The University of New Mexico cross country team will head to Logan, Utah to compete at the Mountain Region Championships, with the goal of qualifying for the NCAA Championships in sight.
Head coach Joe Franklin said the men's and women's team may have different approaches in how to achieve that goal though.
The women, the No. 2 ranked team in the country, maintained its position after winning the Mountain West Championships on its home course on Oct. 27 and will probably look to balance having a solid showing, while at the same time saving some of their legs at nationals.
"Our goal is to get through this on the women's side as easy as possible," Franklin said. "On the men, we don't have that option."
In fact, Franklin said perennial All-American Alice Wright will not make the trip to Utah, opting instead to stay in New Mexico to train for the NCAA Championships.
The coaching staff made the same move in 2015 and it paid dividends. New Mexico still earned a second-place team finish and automatically qualified for nationals in her absence and probably could have won the meet, but Franklin said runners were specifically instructed not to sprint during the final stages of the race.
Colorado won the 2015 Mountain Region Championships by one point, but New Mexico won the national championship the following week in dominating fashion. Wright finished fifth overall in the 2015 NCAA Championships and all five UNM scorers placed in the top 25.
The women will be led by sophomore sensation Ednah Kurgat, who has won every race she has competed in so far this season. She was named "athlete of the week" after winning the Mountain West Championships well ahead of the field with a time of 19:58.77 in the six-kilometer race.
Weini Kelati and Charlotte Prouse have consistently been top scorers for the Lobos this season as well, and figure to shoulder much of the load without the services of Wright. Kelati and Prouse finished second and third behind Kurgat at the Mountain West Championships.
The rest of the women's runners are expected to be comprised of Alex Buck, Sophie Eckel, Kieran Casey and Alondra Negron Texidor. That quartet is likely to round out the scoring for New Mexico and could decide whether or not the Lobos emerge with a team victory.
Franklin said the team usually isn't one to sprint out of the gate and have things dictated by how other schools run, electing instead to run from behind and dictate its own pace.
"The race is very rarely won in the first 400 meters," he said. "We tend to move throughout the race coming from altitude. It's a lot more fun when you're passing people than when you're getting passed."
On the men’s side, Franklin said the team will have to go all out and try to earn one of the automatic bids to advance. The team has continued to tighten its spread during the season and earned a 5th place finish at the Mountain West Championships.
Josh Kerr has come on strong as of late, placing 7th at the conference championship and Alexander Palm has consistently scored well, pacing the team for much of the season.
Their performances will probably have a major influence on how high the team can vault in the standings and will likely need to have some help putting up some low numbers in the three, four and five scoring slots as well.
As Franklin alluded to, the men aren't in a position to hold anything back for nationals and will need to have its best race ready for Friday. Other potential scorers for the men's team are expected to include Linton Taylor, Jared Garcia, Jonny Glen, Jacob Simonsen and Tyler Valdez.
Franklin said the men's team has continued to show improvement and finished just four points behind Utah State at the conference championships. He said it the men can finish ahead of Utah State this time around, they could have a chance.
The race will take place Friday, Nov. 10 the Steve and Dona Reeder Cross Country Course. The women will start things off at 10:15 a.m., followed by the men’s eight-kilometer run at 11:15 a.m.
Tyrell Natewa is a freelance sports reporter at the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers men’s and women’s cross country and track and field. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DailyLoboSports.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball, football and tennis. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.