The women’s cross country team is always expected to be in contention for a national title at the University of New Mexico, and this year expectations are already high.
UNM women’s cross country was ranked fourth in the nation by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association NCAA Division I Women’s Cross Country National Coaches’ preseason poll, behind only Brigham Young University, North Carolina State University and Stanford University. The team was also picked to finish first in the Mountain West Conference in the 2021 preseason poll.
If UNM women’s cross country hopes to win their third national championship this year, they will have to follow the recipes that gave them titles in 2015 and 2017. Both championship teams were headlined by sub-19-minute-50-second 6k runners, in 2015 by Courtney Frerichs who finished fourth in the NCAA Championships, and in 2017 by Ednah Kurgat who won the NCAA individual championships.
In almost every NCAA Championship season since 2010, running a sub-19:50.0 6k or better puts a runner at least in the top 10 finishers with the exception of 2017, when the championships were held in Louisville, Kentucky (a particularly fast course). Kurgat ran a 19:19.42 6k and Frerichs ran a 19:48.0 6k in their respective championships. It’s safe to say that for another championship to come, UNM must have at least one sub-19:50.0 runner in the 6k to lead them.
This year’s championships will be held for the first time at Apalachee Regional Park, where six college women have run sub-19:50.0 6k’s. UNM’s most obvious chance at this type of runner this year is returning graduate student Adva Cohen, who has a personal best of 19:59.4 in the 6k.
Cohen’s best time would tie for the tenth-best time recorded for a women’s 6k at Apalachee, which was run by Sara Barron of Vanderbilt in the 2014 NCAA South Championship. At the NCAA championships, Barron finished in 175th place, obviously far away from where Cohen would need to finish for the Lobos to succeed.
There is reason to believe if Cohen ran at Apalachee for the championship right now that she wouldn’t place so far down. For one thing, she ran her 6k personal best at the Battle Born Collegiate Challenge in Las Vegas, Nevada against elite competition from places like Stanford and was still one of only six runners to break the 20-minute barrier.
However, she does need to continue her past progression as a 6k runner; Cohen is first and foremost a middle-distance runner, excelling in events like the 3000m steeplechase, the event for which she holds the Israeli national record. For UNM to seriously compete for the national title, Cohen will need to progress, and quickly.
Along with Cohen, UNM will need several other high-finishers to take the top spot; in 2015, five Lobos finished in the top 25 and in 2017, four Lobos finished in the top 15. Last season in the NCAA championships, Cohen finished in 22nd place, Gracelyn Larkin finished 25th and Amelia Mazza-Downie finished 58th. Mazza-Downie and Larkin are juniors, so improvement should be expected.
The wild card for UNM this season will be transfer Abbe Goldstein from Harvard University. Goldstein has a personal 6k record of 21:03.4, but she hasn’t ran a 6k in a NCAA competition since November 2018; this was in part due to the Ivy League suspending sports competition for the 2021 spring season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, UNM head coach Joe Franklin wouldn’t bring Goldstein in if he didn’t feel that she can contribute, so Lobos fans will have to wait to see just how good she is now.
UNM cross country is a storied and well-respected program for a reason; they know how to recruit and develop runners. Should that be the case for this season, the Lobos will be in prime position to make it onto the podium in November and, possibly, to win it all.
Matthew Salcido is the sports editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @baggyeyedguy