• The Colorado men's cross country team is seeking to become the fifth program to win at least three NCAA championships in a row (Arkansas did it twice):
Arkansas (3): 1998, 1999, 2000
Arkansas (4): 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993
UTEP (4): 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981
Villanova (3): 1966, 1967, 1968
Drake (3): 1944, 1945, 1946
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- As a standout prep runner in Hawaii, Pierce Murphy always was comfortable with the reality that his collegiate career was bound to take him far from home.
While investigating schools Murphy took only one official visit, which was to the University of Colorado during a pristine mountain day. At that point there was just one thing he truly understood about Colorado, and it served as a huge source of trepidation for a kid from the sunny isles of Hawaii.
"I knew it had really cold winters," Murphy said. "I didn't know how cold it would be. So that's one thing I was thinking about."
The fear of frostbite wasn't enough to dissuade Murphy, and he has put together a highly decorated career that culminates Saturday at the NCAA Championships. In his final race in a CU uniform, Murphy will be looking to be one of the leaders in the Buffaloes' quest to bring home a historic third consecutive national championship — a feat that has been accomplished just five times, and not once in the past 15 years.
"I feel a lot less nervous. I don't know exactly why," Murphy said. "I think mostly because it's my fourth year and I've raced at NCAA a lot. I'm more relaxed, which I think will be a good thing when it comes to the race."
In many ways, Murphy embodies the team-first approach that has led the CU men's program to the precipice of history. Murphy has been an integral part of two national championship teams, and yet he has never finished within the top 30 at nationals.
As a redshirt freshman in 2012, Murphy placed 45th. He improved to 39th in 2013 and 35th last year, numbers that were good enough to give Murphy All-America honors yet hardly placing him among the favorites for the individual title.
This year, though, Murphy is poised for his best finish ever. He has been CU's top runner at every meet this year, a ledger that includes a win at the Rocky Mountain Shootout and a fourth-place finish at the Pac-12 Conference finals, where he helped lead the Buffs to their fifth consecutive league championship.
"A lot of us have raced at NCAAs before, so we know what it's going to be like," Murphy said. "The start and how crowded it's going to be, what racing with this caliber of runners is going to be like. As a team, I feel like we're really prepared. If we all race well, do our own race and race for the team, then it will go as planned."
Murphy, of course, hardly will be racing alone Saturday. The Buffs' quest for a three-peat will be paced by a lineup brimming with NCAA experience in Murphy, Morgan Pearson (17th in 2013), Ben Saarel (seventh last year) and Connor Winter (24th last year).
Not to be overlooked, the CU women's team also is on pace for a strong finish behind junior Erin Clark, the winner of this year's Pre-National Invitational, and sophomore Kaitlyn Benner, who has come on strong of late with runner-up finishes at the Pac-12 finals and regionals.
"The coaching staff and (the runners) themselves have kept each other on task, kept each other focused," CU coach Mark Wetmore said. "Bear in mind, a lot of people have been defending champions in the past and not succeeded. But I haven't seen a problem with (pressure).
"I talked with them about this meet on Tuesday, what the weather forecast is and what the opponents bring. And I tell them, 'Follow this plan, and if I come to you on Saturday with something different, agree but don't do it.' That philosophy has been ours for a decade, I'd say."