For the second straight year, Colorado reigned supreme at the Pac-12 Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Championships, sweeping the team titles Friday morning at Randolph North Golf Course.
The championship was the sixth straight title for the men’s team and the third overall title for the women’s team. Since joining the Pac-12 Conference in 2011, CU has won nine of 12 league cross country titles.
THE WOMEN’S RACE
The top-ranked CU women’s team proved they deserved their ranking, easily defeating some of the best teams in the country to win their second straight Pac-12 title. The Buffs put together a total score of 33, besting No. 2 Washington by 41 points (74), the third-largest margin of victory in Pac-10/12 Conference history.
The Buffs were second overall through the first two kilometers, but moved into the lead at the halfway point and never looked look back. Colorado was so dominant that it placed seven runners in the top 20.
Senior Erin Clark led the way for CU with a second-place finish, crossing the line just .04 seconds behind the champion, Washington’s Amy-Eloise Neale. Clark clocked in at 20:23.3, while Neale came in at 20:22.9. This is the best conference finish for Clark, besting a pair of fourth-place finishes from 2014 and 2015. Clark ran in the front the whole race and was never lower than sixth.
Sophomore Dani Jones, a Phoenix, Ariz. native, ran an impressive race, placing third overall in 20:24.44, a huge improvement from her 24th place finish in 2015. Jones worked her way up the field throughout the race. She was 25th at the first split, but by the time she came across 2k, she had worked herself into the top 15 at 12th. Jones never looked back, gradually working her way up to third, edging her teammate, juniorKaitlyn Benner, who finished fourth in 20:28.3.
Sophomore transfer Makena Morley, the 2015 Big Sky Champion, made her mark for the Buffs with a ninth-place finish (20:43.0). With the first four Buffaloes across the line, CU needed a fifth runner to round out the team score, and three Buffs looked to answer that call as freshman Sage Hurta (21:00.3), redshirt sophomore Mackenzie Caldwell (21:03.7) and junior Melanie Nun (21:03.7) finished 15th, 16th and 17th, respectively.
“To have a good fifth runner is more important than just having a good first runner. We have three good fifth runners, and it bodes well for the big meets coming up down the road when there’s 300 runners instead of 100, and they’re coming in close. But that’s very indicative of the strength of our team, it’s great to have all the people we have to help us back and forth in the fifth position.” – Head Coach Mark Wetmore.
THE MEN’S RACE
Colorado’s seventh-ranked men entered the meet as an underdog behind No. 2 Stanford and No. 3 Oregon, but they did not get the memo, as they recorded their sixth straight Pac-12 title, taking down Stanford 41-47.
The Buffs were fifth at the 3k split with 114 points, which was 75 points behind the then-leader UCLA. CU kicked it up a notch, and by the midway point, the Buffs were leading the field with 54 points (14 ahead of Washington State). The Buffs continued to run a great race, although Stanford was making a surge, moving up from fourth at the midway point to second a kilometer later. CU was able to hold off the Cardinal by a narrow six-point margin to claim the victory.
“I knew, coach Burroughs knew, and the men finally knew that the pre-nationals wasn’t a great race. They made some execution errors there, but they immediately bought into the concept on how to adjust and how to run better. In which case we knew that we were going to be contenders for this title. We came here planning to make it really hard to beat us. Stanford’s an excellent team, and I think Oregon struggled a little bit today with the heat. It came down to every last guy fighting for us. We won by about a point a man. It was a real war and I’m super proud of these guys. Nobody for us had a bad day.”
Senior Ben Saarel had his highest Pac-12 finish at the meet, placing third overall (24:16.5). He had a lot of work to do, working up from 38th at the 2k split, but he made it look easy, moving to fourth at the halfway split. He ran a smart race the rest of the way to lead CU to yet another Pac-12 team title with his finish.
“It was definitely his best race this year, in fact it’s probably his best race in about two years. He’s starting to feel well and he’s starting to get his momentum back.”
Zach Perrin, a junior for the Buffs, also had his best Pac-12 finish, placing fourth overall (24:17.1) behind Saarel. Prior to today’s race, Perrin’s highest finish had been 37th. This was the first time Perrin has been able to contribute to the team score at a conference meet.
Colorado had another two racers finish in the top 10 with sophomores John Dressel and Ryan Forsyth finishing sixth and ninth, respectively. The sixth place finish for Dressel (24:20.8) tied his finish from 2015, while Forsyth’s performance (24:39.5) was a 13-place improvement from 2015’s 24th place finish. CU’s final scorer was redshirt freshman Joe Klecker, who recorded a 19th place finish (24:55.2).
Colorado won its sixth straight team title with just one scorer from the 2015 championship team – Dressel. Saarel did not race at the Pac-12 Championships in 2015 and Forsyth was the sixth harrier to finish for the Buffs that year.
UP NEXT: The postseason will continue for the Buffs at the NCAA Mountain Region Championships, November 11, in Logan, Utah.