Several of Colorado's sports teams are still adjusting to life in the Pac-12, looking up at a lot of teams and trying to compete.

Not the cross country team. The Buffs, in fact, are the team with the target Saturday at the Pac-12 Championships in Santa Clarita, Calif. Both the CU men and women are hoping to repeat as Pac-12 champs.

"I'm really excited," junior Jake Hurysz said. "We had a great showing at (pre-nationals in Louisville, Ky., on Oct. 13), and we've got a lot of confidence going in. We know Stanford is tough and Oregon is tough, but we're pretty tough too."

Led by Hurysz, a transfer from North Carolina who is in his first season with CU, the Buffs are the No. 2 team in the country. Stanford is just below them, though, at No. 3 and Oregon is at No. 8. UCLA is No. 15.

Hurysz began to blossom as a runner late in his high school career and then a year ago became the first North Carolina Tar Heel since 1997 to reach the NCAA championships. Disappointed with the direction of that program, though, Hurysz elected to leave and come to CU.

In Louisville, Hurysz was fourth in helping the Buffs to the team title.

"I'm running well and our team is running well and I put in the work over the summer," he said. "It's not necessarily a surprise that I'm running well right now; it's just I'm running more consistently. I'm training better and I'm racing smarter. That's a big factor for me."

He's not alone. Blake Theroux and Hugh Dowdy also finished among the top 12 in Louisville, while Pierce Murphy, Martin Medina, Aric Van Halen and Connor Winter were all among the top 35.


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Stanford wasn't at that meet, though, and CU head coach Mark Wetmore knows the Buffs have to keep an eye on the Cardinal.

"The two teams are very even," he said. "It'll come down to either who has a good day or who had a bad breakfast or who makes a mistake to determine the team champion for men."

He then added that Oregon "could have an excellent day and beat both of us."

Defending will be much more difficult for the women. They come in ranked No. 21 nationally, well below a quartet of Pac-12 foes: No. 3 Oregon, No. 4 Stanford, No. 5 Arizona and No. 6 Washington. UCLA is at No. 24.

Wetmore has always said that major upsets are rare in cross country.

"Realistically for us to finish higher than fifth would require something pretty big to go wrong with one of those front four teams," he said.

It helps the Buffs that 2012 Olympian Shalaya Kipp is rounding into form. She competed for the first time this fall in Louisville and finished 21st. With two more weeks of training, Kipp is now "closer to top form," Wetmore said.

Freshman Carrie Verdon feels the women's team has improved every week and simply hopes that progression continues.

"As a team, I think we can do a lot better than we did at pre-nats, which is exciting," she said. "We might not win, but just using it as another race to get experience in is really good."

Notable

CU will host the Pac-12 Championships in 2013. ... Over the years, the men's team has 23 conference and 18 second-place team finishes. The last time they were lower than second was 1990, when they finished sixth in the Big Eight. ... The women have 16 conference titles and seven second-place finishes. They've never been lower than sixth and from 1994-2011 finished first or second in every year except 2008 (fifth in Big 12). ... CU will compete in the NCAA Mountain Regional on Nov. 9 in Fort Collins.

Results

Follow the races live at http://championships.pac-12.com/cross-country/. Results will be posted after the races at Pac-12.com.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.