LOUISVILLE, Ky. — When Colorado cross country coach Mark Wetmore made the decision in September to sit out John Dressel because of injury, he knew it would be a huge blow to the team's hopes for contending for a podium spot at the NCAA championships.
Nevertheless, the Buffs forged ahead and managed to qualify for nationals with an at-large bid. But on Saturday here at E.P. "Tom" Sawyer Park, CU's top runner this season, Joe Klecker, struggled over the 10K course, and the Buffs' hope for a top five finish were dashed with eighth place, just a handful of points ahead of a resurgent Colorado State team (294 points), which finished ninth (318 points).
"It wasn't a great day for the men," Wetmore said, bluntly.
Aside from last year's 6th place, the Buffs haven't finished worse than third as a team since 2010, when they were 15th. CU was running in the NCAA championships for the 26th straight year, the longest active streak in the NCAA.
"It's always an honor being here. We work really hard. We never take this for granted. That being said, when we come here, we always expect to be in contention," said junior Ryan Forsyth, who finished as Colorado's No. 2 runner at 57th overall. "We train for that, we race for that put ourselves in a position to do that. I'm proud of myself and my teammates, the way we fought. There's always more to be desired, but I'm proud of today, and we're going to come back next year."
The lone bright spot in an otherwise forgettable day was Eduardo Herrara, a freshman from California more known for being a miler than a long distance runner. He finished 33rd overall and was the fourth-best freshman in the meet.
"This whole season, we really miss John," said junior Ethan Gonzalez. "He's typically our first or second guy. And so it's strange not having him here. I know we all miss his presence. Everyone ran hard today, but at the end of the day, it is what it is. We'll come back next year working really hard."
Klecker struggled to finish 67th overall — third on the team — eight days after winning the regional championship title. He had finished ninth here during Pre-Nationals and then second at the Pac 12 conference meet.
Men's cross country runners race 8K (about 5 miles) throughout the season, before transitioning to 10K (6.2-mile) races for the regional and national championships. Collegiate cross country runners also race infrequently, with this only the team's sixth scheduled race since the start of September. Coaches with teams likely to race at nationals usually tell their runners to hold back at the regional championships, racing hard enough to qualify for nationals while being careful not to expend too much energy. Wetmore said it was likely Klecker pushed "a little too much" eight days ago. "I had mentioned that to him that I didn't need him to win a week ago, but he felt good and maybe he left some back then," Wetmore said.
"This team with a good day and John (Dressel) could have been third," Wetmore said. "The good news is that he's back for two more years. Joe will have a better day next time. Eduardo's back. Ryan (Forsyth)'s back. Our top recruit — a wonderful guy from Indiana — he came by and watched us today. We're excited about him. A lot of things to be fired up a year from now. But right now it's time to rest."
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