LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- With the possible exception of champ Kennedy Kithuka of Texas Tech, there might not have been a happier runner than Colorado's Aric Van Halen following the NCAA men's cross country championships on Saturday.
The CU senior was still smiling more than an hour after he ran to a 36th-place finish at E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park. By getting into the top 40, Van Halen earned an All-American designation for the first time.
"I didn't make the (nationals) team last year. I was 11th on the squad," Van Halen said. "I just really wanted to make an impact."
He certainly did that. He was CU's second finisher, the first time in his career he's placed that high for the Buffs. It's just his fourth time he's been top three on the team.
From the start, Van Halen was aggressive in attacking the course.
"It was all or nothing today," he said. "I was either going to get All-American or I was going to bust.
"I wanted to get out as hard as I could. I think I was a little anxious and I got out a little too hard, but I was able to find a group of guys and just stare at them and hold them and keep my place around 30th and 40th throughout the entire race."
Van Halen, who is also a standout in the steeplechase for the track team, was 130th at nationals in 2009 and 177th in 2010. Then came his disappointing 2011 season.
"He was at home watching on TV (last year) and made a very big decision in his life a year ago to be the runner that we always knew was in him," head coach Mark Wetmore said. "It takes a couple years from that time for that to happen, so this is really just an indication of what could come for him."
Of the 14 Buffs who ran on Saturday (seven men, seven women), half of them competed at nationals for the first time.
For the women's team, Carrie Verdon (136th), Jana Stolting (151st), Courtney Bouchet (194th) and Elizabeth Tremblay (237th) competed for the first time.
Pierce Murphy (45th), Connor Winter (65th) and Hugh Dowdy (205th) were first-timers for the men's team.
Going the extra miles
At first glance, Winter's 65th-place finish for the men's team isn't too special.
Consider, though, that Saturday was the first time in Winter's life that he took part in a 10K race.
A middle distance runner who won six individual state titles at Arapahoe High School in Littleton, Winter had been steadily working to get his body ready for a 10K.
"I kept training and had a really good summer," he said.
Throughout the regular season, men's races are 8K. Winter was held out of the 10K race at regionals because Wetmore was concerned about putting him through two 10Ks in eight days. That strategy paid off. Not only did Winter run well, he scored for the Buffs (only the top five count for the team score) for the first time in his career.
"I felt really good today," the redshirt freshman said. "I'm glad it worked well. I really enjoyed the experience and I think I'm going to come back stronger and better next year."
CU entertained some special guests on Friday night.
The middle school cross country team from Holy Trinity Parish School in Louisville visited with the Buffs. Sue Smith, who is the sister of CU associate athletic director Ceal Barry, set up the meeting. Barry, who is from Louisville, attended Saturday's race with her sister, who works at Holy Trinity.
The Colorado men qualified for the nationals for the 21st year in a row. This was the their 15th top-five finish during that streak, which began in 1992, the year Wetmore arrived as an assistant coach. ... The 24th-place finish by the CU women is their lowest finish ever in 28 trips to nationals. ... Niwot High School graduate David Perry, now a sophomore at Portland, was 124th. He was in line for a better finish before his legs gave out and he fell twice near the finish line.
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