It's on to the NCAA Championships and a shot at history for the University of Colorado cross country program after an impressive performance Friday in the regional meet.
For the second time this season, CU swept the competition away as the Buffs won both the men's and women's NCAA Mountain Region titles in Albuquerque.
The top-ranked CU men will be seeking their third consecutive national championship and sixth overall Nov. 21 in Louisville, Ky., while the women hope to make a run at the third national title in program history.
The No. 2 women upset top-ranked New Mexico by one point, defeating the Lobos 49-50, to earn their third straight region title, while the No. 1 men recorded a 10-point victory over No. 11 UTEP (67-77).
"I hoped to get both teams through (to NCAAs) and that happened," head coach Mark Wetmore said. "The women winning is kind of an accident, but the main thing was to get through and we did it."
The Buffs also swept the Pac-12 Championships two weeks ago. This is the second consecutive year the Buffs have won both region championships.
The women had a strong showing, placing all five of their scorers in the top 25, which was the cutoff for all-region honors.
Sophomore Kaitlyn Benner led the Buffs for the second time this season, placing second overall. Benner finished in 20:55.86, defeating her teammate, junior Erin Clark, by less than a second (20:56.06). Hannah Everson (Air Force) won the 6K race in 20:45.42.
"They did what we needed them to do, which was to run a careful, conservative race, finish up in the top five or six and get through un-wrecked," Wetmore said.
Benner is now the third Buff in the last four years to earn a runner-up finish at regionals. Clark did it in 2014 and Shalaya Kipp was the runner-up in 2012 and 2013.
Senior Maddie Alm equaled her regional performance from 2014 with a seventh-place finish (21:14.82). True freshman Dani Jones was 16th overall (21:20.76). Redshirt sophomore Melanie Nun was the final CU runner to score, coming in 23rd (21:35.75).
No. 1 New Mexico's top five finished 9-10-11-12-13. All five finished within five seconds of each other, but according to Wetmore, UNM held out two of its best runners, likely for strategic reasons for NCAAs.
"They're a real good team and they're the favorites to win the NCAA and the coach is just being smart about using his personnel," Wetmore said.
On the men's side, UTEP had the top two finishers. Jonah Koech won in 29:57.50, while Anthony Rotich was second (29:57.59).
The men's distance moved up from 8K earlier in the season to 10K at regionals and the Buffs looked just as sharp as the women, placing all seven of their runners in the top 25. Seniors Pierce Murphy and Morgan Pearson finished seventh and eighth overall, respectively, to lead the way. Murphy clocked in at 30:06.14, while Pearson was just behind, finishing in 30:06.36.
Senior Ammar Moussa was third for the Buffs, placing 15th in 30:22.63.
Redshirt sophomore Zach Perrin had one of his best races this season, coming in at 18th (CU's No. 4) with a time of 30:28.09.
The biggest surprise of the meet was junior Ben Saarel, who ran in his first uniformed race this season. Many had speculated that Saarel would redshirt the season, but he came away with a 21st-place finish in 30:31.24 as CU's No. 6 runner.
"All season we debated on whether to use him or not," Wetmore said. "Finally coach (Heather) Burroughs and I took a deep breath earlier this week and decided we would plug him in. He had a decent race today for somebody who hasn't raced yet this season (in uniform). He's not thrilled with his race but I don't think he understands that everybody else had their first race of the season eight weeks ago."
Overall it was a pretty good day for the Buffs, but there is still work to be done in the next eight days.
"There are teams that come here and absolutely have to leave everything on the course. BYU, UTEP, Air Force, Southern Utah, CSU on the men's side, they have no room for error," Wetmore said. "They had to come run full out. Our team comes here hoping to run a little bit less than all out, but the opponents spoil that plan, so we're a little less mentally ready for this I think than teams for whom advancing is in question."
The top two teams from each of the nine regions automatically qualify for NCAAs and another 13 will earn at-large bids. This will be the 31st overall appearance at NCAAs for the women, while it will be the 43rd overall, the 24th straight, for the men.
NCAA Mountain Region Championship
UNM North Golf Course (Albuquerque)
Women's 6K team scores: 1. Colorado 49; 2. New Mexico 50; 3. Utah 116; 4. BYU 126; 5. Weber State 128; 6. Northern Arizona 175; 7. Air Force 175; 8. Colorado State 181; 9. Nevada 295; 10. Wyoming 306; 11. Utah State 310; 12. Montana State 354; 13. UTEP 360; 14. Utah Valley 375; 15. Idaho State 381; 16. Texas Tech 396; 17. Southern Utah 454; 18. Northern Colorado 502; 19. New Mexico State 503.
Women's top 10 finishers: 1. Hannah Everson, AFA, 20:45.42; 2. Kaitlyn Benner, CU, 20:55.86; 3. Erin Clark, CU, 20:56.06; 4. Hannah McInturff, Utah, 21:07.25; 5. Darby Gilifillan, CSU, 21:10.08; 6. Ellie Child, Weber State, 21:13.77; 7. Maddie Alm, CU, 21:14.82; 8. Makena Morley, Montana, 21:15.17; 9. Calli Thackery, UNM, 21:15.33; 10. Courtney Frerichs, UNM, 21:15.35.
Other CU finishers: 16. Dani Jones, 21:20.76; 23. Melanie Nun, 21:35.75; 24. Val Constien, 21:36.09; 36. Carrie Verdon, 21:58.96.
Men's 10K team scores: 1. Colorado 67; 2. UTEP 77; 3. BYU 98; 4. Southern Utah 114; 5. Air Force 124; 6. Colorado State 124; 7. Wyoming 153; 8. Northern Arizona 254; 9. New Mexico 254; 10. Weber State 292; 11. Utah Valley 294; 12. Texas Tech 343; 13. Idaho State 352; 14. Montana State 360; 15. New Mexico State 364; 16. Utah State 406.
Men's top 10 finishers: 1. Jonah Koech, UTEP, 29:57.50; 2. Anthony Rotich, UTEP, 29:57.59; 3. Kyle Eller, AFA, 29:58.10; 4. Patrick Corona, AFA, 30:00.18; 5. Jefferson Abbey, CSU, 30:00.88; 6. Jerrell Mock, CSU, 30:01.50; 7. Pierce Murphy, CU, 30:06.14; 8. Morgan Pearson, CU, 30:06.36; 9. Dallin Farnsworth, BYU, 30:08.70; 10. Hayden Hawks, SUU, 30:14.45.
Other CU finishers: 15. Ammar Moussa, 30:22.63; 18. Zach Perrin, 30:28.09; 19. John Dressel, 30:29.04; 21. Ben Saarel, 30:31.24; 23. Connor Winter, 30:42.06.