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CU cross country coach Mark Wetmore, center and runners, Ben Saarel, left, and Carrie Verdon answer questions on Friday.
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
CU cross country coach Mark Wetmore, center and runners, Ben Saarel, left, and Carrie Verdon answer questions on Friday.

Since her highly-successful days at Monarch High School, Kaitlyn Benner’s cross country career has truly taken off over the past two years at the University of Colorado.

Colorado’s seventh-place finisher in Class 5A as a high school senior in 2013, Benner has quickly developed into an All-American among the Division-I collegiate ranks. At the 2015 NCAA Cross Country Championships last November, Benner placed 16th for the CU women, who placed second as a team.

Still having not used any redshirt time, Benner enters the 2016 campaign as a true junior with immense potential for even more of a breakout season.

“I’m just hoping to improve on pretty much all of my finishes last season,” Benner said. “It was definitely a breakout season for me. I finished top 16 but I was like three seconds from finishing in the top 10. Being that close last year, hopefully I’ll be a lot fitter coming into nationals and I can try to do even better.”

Benner is one of four local alumni on the Buffaloes roster, including former Monarch teammates Elissa Mann and Karina Mann, who are more focused as 800-meter specialists for the Colorado track and field team, and Legacy High School alumnus Melanie Nun. With the Colorado men’s and women’s teams coming off matching runner-up team finishes at the 2015 NCAA Cross Country Championships last season, it’s an exciting time for the local runners to be teaming up for the Buffaloes.

For Benner in particular, now that she’s claimed her first All-American honor and placed second in both the Pac-12 and at regionals last season, her focus is now on continuing to build up to a potential top-10 finish at the NCAAs.

“When everyone is that good and that close, a lot of that is about having a good race on that day,” Benner said. “But hopefully I can break into that top 10.”

Expectations for the University of Colorado cross country program are always to finish among the top teams in the nation. This year, expectations for the Buffaloes might be even higher than normal, particularly for the women’s team.

“The women finished second last year at the national championships, and we have a good group returning this year,” head coach Mark Wetmore said. “Frankly I think it might be our best team ever, and so we expect to finish very high in the national championships. New Mexico won by a large margin last season, and they have a good team returning this season. Stanford, Oregon and Washington have good teams making up a loaded Pac-12 this season. Our women could be one of the three or four best teams in the country and still finish fourth in the conference.”

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