Cross Country Aiming High at Fifth Straight NCAA Championship
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  11/20/2013

NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships — Terre Haute, Ind.

When/Where: Saturday, E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky.
Men: 10 a.m. MT — 10 kilometers
Women: 11:15 a.m. MT — six kilometers
Results: GoLobos.com, BranchSportTech.com
Live Stream: NCAA.com

Turquoise is no longer a school color, but Lobo cross country wears it proudly. For these harriers, turquoise is an important color reserved for important meets.

“It’s something special,” New Mexico head coach Joe Franklin said. “We wear the turquoise to represent New Mexico.”

But, the color also serves another key role for UNM.

“It’s our way of finding each other in races because you can’t see,” Franklin said. “Everyone looks exactly alike. That way, we can find each other.”

And that, for a team with high expectations, certainly helps.

The University of New Mexico's nationally ranked cross country teams are heading to the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., Saturday, aiming for high finishes as they continue their streak of team NCAA appearances.

New Mexico has sent the women to six straight NCAA Championships and the men to five in a row, and travel to the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course looking to post the program’s first pair of top-10 national finishes.

“The expectations are to try give both teams the opportunity to get in the top 10 in the country,” Franklin said. “So [we have to] make sure we do everything in order to do that.”

To accomplish that task, the Lobos will have to run smart when the sixth-ranked men compete 10 a.m. MT and the No. 11 women at 11:15 a.m.

“You have to be smart and be able to close,” Franklin said, “since there’s bodies everywhere.”

With 31 teams and over 250 runners in each race, this meet will put New Mexico to the test.

But the Lobos — who have swept the Mountain West team titles and claimed top-three finishes at the NCAA Mountain Regional this month — are in position for top finishes.

Leading the men in their 10-kilometer race will be Luke Caldwell, Adam Bitchell, Patrick Zacharias, Sean Stam and Elmar Engholm.

All five runners, along with Donovan Torres and Ross Matheson, will be counted on to run as a team.

“I’m not looking for individual runners, I’m looking for team running,” Franklin said. “… I think having that team running, being able to see all of the men in their turquoise together [is key].”

The Lobos turned in a 21-second spread among their five scorers at the regional championships this past Saturday, translating that to third place behind the then top-two ranked teams in the nation, Colorado and Northern Arizona.

And while No. 1 Northern Arizona and No. 2 Oklahoma State are the pre-race favorites this week, New Mexico is in contention for a podium finish.

“I think you have a group of probably six teams that any one of them could be three to eight,” Franklin said. “If we have a good day, we’re one of those three to eight.”

But the team-running aspect is still the key to record New Mexico’s first top-10 finish in four years.

Since 2010, the Lobos have placed 16th in 2010, 31st in 2011 and 21st in 2012. The last top-10 finish was in 2009, when UNM tied for eighth. Overall, the men are making their ninth NCAA appearance.

On the women’s side, the theme of running as a team is prevalent there, as well.

Sammy Silva, the Mountain Region Women's Athlete of the Year and Mountain Region individual champion, has been pacing the women for most of the season, but isn’t alone in leading the women.

Charlotte Arter and Calli Thackery have been critical to the women’s success this season, and will be looked to for strong runs again Saturday.

“In order for us to be successful, the three have to be up-front,” Franklin said about Silva, Arter and Thackery.

But beyond that trio, the Lobos’ final team tally relies on the performance of the rest of the squad, including Nicole Roberts, Tamara Armoush, Nicola Hood, Heleene Tambet, Kirsten Follett and Chloe Anderson.

“We have to have the next four all working together and try to get in,” Franklin said. “And if everybody can get in under a 100 then we’re going to have a great score.”

During the last six years with Franklin at the helm, the women haven't finished outside of the top-20 at the national championships, including a 10th-place finish last year. The women have competed at 10 championships overall, counting two trips to the AIWA championships.

And while an NCAA title has happened yet, New Mexico has definitely become one of the nation’s most consistent programs.

New Mexico is just one of four schools, along with Colorado, Stanford and Villanova, to send both their men’s and women’s teams to the NCAA Championships each of the last five years from 2009 to 2013.

On top of that, UNM is just one of six institutions with both cross country teams in the top 15, along with Colorado, Stanford, Arkansas, Michigan and Villanova.

“It’s how we try to do things,” Franklin said. “And from day one, that was the goal.”

But there’s one more goal for the Lobos to check off their list, and they’ll look to do that Saturday in their turquoise uniforms.