Moving on to the NCAA Championship.

That phrase has been a reality for the University of New Mexico women's cross country team for over a decade, and continued again this season. The team earned its 11th straight berth in the NCAA Championships after taking first place in the 2018 NCAA Mountain Region Championships in Provo, Utah.

Head coach Joe Franklin said winning regionals on Nov. 9 was actually not the goal, the team just failed to run quite as slow as Colorado did. Both schools seemed to be content to keep the pace steady and avoid sprinting down the stretch in order to save legs for Saturday.



Franklin said there were pockets of runners that were holding conversations with each other during the meet.  He — perhaps only somewhat jokingly — characterized the regional meet as inconsequential, other than the fact that New Mexico and Colorado had to run in it to advance to nationals.

Weini Kelati notched another individual top finish in Utah, completing the 6K run in 19:15 — her fastest time of the season. Teammate Ednah Kurgat finished in second place overall to complete the signature UNM one-two punch, while three other Lobos finished in the top 15.

Charlotte Prouse and Adva Cohen finished 11th and 12th respectively and Emily Martin and Sophie Eckel came in 15th and 16th overall. Their runs allowed New Mexico to limits its team score to just 41 points, which was a dozen points better than second-place Colorado.

Their placement at nationals could be a huge factor as well — Franklin said he expected about five schools to be in the mix on Saturday and very close to one another in the point standings.

"This national championship will be close," Franklin said. "What that means is that every person matters, every person counts. If you can beat one person at the line, that may be the point that gets you on the podium."

The Lobos have already competed at Zimmer Championship Course in Madison, Wisconsin — the site of the 2018 NCAA Cross Country Championships — a couple of times this season and garnered a first-place victory last month at the Wisconsin Pre-Nationals.

Franklin said seeing the course already and running well on it was important and the team feels very comfortable heading into the meet.

"It's so beneficial, we probably won't even go the course," the head coach said.

Franklin said coaches may check things out logistically to see if there are any changes, but doesn't expect the runners to see the course until race day.

The head coach has been really successful at keeping things loose for student-athletes and helping them avoid feeling pressure heading into meets. And that could be another tactic to keep his squads head clear.

New Mexico will enter Saturday with the nation's No. 1 ranking and is expected to be one of the favorites to win and defend its championship. If successful, it would be the program's third national title in the past four years. The race is scheduled for a 9:45 start time.

Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball and baseball and contributes content for various other sports as well. He can be contacted at sports@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.