The University of New Mexico Women’s cross country team will compete at the NCAA Championships for the 10th consecutive year — and as the No. 2 team in the country, have a legitimate shot at earning another national championship.
Head coach Joe Franklin said this year's team has a lot of similarities to UNM's 2015 National Championship squad, but in many ways is very different.
New Mexico seemed to blow through the competition in 2015, but both teams had a second-place showing at the Mountain Region Championships.
The women placed second in the NCAA Mountain Region Championships last week. And they did so without the services of one of UNM’s All-American runners, Alice Wright. She stayed in Albuquerque, New Mexico to train for the national championship — a move that also occurred in 2015.
Franklin will likely be hoping for the same outcome as last time. That move yielded positive results, as Wright finished in fifth place overall at the 2015 NCAA Championships en route to the team winning the meet in dominating fashion with a team score of 49 — which was 80 points clear of the next closest team, Colorado.
Colorado is No. 1 overall this season and just one of many "favorites," as Franklin acknowledged there are several schools that should feel good about their chances at winning the meet.
"Should be a lot of fun," Franklin said in a release. "You go into it, and it's a lot different than 2015. This one is four or five teams (that are favorites), and, on any given day, those four or five teams can win. We just have to give it our all."
He said it is exciting and an honor for New Mexico to earn a spot as one of the 31 final teams with a shot to compete for a national championship.
Wright has plenty of experience competing at the highest level and should be expected to place high in the standings. But the team will likely be paced by sophomore transfer Ednah Kurgat.
Kurgat, who Franklin said reached out and expressed a desire to transfer to New Mexico a little over a year ago, has shown the coaching staff she belongs. She has picked up the individual win in all four meets she has competed in and was named the Female Mountain Region Athlete of the Year.
Weini Kelati and Charlotte Prouse have also been cornerstones of the team, consistently turning in outstanding performances. The two have finished in the top 15 at every race this season.
The Lobos' chances of winning the national championship could hinge on how well the final scorer of the team can run and whether or not the remaining runners can pick up low scoring slots.
Alex Buck, Kieran Casey, Alondra Negrón Texidor and Sophia Eckel are all likely candidates to round out the fifth scoring position. At minimum, UNM will probably need a strong showing from at least one of them on Saturday.
On the men’s side, Josh Kerr qualified to compete as an individual at the national championship meet. It will be Kerr’s first appearance at the NCAA Championships for cross country, though he is no stranger to being on the national stage.
Kerr has already won individual national championships, winning the mile run during the indoor season and becoming the 1,500-meter champion during the outdoor campaign.
According to a release, Kerr is also the most recent individual qualifier for the men since 2007. Jeremy Johnson qualified for the National championships as an individual that year.
The women’s team enters as one of the favorites, and Kerr has seemed to improve throughout the season. All of the competitors, including Kerr, could have a chance at earning All-American accolades, which are awarded to the top 40 runners at the NCAA Championships.
The championship race for the women is set to start at 8:45 a.m., with the men's race following at 9:45 a.m. The race will be held at E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park in Louisville, Kentucky on Saturday, Nov. 18.
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.