New Mexico has its sights on its first national cross country title.
The NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships are just days away. On Saturday, the top-ranked women’s cross country team will be one of 31 schools competing for a national championship in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Lobos have been ranked No. 1 wire to wire this season, but the only ranking that will matter as the season ends is the one they earn on Saturday afternoon. If the Lobos can take first in that, they will bring home the program’s first cross country national championship, and the school’s second national title in any sport since the skiing team won it all in 2004.
Even though the stakes are higher this weekend, Lobo head coach Joe Franklin said the approach will not change. He said his message to the team will be to have fun.
“It’s been the same expectation all year,” he said, “to make sure they go out, run with their friends and enjoy the experience.”
Courtney Frerichs said Franklin tells the team to have fun often. She said that everybody is running because it’s something they enjoy doing, and it’s important not to lose sight of that. In fact, she said she believes the reminders help them focus and run better.
“Before every meet he reminds us, ‘Have fun, find your teammates and work together,’ and after the meet he asks us, ‘Did you have fun?’” Frerichs said. “If we are stressing out or taking it too seriously, that’s when we’re going to make mistakes.”
Franklin said the course is not one they are used to running on. UNM is not accustomed to fast tracks, but expected rain might slow things down, which will work in their favor, he said.
The team should be well-rested. Franklin held All-American Alice Wright and All-Mountain West athletes Heleene Tambet and Emily Hosker-Thornhill from racing at the regional competition. He said the runners who did compete were under specific instruction not to push too hard. One of the Colorado runners sprinted past the pack of Lobos near the finish line, which is something Franklin said he didn’t want his team to do.
“We told them specifically, ‘do not get on your toes, don’t sprint. Save that for Saturday,’” Franklin said.
Frerichs said she feels the strategy has already started paying off. She said it allowed the team to focus on getting rest, to back off on the training and feel energetic for Saturday.
“Friday was kind of like a warm up ... we didn’t have to tap in to that competitiveness,” she said. “We feel like we are warmed up and ready to go now, versus being worried about getting rested up to compete.”
One advantage that might favor the Lobos is the depth of the team. Frequently this season, the runners finishing outside of the top five have actually outperformed many other teams’ top scorers.
Franklin said depth is something every coach craves, and allows the team to be interchangeable, giving him more room to make decisions. He said one of the special things is that, even though there are seven individual runners out there, they all run as a team.
The Lobos will be wearing their turquoise uniforms for the second time this season, which should make it easy for the teammates to find each other. The women’s race will take place at 10 a.m. MT.
Robert Maler is a reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @robert_maler.