Contact CU Independent Assistant Sports Editor Alissa Noe at email@example.com and follow her on twitter @crazysportgirl1.
Since his inauguration into the University of Colorado cross country program 21 years ago, head coach Mark Wetmore just keeps getting better and better. Last weekend, Wetmore’s teams swept the Pac-12 championship and he was subsequently named the Pac-12 Cross Country Coach of the Century.
For the past five seasons since joining the Pac-12 conference, Wetmore’s teams have won seven conference titles with five in the men’s category and two in the women’s. Based on these achievements, Colorado now stands at fourth in Pac-12 history for the most conference titles. Five straight titles for the men also stands as the second-longest streak in the conference’s history.
In his 21 years as head coach, Wetmore has won 30 of 40 possible conference titles between his time in the Big 12 and his time in the Pac-12. His record, in turn, prompted conference officials to award him the Pac-12 Cross Country Coach of the Century.
“There has been some pretty good coaches in the Pac-12, at least that I’ve been aware of, so I am some combination of honored and embarrassed,” Wetmore said. “There are some pretty good people in there, but yeah, it’s fun.”
He said he felt embarrassed “just because they’re really good and I’m not sure that I belong competing against them. But it’s an honor.”
You can read the full list of his accomplishments at CU here.
As of right now, his men’s team is ranked No. 1 in the country and his women sit at No. 2.
Wetmore’s latest accolade comes on the cusp of his teams sweeping the Pac-12 championships. Last week in Colfax, Washington, both the CU men and women teams won first place with scores of 46 and 45, respectively.
On the men’s side of the race, senior Pierce Murphy finished fourth overall with a final time of 23:15:1, followed by freshman John Dressel (sixth) and senior Ammar Moussa (seventh). To date, the men have won every possible Pac-12 title since joining the conference five years ago.
Murphy said that heading into the race, the team knew the competition would be tough regardless of everyone’s expectations that they would win.
“Going in, I knew as a team we had a lot of pressure to win since we won the last four years,” Murphy said. “I knew we were all really fit and I knew if we all had a good race, like a normal race, that we would win.”
But he did not expect to finish as high as he did.
“Personally, I knew I would be up there most of the race,” Murphy elaborated. “From pre-nats I was up there and I knew there wasn’t as much competition, but there was still a lot. I don’t think I expected fourth, I was thinking like—last year I think I was like eighth or seventh—but I was thinking anything better than that I would have been happy with.”
The women, on the other hand, placed four runners in the top 10 led by Kaitlyn Benner at second with a 19:55:5 time, followed by Erin Clark (fourth), Melanie Nun (seventh) and Maddie Alm (eighth).
“I wasn’t expecting (to finish highest on the team), but just towards the end I was like, ‘I’ll give it all I have.’ And that’s just how it turned out, so I was really excited,” Benner said.
Thanks to their impressive performances at the conference race, Benner and Murphy have both been named CU Athlete of the Week.
Additionally, Dressel received the All Pac-12 Cross Country Freshman of the Year award and all of the men’s top-10 finishers made the All Pac-12 First Team. Benner, Clark and Nun also made the women’s First Team for the conference.
Despite the team’s impressive finish, Wetmore said that going in they knew the competition would be tough, especially against Oregon and Stanford.
“We knew that there were excellent teams in the Pac-12. On both sides there are two or three teams, in both genders, there are two or three teams ranked in the top five in the whole country,” Wetmore said.
“Both of those teams were plugging in some women that they hadn’t been using, so we knew we were facing not only highly-ranked teams, but highly-ranked teams that were better than they had raced so far this season. And we were right. They were the strongest they’ve ever been.”
Next Friday, Nov. 13, the Buffs will head to Albuquerque to take on their regional opponents before heading to Louisville, Kentucky for the NCAA Championships.
“We have a little bit of breathing room now from the Pac-12 to the NCAA,” Wetmore said. “We have three weeks. There is the NCAA qualifying round, mountain region, which is in Albuquerque two Fridays from now, but most of the teams run that one moderately and cautiously. So we have a block of work we can get used to.”
For now, the team will concentrate on buckling down to get ready for their next two races and Wetmore said they won’t allow their high rankings to get to their heads.
“There’s a handful of teams back east that seem to be interchanging good weekends,” he said. “Any one of them can beat us. Michigan has already. So while we are ranked first in the men and second in the women today, we know there’s very good teams out there and it’s just a matter of who manages Nov. 21 the best.”