After winning back-to-back Pac-12 titles, the University of Colorado men's cross country team hopes to win another in front of friends and family in Boulder's backyard.
Colorado will host the Pac-12 Championships this year at Coal Creek Golf Course in Louisville, and the Buffs plan to capitalize on the large Front Range running community to smash attendance records.
"It's arguably, minus the NCAA Championships, the second-best collegiate cross country race that you can see this year," said associate head coach Heather Burroughs. "The Pac-12 is the most elite distance running conference in the country."
The Buffs train at Buffalo Ranch Cross Country Course on South Campus, so they won't have a home-terrain advantage, but Burroughs said they plan to have a home crowd advantage.
Burroughs filled in at Saturday's CU media day for veteran coach Mark Wetmore, who is coaching steeplechaser Shalaya Kipp at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow. Wetmore enters his 19th season as head coach for the Buffs and was named Pac-12 cross country coach of the year in 2011 and 2012.
This is the second season in a row Kipp's track season has extended well into cross country training time. Kipp, a 2012 Olympian, returns as a senior to lead the women's cross country team, which finished 5th at the Pac-12 Championships and 24th at the NCAA Championships in 2012.
After a lackluster season, the women's team wants to get back to winning conference titles like it did every year from 1999 to 2007 and again in 2011.
"It was great watching the guys win last year," said senior Courtney Bouchet. "We both won two years ago, which is obviously the goal. It's great to feed off of the passion that the guys have as Pac-12 champions."
Kipp and Bouchet will be joined in 2013 by sophomore Carrie Verdon, who experienced some personal success after the collegiate season ended last year. Verdon took third at the 2012 USA Cross Country Championships to qualify for the U.S. team at worlds. She led the Americans in Poland at the IAAF World Junior Championships in March, finishing 20th.
At 5-foot-2, Verdon is tiny but extremely powerful, Burroughs said.
"I hesitate to put too many expectations on her shoulders but she was probably our second or third best runner for most of her true freshman year," she said. "I wouldn't say that her day-to-day personality is big, but her contribution is big in terms of she's happy. She's happy. She wants to work hard. She likes her teammates. She's calm. She's excited for big races."
The back-to-back Pac-12 champion men's team returns three scoring runners from 2012.
Junior Blake Theroux, senior Jake Hurysz and junior Hugh Dowdy led the Buffs to the 2012 conference title and a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships.
From the 2012 varsity team, Colorado lost seniors Aric Van Halen and Martina Medina, who both graduated in May.
Theroux said while the CU men's roster is deep, he won't be surprised if a true freshman makes the varsity line-up this fall.
"One of the best, if not the best, recruiting classes we've ever had," Theroux said. "It is rare for a freshman to make the team, but not impossible and so I wouldn't doubt it if some of those guys made it."
Kipp out at Worlds
University of Colorado senior Shalaya Kipp ended her track season Saturday after she failed to qualify for finals in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow.
Kipp finished ninth in her heat and 20th overall during the preliminary rounds of the race, and needed to finish in the top 15 to qualify for finals. Kipp ran the 3,000-meters in 9 minutes, 45.97 seconds.