True to form, Colorado Buffaloes will dominate the fields in the 5K this weekend at the NCAA West Preliminaries. A look at the seeds of the track and field athletes who made 5K for the Buffs.
Morgan Pearson (4, 13:36.79), Pierce Murphy (7, 13:38.19), Joe Klecker (10, 13:44.23), John Dressel (15, 13:48.88), Ammar Moussa (27, 13:56.60), Ryan Forsyth (14:01.27).
Kaitlyn Benner (7, 15:56.52), Erin Clark (18, 16:13.46), Mackenzie Caldwell (21, 16:15.12), Cayla Seligman (24, 16:16.78), Carrie Verdon (31, 16:19.89).
Kaitlyn Benner has competed in too many big meets to let nerves get in the way.
Yet that same wealth of experience also allows Benner to have enough self-awareness to understand when she doesn't have her A game. That's how Benner felt at this stage of the outdoor track and field season a year ago, when the rigors of her first collegiate cycle through the cross country, indoor track and outdoor track seasons left the Monarch graduate running on fumes by the time the NCAA Preliminaries arrived.
A year later, Benner and fellow sophomore Erin Clark are setting the pace for the Buffs with plenty left in the tank heading into the NCAA West Preliminaries this weekend in Lawrence, Kan.
"Last year, with it being my freshman year, I was feeling a little burnt out by the beginning of outdoor track," Benner said. "I'm definitely feeling a lot better this year than I did last year."
Benner and Clark are among the leaders of a CU contingent of 26 athletes headed to the meet. Those 26 athletes will compete in a total of 34 individual events, and the CU women also qualified in the 400-meter relay and the 1,600-meter relay. The event runs Thursday through Saturday, with the top 12 in each event advancing to the NCAA finals in Eugene, Ore.
Benner, who is seeded seventh in the 5K, and Clark, the No. 3 seed in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, are among the top-ranked entrants on CU's roster. That list also includes Dani Jones (fifth in the 1,500) and two distance specialists on the men's side — Pierce Murphy (third in the 10K, seventh in 5K) and Morgan Pearson (fourth in the 5K).
Despite running out of steam last year, Benner still managed to finish 17th in the 5K at the NCAA prelims. A year older and a year stronger, Benner is poised to make her first trip to the NCAA finals, and her friendly back-and-forth competition with Clark has helped raise both runners' standards.
While Clark edged Benner at the NCAA cross country finals last fall — Clark finished 11th overall with a time of 20 minutes, 5.4 seconds while Benner placed 16th at 20:07.7 — Benner got the best of her classmate two weekends ago, capturing the top honors in the 5K at the Pac-12 Conference Championships with Clark finishing second.
"In cross country, I think we finished within three seconds of each other at the last three races," Benner said. "So we've definitely been close competitors, but it's the sort of thing where I want her to do well and I want to do well myself. I think having that — a little bit of a competitive spirit, but just having her as a teammate — and having me push her along and her push me along has really helped us, too."
For her part, Clark admits she is more focused on her chances in the 3,000 steeplechase. Clark won her second consecutive conference crown in the event at the Pac-12 finals and has her sights set on improving on last year's 15th-place finish at the NCAA finals.
"My focus is really on the steeplechase and that's my first event. The 5K will be whatever I have left," Clark said. "I think my form has gotten a lot better, and I got to get in a couple of crowded races in California early in the season. I think that will prepare me well for this weekend and hopefully another weekend after that."