After placing second in both the men's and women's NCAA races last year, the University of Colorado cross country team looks to continue that dominance in Saturday's Rocky Mountain Shootout race in Boulder.
Following the team's first competition at Colorado State at the start of September, the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association has the CU women tied for second in the country, whereas the CU men are tied for a No. 5 ranking.
Together, they comprise one of the best combined programs in the nation, but head coach Mark Wetmore believes they can improve those marks.
"We should be in the top five," Wetmore said. "We have a long-standing tradition of excellence, and so maybe we shouldn't be in top five, but we definitely should be in the top 10 year after year. So I'm not surprised at those rankings, but I thought we're better than that."
The race on Saturday, which will be held at Buffalo Ranch on CU's south campus, will feature a number of nearby schools. Wetmore says he expects Air Force, Wyoming, Colorado State and Northern Arizona to all attend, but doesn't expect any of the visitors to put up much of a fight against CU.
"I don't mean to be rude, but there's no good Division I teams coming," Wetmore said. "It's mostly us against Division II, but really it's us against ourselves. That's the competition every year at our place."
The expectations, though low for CU's opponents, remain high for Wetmore in regard to his athletes.
"I should say against ourselves, but also against our history, and so they know that we're not likely to have a tight team battle this weekend, but they also know that there's 20 years of history on the course," Wetmore said.
Wetmore said he expects senior Ben Saarel, junior Zach Perrin, sophomore John Dressel and redshirt freshman Joe Klecker to stand out on the men's side. He also said senior Erin Clark, junior Kaitlyn Benner, sophomore transfer Makena Morley and sophomore Dani Jones should round out the top four women.
Although every healthy Buff will be running in the Shootout, most athletes won't be running as an official CU representative.
"In our sport, we call it unattached. Everybody around the country is being cagey at this time of year with who they use and who they don't use, and how they wait to run their varsity hard," Wetmore said. "We're just preserving their eligibility and kind of carefully placing our pieces on the game board."
Jones, who will be running under CU's wing on Saturday, said that although the Buffs are hosting the meet, she's not necessarily looking forward to the course ahead of her.
"I don't think there is an advantage on our course for anybody, because it's so hard," Jones said. "But it is exciting to be in town and being around. I know a lot of people have high school teammates coming to watch them run, so I guess that home town crowd is fun, but the course isn't so fun."
Dressel, who is touted to be one of CU's top men this year, disagreed.
"I actually enjoy the course a little bit just because it plays to my advantage, because I like the strength stuff," Dressel said. "I think just seeing how well we can run this year compared to times last year will be fun to see."
Olympic bronze medalists Jenny Simpson and Emma Coburn will be the guests of honor Saturday morning at the 31st annual Rocky Mountain Shootout, the only home meet of the season for the Buffaloes' cross country teams. Simpson and Coburn will serve as the official starters for the race.