LOUISVILLE, Ky. — For the past several weeks University of Colorado cross country coach Mark Wetmore has reiterated that, despite the Buffaloes' men's teams status as the two-time defending national champion, reputation does not automatically lead the way to results once the starter's gun goes off.
Such was the cruel lesson learned by the Buffs Saturday, as a valiant effort nonetheless left CU just short of its goal of securing a historic three-peat. A loaded team from Syracuse simply proved too formidable to overcome, forcing the Buffaloes to "settle" for second place at the NCAA cross country finals.
Senior Pierce Murphy led the way for CU, capping his time in a Buffaloes uniform by turning in a career-best third-place finish.
"I'd say a tinge of disappointment is a good way to describe it," Wetmore said. "Second place by nine points in this deep a field, all plain old American recruits. I feel proud of them. They're great."
CU finished with 91 points, placing all five of its scoring runners among the top 35 team scorers. However, it wasn't enough to overcome a Syracuse team that placed its top three runners among the top nine individual finishers.
The Orangemen finished with 82 points. The Buffs far outpaced Pac-12 rivals Stanford (third place, 151 points) and fourth-place Oregon (183). With Washington finishing eighth, the Pac-12 was represented by four of the nation's top eight finishers.
Murphy set the pace for the Buffs. While falling behind front-runners Edward Cheserek of Oregon and runner-up Patrick Tiernan of Villanova, Murphy nonetheless ensconced himself firmly in third, finishing in 29 minutes, 37 seconds.
"I think my training went really well between last cross country season and this one," Murphy said. "I think I had great coaching, too. Coming through a mile I thought it was pretty tough, pretty quick. I tried to stay relaxed and move up and moving through 5K I felt really strong. I focused on my breathing and slowly catching guys."
Murphy made a major jump in 2015 after placing no higher than 35th in his previous three appearances at nationals, a mark he reached last year. It was a banner season for the senior, who not only recorded his best NCAA finish, but also put together a campaign that included a win at the Rocky Mountain Shootout and top-five finishes at the Pre-National Invitational and the Pac-12 finals.
"He was (35th) a year ago, so that's a wonderful run for him," Wetmore said. "He's been a real patient, hard-working guy for us. Better every year and a totally unheralded high school guy."
Senior Morgan Pearson and Freshman John Dressel finished 25th and 26th, respectively, for CU. Junior Ben Saarel, who had been on track to take a redshirt season before Wetmore opted to deploy him at regionals last week, finished 31st, while senior Connor Winter rounded out CU's scoring runners at No. 33.
Senior Ammar Moussa, fifth a year ago, expressed disappointment at coming in at No. 42. Sophomore Zach Perrin rounded out CU's lineup by finishing 195th.
Despite falling short of becoming the sixth team to win three consecutive national titles, CU nonetheless compiled yet another sensational season, winning its fifth consecutive Pac-12 title and second consecutive regional title. It is those achievements the Buffs will attempt to hold on to while overcoming the sting of falling just short of the team title.
"I'm disappointed, but at the same time I'm not because I know we trained as hard as we could have," Murphy said. "We ran as hard as we could've today and there's nothing else we could've done. I feel like we all left it all out on the course.