Both New Mexico cross country teams are heading to Logan, Utah to run in the NCAA Mountain Region Championships on Friday.
The women's team climbed to No. 6 in the most recent USTFCCCA National Coaches’ Poll after winning its ninth straight Mountain West title two weeks ago.
“They ran very well, Alice and Calli were in front to do a good job, just a real positive experience for the women,” New Mexico head coach Joe Franklin said of the race. “And the men keep going better and better.”
The Lobo men ran fifth at the Mountain West Championship and and hold steady at 10th in USTFCCCA Mountain Region rankings.
“Now we go into this weekend — you run well, you get a chance to run again in eight days,” Franklin said.
The expectations will be different for the two squads at the Mountain Region Championships. The men’s squad will be expected to compete hard, while the women are already eyeing to defend their NCAA championship at nationals.
“Two different teams; the women need to make sure they get through at a comfortable pace,” Franklin said of the plan for regionals.
The women’s team placed No. 2 in regional rankings right after Colorado, the team that will likely be a key competitor for the Lobos in the regional competition.
“Colorado is very good, but this race is the trail to make it to the final,” Franklin said.
That trail was evident in UNM’s successful run to a national title last year. The team ran second in the regional championship, and saved their legs to win at nationals.
“This race is very important, but it’s not necessarily whether you win this race or not,” Franklin said. “Do what you need to do to get to the next level, instead of spending too much energy.”
Four of the seven runners on the team will be competing in their first regionals. But they will try to rely on the team’s past experience and not push too hard.
“Not necessarily (to save legs). Just make sure you get through as comfortable as possible,” Franklin said.
The whole lineup from the Mountain West Championship will be running this Friday, including Kendall Kelly, who was the fifth scorer of the team.
“We are not holding people out,” Franklin said. “Kendall Kelly ran a phenomenal race; we had some people that were sick. She really had a great race.”
Kelly was excited to score for her first time for the Lobos, as she ran both seventh inside the team at Wisconsin and Notre Dame.
“It’s an incredible experience, my best race yet,” Kelly said. “I am trying to improve each race.”
Born in Albuquerque, Kelly represented UNM well and has been influenced by Lobo spirit since she was young.
“It makes that more special because I am a native to New Mexico, and (it’s special) to be able to represent the state,” Kelly said. “I always wanted to be a Lobo and now I can be — running, representing UNM.”
Kelly said the MW title was earned thanks to the teamwork of the squad, led by its two top runners — Alice Wright and Calli Thackery — who finished 1-2 at the championship and will be relied on again for the regionals.
“They are strong ladies. It’s really about the team work,” Kelly said. “We all work together, thus we can finish first.”
Kelly said her personal goal is to try her best in the regional race, but the team goal is obvious — finish in the top two and advance to nationals.
“Be able to get through the competition and feel good, do what you need to do to make it to the national championship,” Franklin said of the goal.
Men hope to build on momentum
On the men’s side, the regionals appear to be more deep and competitive with BYU, Southern Utah and Air Force leading the way.
“The Mountain Region is very deep, so a lot of teams are going to the national championship,” Franklin said. “If you can be one of them, then you are going to go.”
Led by Graham Thomas, the team’s top scorer and potential national championship candidate, the men’s squad may need to run better for the team to have a chance at nationals.
“If they hit it and make sure of their run position,” Franklin said, “we should have a chance with 2,000 meters left in the 10,000-meter race.”
Bo Yu is a sports reporter at the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers cross country and women’s volleyball. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Bo_YuB.