, the closest championship meet in MWC history, to take the title back to Albuquerque where it now resides.
Coming to UNM in January 2009 I was unaware of much of the conference history of the school, and recognized that Franklin was in the early stages of rebuilding the program, which was something I and many of the new members of the team were excited about.
As the season built toward the conference championship in Orem, we were more excited about the prospect of beating a very highly ranked BYU than winning the school’s first conference title in ten years, as we didn’t really know what it meant to win a championship.
I also have to admit to some healthy inter-team rivalry here, as there was added motivation for the men’s team after the ladies won in 2008 and the men left with a third place finish. We were motivated to put this right in 2009.
Being part of the first men’s conference title win for 10 years, the first of Franklin’s time at UNM, was one of the highlights of my Lobo career. That chilly day in Orem we, the No.19 ranked Lobos, took down the No. 7 Cougars in front of their home fans in one of the most exciting races I have ever been a part of.
The conference meet in 2009 also marked the first time in UNM history where the Lobos were able to sweep both men’s and women’s titles, an impressive feat in such a strong conference, and something the Lobos have perfected, as they now have five straight sweeps of the MWC cross country titles.
I truly began to know what it was like to be part of talented and successful team on both the men’s and women’s sides, something quite rare in Division I, and something which is now almost a given with the Lobo cross country program, and little did I know that my first cross country season at UNM would begin a streak that is still in progress today.
In 2010, in the rarified air of Laramie, Wyo., there was a real sense of pride in being able to defend both titles. The women’s race was a formality, as the Lobos went 1-2-3 and took their third straight title by a whopping 40 points. The men’s race came down to a tough but successful battle with BYU after a painfully slow opening few kilometers. The race was set alight with around 2 kilometers remaining but the Lobos held on to take back-to-back wins.
On a snow covered course in Fort Collins, Colo., the 2011 championship saw a largely depleted men’s team in a dogfight with Air Force. This was by far the hardest conference win of recent years for the men, but we prevailed with a three-point win, the closest title fight in conference history. The women cruised to their fourth straight win placing four runners in the top seven. This meet also saw UNM sweeping both the men’s and women’s individual titles, as I was able to take one of my first conference wins and Ruth Senior took the women’s race.
In Las Vegas, Nev. in 2012, both Lobo teams were revamped with some fresh faces, but the same winning attitude remained as the fourth straight sweep was completed under the Vegas sun. The individual sweep was also repeated, with Luke Caldwell and Lacey Oeding taking home the individual titles for UNM.
By now a conference winning tradition was being established at UNM, and newcomers were immediately aware of this and bought into the importance of keeping the streak alive. After spending this season injured and unable to participate, it was great to see the same enthusiasm for winning instantly engrained in a largely new team.
This season, the men stretched their conference title streak to five years after defeating Air Force on their home course last week. The Lobos looked dominant up front with Luke Caldwell, Adam Bitchell and Patrick Zacharias placing 2-3-4 respectively. The women now have six straight titles after brushing aside Boise State in Colorado Springs with a commanding display, taking five of the top ten spots paced by a runner up finish from Sammy Silva.
This marked the fifth straight conference sweep for the Lobo cross country program, something that should not go unnoticed or unrecognized in a highly competitive conference.
The streak is tied for the fourth longest streak of sweeps all-time in Division I, a hugely impressive accolade for the Lobo cross country program. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, the same streak is currently the second longest active streak in Division I behind Iona’s nine sweeps of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, an arguably much weaker conference than the Mountain West.
Going into the Mountain West Championships this year, there were a total of six nationally ranked teams. In the men’s race, the then ninth-ranked Lobos had to contend with No. 20 Boise State, No. 22 Colorado State and No. 28 Air Force while the No. 9 women had No. 25 Boise State to deal with. The Mountain West currently boasts five nationally ranked teams less than three weeks out from the national meet.
Along the journey of this streak, the Lobos have had to contend with some very strong nationally ranked teams, but once a winning environment such as the one created here in Albuquerque is built, it is very hard to stop, and the Lobos are now established as one of the best overall cross country programs in the nation.
Unlike myself back in 2009, incoming freshman will be more than aware of the conference winning history of the school in cross country, a great sense of pride and motivation that will now be present every year as the Lobos head into the championship season.