New Mexico cross country had a strong outing at the the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational a couple of weeks ago and will look to strengthen its chances on Friday toward fulfilling the quest to be at the NCAA Championships next month.
The Lobo women took first place two weeks ago at Notre Dame, while the men turned in a top 10 performance.
Head coach Joe Franklin said in a release that the team was excited to compete again and will have a goal to close the gaps between runners on both of the squads.
The task will likely not be an easy one as the squads will compete against an impressive field at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational, which will be held at the Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course.
New Mexico has fared well at the course, especially on the women’s side. The women placed fourth last season and won the meet the previous year in 2015.
According to a release, 20 ranked men’s programs will run in the invitational in an 8-kilometer race, as well as 16 of the top women’s teams in the nation competing at 6-kilometers.
With so much talent on the course, Franklin seemed to believe the event could be poised for a lot of excitement.
"On the men's side, it's a who's who of distance running," the head coach said in a release. "Up front, it's going to be an incredible meet. On the women's side, it's just going to be like it always is: There'll be six or seven teams banging it out for the win, and we'll see how it goes."
The New Mexico women figure to be one of those teams “banging it out” as they maintain the No. 1 spot in the Mountain West coaches poll and are No. 3 in the nation according to the latest USTFCCCA rankings.
The men find themselves outside of the top 25 national rankings, but they could start building some momentum and adding some credentials to work towards an NCAA Championship berth with a strong showing.
Only 31 schools get the nod to compete in the NCAAs. And although it might be a long shot for the men to get an automatic ticket as a top-two finisher in the regional competition, there are still 13 of the overall slots that will be awarded as an at-large bid.
The Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational will be the final opportunity to pick up meet experience before the Mountain West Championships in a few weeks, which will be held in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Ednah Kurgat could be a frontrunner on Friday again, given that she set the bar for the field in Indiana with a first-place finish. Kurgat actually set a course record with a time of 16:01.8, the first time UNM took an individual title there since Charlotte Arter did so in 2014, according to golobos.com.
The Lobo women actually had four of the top 10 runners, with Alice Wright coming in second place, Weini Kelati placing fourth and Charlotte Prouse notching an eighth-place finish.
Franklin said he expected his team to be up to the challenge.
"We just need to run very similar like to what we did at Notre Dame, which is traditionally what we've done," Franklin said. "If we run similar, it'll be a really good result."
The men could have a little more to work in front of them. Alexander Palm finished seventh and the second scorer for UNM, Josh Kerr, came in 18th. The Lobos will need to tighten up the gap with the other three scorers, as the rest of the runners finished outside the top 50 in the field at Notre Dame.
Still, the head coach seemed optimistic that the men’s squad would be able to answer the call.
"You have to place somewhere in the middle of the race," Franklin said. "If you place in the middle of the race, you're going to get done what you need to get done to have a shot to go to the national championship."
The New Mexico women will start things off in the invitational at 11:20 a.m., and the men will begin at noon.
Tyrell Natewa is a freelance sports reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers men's and women's cross country and track and field. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball, football and tennis. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.