Normally, the screaming voices are easy enough to ignore.

Yet as the finish line loomed closer for Dani Jones, one voice clearly cut through the din. A familiar voice, and one with a simple and direct message.

One point.

The voice was that of longtime Colorado cross country assistant coach Heather Burroughs, and her message was clear. Burroughs was referring to the one point Jones would earn for the Buffaloes — like golf, the lower the better in cross country — if she reached the finish line first. She did, becoming the first CU runner to win an individual conference title since Olympic bronze medalist Jenny Simpson in 2009.

On Friday, Jones and the Buffs will look to keep the momentum rolling at the NCAA Mountain Region championships in Utah, the final hurdle before next week's NCAA championships in Louisville.

"Heather was saying all the right things during the race," Jones said. "There were a lot of people and coaches screaming 'Oh, you're going to win it.' But the only thing Heather was saying was, 'One point.' That meant the most to me during the whole thing, just the simplest thing. And then it meant even more when they said Jenny was the last to win an individual conference title. That's pretty cool."


Advertisement

The regional meet always is a tricky one, no matter how talented CU's lineup is. Coach Mark Wetmore always is quick to admit the conference meet and nationals consume more of his teams' focus than regionals. Yet in order to advance to the finals the Buffs first must qualify at regionals, presenting the unique challenge of needing to perform while still leaving enough in the tank for the national final.

The top two teams from each regional, in addition to the top four individuals not affiliated with the top two teams who also finish within the top 25, all receive automatic berths to next week's championships.

"While it's a qualifying round, if you make a big mistake, it's a non-qualifying round," Wetmore said. "From year to year, gender to gender, it's different every time. Our women this year would have to have a major problem to not advance. New Mexico is very good, but I'm comfortable to say there's a pretty big gap before the third team.

"Our women can run it carefully, leave a gear unused perhaps and be back to work in a day or two. The men are not in that situation. They have to run a race, and then I have to find a way to have them ready to run another race in eight days."

Led by Jones, the CU women are coming off a third consecutive Pac-12 title and will be seeking the program's fifth consecutive regional title. The Buffs' men's team didn't bring home the Pac-12 title for the first time since joining the league, ending a run of six consecutive league titles, and the squad will be challenged to not only advance, but to do so with enough reserves of energy to be a factor at next week's national final.

"It's too quick a turnaround," Wetmore said. "It's not easy, but everybody has to do it. So it's just who does it better than the others. But I'm not thrilled with a system that has the men running two 10K races in eight days."

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07