NCAA cross country championships
WHEN: Saturday, 9 a.m. MST women’s race; 10 a.m. MST men’s race.
BROADCAST: Live stream available at Flotrack.org
NOTABLE: The CU men’s team qualified for the national final for the 25th consecutive year, the longest active streak in the NCAA…The women’s team is coming off its fourth consecutive regional championship…CU is one of 13 programs to qualify its men’s and women’s programs in the NCAA championships…The CU men and women both finished second last year…The women’s team score of 35 post by the Buffs in their regional win last week was the best mark at the Mountain Region meet in the past 12 years.
As long as she crosses the finish line having left every ounce of energy and desire out on the course, Erin Clark will be content with whatever result she reaps in her final cross country race with the Colorado Buffaloes.
Yet at the end of each of her first two seasons with coach Mark Wetmore’s program, Clark watched her teammates on the CU men’s team enjoy the euphoria of winning a team national championship. After leading the women’s team through a dominant regular season, a team title is just about the only thing missing from Clark’s decorated CU resume.
She hopes to change that this weekend.
On Saturday Clark and the Buffaloes from both the men’s and women’s programs will take aim at NCAA cross country national championships. While the men’s team captured back-to-back championships in 2013 and 2014, the women have gone without a national title since 2004. Clark would like nothing more than to end that drought Saturday morning in Terre Haute, Ind.
“A national championship would be pretty incredible. It would be the accumulation of everything of how hard I and every girl on this team has been working for so long just to have everything come together like that puts a lot of meaning behind the work we’ve been doing,” Clark said. “I’ve been mostly been trying not to think about it because I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself for this race. The one thing I’ve been thinking about is this is my last go-around with this women’s cross country all running together, competing together. That’s been hitting me the past couple of days.”
Clark has enjoyed the sort of steady progression typical of CU’s runners under Wetmore, finishing 97th at the NCAA finals as a freshman in 2013 and jumping up to 31st the next year. Last season, Clark placed 11th as the team finished second — the CU women’s team’s best finish since posting back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2005 and 2006 on the heels of the program’s 2004 national title.
“Erin is smart and pleasant and hard-working and a person of great character,” Wetmore said. “She’s a great leader by example. Nobody on this women’s team has attempted to be the mother Buffalo. She’s happy to just do her talking with her legs and with her character. I’m expecting she’ll run as hard as she can. I’m expecting she’ll be pretty high in the race and be one of our top runners.”
One trait that has helped the Buffs ascend to the top of the polls, and also win all five competitions this fall, has been the team’s remarkable balance. CU likely will not come away with an individual title Saturday, but if the Buffs maintain their pack mentality there is a more than decent chance they will bring the team trophy back to Boulder.
“I love this group of women so much. They’ve made this last season of mine incredible,” said Clark, who still will have another year of eligibility in track and field following this spring. “I do think we have really awesome camaraderie. Part of it comes from a lot of really nice, caring people. I think another big piece of it is we’re all really motivated to be the best we can. We see how good this team is and everyone gets excited and rallies behind it.”