It seems like forever since the Colorado Buffaloes won at the annual NCAA Pre-National Invitational cross country meet. In reality, it’s only been three years since the men took first place.
That’s just how big expectations are here.
Since 1999, the cross-country team has dominated pre-Nationals, with the men winning eight times and the women winning twice. Heading into Terre Haute, Ind. on Saturday, the men and women’s teams are ranked No. 4 and No. 19, respectively.
But according to junior runner Richard Medina, the rankings are about as useful as a detached muffler.
“Our team doesn’t really focus on rankings,” Medina said. “Even if we were ranked No. 1, we would still be out there for redemption for last year.”
Last year, the men’s team finished ninth and the women came in at 20th at this meet. Certainly, it was a disappointing outing for Mark Wetmore’s program that has won five NCAA team championships under his tutelage.
What happens this weekend will tell where the Buffs stand in the national picture. Success at the invitational is the ultimate litmus test at the NCAA Championships.
Last season, the CU men finished 12th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships while the women did not qualify. Of the nine times the team has won Pre-Nationals, they have gone on to win the NCAA Cross Country Championships three times.
This year sees a much-improved CU team as they are a faster squad overall and return Bowerman award finalist Jenny Barringer, who redshirted in 2008. The Bowerman award is named for track and field pioneer Bill Bowerman and it will recognize the most outstanding women’s track and field athlete.
Two weeks ago, Barringer set the course record for the 5.8-kilometer track at the Rocky Mountain Shootout. She and other experienced runners, such as junior Allison Sawyer, are poised to bring championships back to the women’s team.
“Last meet, all our varsity runners beat our fastest times from last year,” Sawyer said. “So we’ve definitely improved 100 percent.”
Sawyer, who has competed in pre-Nationals twice, is among a veteran group that won the Rocky Mountain Shootout and took home both men and women’s individual titles at the Fort Hayes Invitational.
That’s scary considering how this weekend will be the first time all season the runners will go full speed. They’ve been given the green light after two weeks of “just tapering,” according to the players.
With 18 ranked men’s teams and 19 ranked women’s teams in attendance, CU will face its toughest competition all year. The men will begin the meet by running against the likes of No. 1 Stanford and No. 6 BYU, just to name a few. The women will start off against No. 4 Oregon and several other top-10 teams in their 6K race.
Just how far can this team go? The NCAA Pre-Nationals meet should provide a clear answer to that question.
When the Buffs return to Terre Haute in late November for the NCAA Championships, the stakes will be much higher. But first, they will try to regain their rightful spot at the top in this weekend’s Pre-Nationals.
Three years has never seemed so long.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Michael Krumholtz at Michael.Krumholtz@colorado.edu.