Clearly, Dani Jones could have helped Colorado during the outdoor track and field season.
While her Buffaloes teammates spent late May training for the NCAA championships, Jones was making headlines in Oregon. CU's standout distance runner took advantage of a redshirt season necessitated by an injury to compete in other venues, and Jones turned in a stunning win against a national field in the 1,500-meter run at the Prefontaine Classic.
After finishing second in the mile at the NCAA indoor championships in March with a personal-best time of 4 minutes, 31.82 seconds, Jones and head coach Mark Wetmore decided it would be best to save a year of eligibility for the spring season while allowing time for a nagging injury to heal.
The fact that Jones recovered quickly enough to push her training ahead of the victory at the Prefontaine bodes well for the CU women's cross country team this fall.
"Dani was not hurt during the outdoor season, but was during the indoor season. So she missed quite a bit of preparation which we would have preferred to have to had a maximal outdoor (season)," Wetmore said. "So we decided to redshirt her, get her 100 percent healthy, get the work in the bank, so to speak. And race late unattached.
"As you saw by late May and early June, she was completely healthy and running well. She's been healthy since. I think she's in good shape and will be a big contributor this fall."
As the Buffs begin practice this week, they do so with Jones leading a women's squad that once again expects to be a top competitor at the NCAA Championships in November.
Jones finished 10th at the NCAA finals last year and 22nd a year earlier. Last year she became the first CU runner of either gender to win the Pac-12 cross country championship. Like Jones, junior Sage Hurta is a two-time All-American, and the women's team will feature a wealth of depth with experienced runners like Makena Morley, Madie Boreman, Brianna Schwartz, Tabor Scholl, and Val Constien.
"Dani has good leg speed. She has good aerobic capacity. She seems to have good anaerobic capacity. She has the will to train," Wetmore said. "I'm probably cursing myself and Dani, but she's got what the other big stars here have had. Now she needs the one component that's unpredictable, and that's luck. Staying healthy and having no big interruptions.
"(The women's team) is not as deep as it has been in the past, where we probably had varsity-level contributors as deep as 12th on the team. Dani is back and she's very strong. She'll certainly be stronger than a year ago if we make no mistakes. Sage Hurta is very good. Makena Morley is very good. The women's team should be very good and has a little more room for error."
Wetmore, who is about to begin his 24th season as the head cross country coach, can't remember a time when his program ran three meets at the same course. But it's going to happen this fall. For the first time since 2004 the NCAA finals will not be held in either Louisville or Terre Haute, Indiana, with the championship moving to Madison, Wisconsin for the first time since 1978.
As usual, the midseason NCAA Pre-Nationals will be held at the championship venue in Wisconsin, and the Buffs also will compete at the Wisconsin Invitational on Sept. 28.
The CU men's cross country team will feature a top-heavy lineup paced by fourth-year junior John Dressel, a two-time All-American who redshirted last season, junior Joe Klecker, sophomore Eduardo Herrera, and senior Ryan Forsyth. After that, Wetmore is concerned the squad will be a work in progress.
"If the opposite of deep is shallow, our men's team is shallow this year," Wetmore said. "We have four returning, proven, very good runners. We will need someone to emerge from the rest of the group as an NCAA contributor at that level. A lot of hard-working people and sometimes it takes a year or two. So I don't know who will fill that fifth and sixth and seventh spots to make a good, full team."
The Buffs open the season at the Wyoming Invitational on Aug. 31...For the first time since 1985, the Buffs will not host the Rocky Mountain Shootout. Wetmore said the modern NCAA qualification standards have made it more difficult to compete in smaller meets featuring just a handful of Division I opponents.