Cross Country Heads to NCAA Championships for 4th Straight Year
Nov. 15, 2012
NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships — Louisville, Ky.
When/Where: Saturday, E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Ky.
For three straight years, New Mexico has proven itself as one of the top collegiate cross country programs in the nation.
On Saturday, the Lobos will look to make it four straight.
The University of New Mexico's nationally ranked cross country teams are heading to the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships in Louisville, Ky. this weekend as they continue their streak of team NCAA appearances. The No. 17 women will compete Saturday at 10 a.m. MT, and the No. 21 men at 11:15 a.m. MT.
The Lobos, who are sending both their men and women to a fourth consecutive NCAA championship, will make the trip to E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park in Louisville looking to improve on the women's ninth-place finish and the men's 31st-place finish at the 2011 national championships.
"If we can come out and be top 20 on each side, I think that's a really good day," New Mexico head coach Joe Franklin said. "We're going in the right direction. We were sick at the conference meet and people were a little hurt at the conference meet, so everything is going the right direction, which is positive."
While the direction the Lobos are going might not end at the top of the NCAA podium, New Mexico has been doing some of its best work of 2012 as of late. Both teams swept the Mountain West team and individual crowns last month and claimed top-four finishes at the NCAA Mountain Regional last week.
But with the all of the nationally ranked talent competing—including the top-ranked Oklahoma State men and Florida State women—the races on Saturday won't be a walk in the park.
In fact, it might be more of a stampede.
"It's just body after body after body and you just have to fight," Franklin said.
With 31 teams (and over 250 runners) competing in each race, the Lobos will have to come together on each side to stand a chance at making runs to a trophy finish.
For the men, their charge will be led by letterwinner Sean Stam and transfers Luke Caldwell, Adam Bitchell and Patrick Zacharias. A very deep and balanced squad, the men will have to tighten up their pack to finish high.
"Their gap has got to be small," Franklin said. "That's first and foremost. That gap has got to be small one to four ... But if that can happen, we can score really well. And those guys have got to work together and move forward the whole time."
The men are also counting on strong performances in their 10-kilometer run out of Sam Evans and freshmen Donovan Torres and Elmar Engholm. Both Evans and Engholm have scored for the Lobos during the postseason, while Torres has been a consistent sixth runner for the men all season.
"Elmar, Donovan and Sam have got to work hard and try to get somebody in the 100 to 130 range," Franklin said. "And that's salty, and sounds a bit underwhelming, but that's a great run."
A top-20 finish for the men is not out of the realm of possibility, but they will have to reverse a trend of falling NCAA finishes. Under Franklin, the men have finished 31st in 2011, 16th in 2010 and a program-best tie for eighth in 2009. Overall, the men's team is making it eighth championship appearance.
On the women's side, the story is similar. The Lobo women are represented by All-Region runners Josephine Moultrie, Charlotte Arter and Lacey Oeding, as the trio tries to guide the women in the 6-kilometer run.
The women's two three runners in 2012, Moultrie and Oeding have led New Mexico at every meet at which they have run, including the conference championships (Oeding) and regional championships (Moultrie). Arter has been the Lobos' second runner for the past month.
The three will be joined by another All-Region athlete in Shawna Winnegar, and by talented runners Imogen Ainsworth, Kirsten Follett and Chloe Anderson.
"It's a good group of women," Franklin said. "I think you've got three women that are running really close together up front and another three women that are running really close together in the other spots."
However, with all of the runners on the course, the women will have to work together in order to score.
"They've got to be able to find each other in this race with 255 women," Franklin said. "You've got be able to find your teammates to plow through. I think we can run really well.
"It's the fifth year in the row [at nationals] and I just want to be in there where we've been before, in that 12 to 18 range."
With Franklin at the helm, the women haven't finished outside of the top-20 at the national championships. They placed ninth last year, fifth in 2010, 13th in 2009 and 18th in 2008 in their string of five straight NCAA appearances. The women have competed at nine overall, counting two trips to the AIWA championships.
And while the Lobos still have work to do to win a national title, New Mexico has cultivated one of the more consistent cross country programs in recent Division I history.
New Mexico is just one of five Division I institutions to send their men's and women's teams together to the NCAA Championships the past five years, along with Stanford, Florida State, Villanova and Georgetown.
"It's getting pretty elite company," Franklin said. "But I think it just shows that we're trying to develop both programs, men's and women's. Not just women, not just men, but trying to do both at the same time, which typically it doesn't always happen that way."
For the Lobos—who are also the only non-BCS school to have both teams ranked and competing in Louisville—it has happened.
But for Franklin, the rankings and the numbers don't really matter come race time.
"Luckily, it's all solved when the gun goes off."