The No. 1 Colorado women’s cross country team and No. 4 CU men are the latest iterations of a program steeped in tradition.
In the Mark Wetmore era, now in its 22nd year, an integral part of the teams’ preparation has been the Rocky Mountain Shootout, a collegiate invitational on CU’s Buffalo Ranch home course in South Boulder.
The Shootout, the Buffs’ lone home meet of the season, is a chance for fans to watch some of the top runners in the Pac-12, and the nation, test themselves on the rolling course, running up Jawbone Hill in the footsteps of Buff greats such as Adam and Kara Goucher, Jorge Torres, Dathan Ritzenhein, Emma Coburn, Jenny Simpson — all Olympians and NCAA champs, all of whom ran the Shootout during their collegiate years.
That won’t happen Saturday morning when CU hosts the 32nd annual Shootout, as the top Colorado runners will be 1,100 miles away in South Bend, Ind., competing in the Joe Paine Invitational, hosted by Notre Dame.
The reason? To be sure of getting a spot in the ever-competitive NCAA championship race Nov. 18 in Lexington, Ky.
” Cross country has a complicated system for qualifying for the nationals,” Wetmore explained, before heading off to South Bend with the team Wednesday morning. “Every year we gamble a bit by not traveling this weekend to seek out opponents.
“I have been getting more nervous about that; it could end up costing us a spot in the NCAA.”
That’s because with more depth and more faster runners nationwide, more teams are nearing CU’s level. If the Buffs were not to earn an automatic qualifying spot at the Nov. 10 regional meet in Logan, Utah, an NCAA berth would rest on the whims of the selection committee.
“So this year we are trying something different and taking the likely varsities to Notre Dame,” Wetmore said. “It is a little sad, really. Because smaller, local meets all around the country are being killed off by this system. But the NCAA knows that, and seems to be happy with it.”
Returning All Americans John Dressel and Joe Klecker lead the “likely varsity” on the men’s side, with the top-rated women returning six runners who placed in the top 43 at the 2016 national championships, led by junior Dani Jones. The women and men each won their races at their season-opening meet at Colorado State.
“Both teams have trained well since we came together in August,” said Wetmore. “A few people were carrying-over some maladies from the spring, but those have begun to clear up. We are in pretty good shape now, and a good chance to continue to improve. I am excited to get going this weekend.”
Without CU’s top runners, will fans will still be able to see some exciting racing Saturday at the Shootout?
“Yes, absolutely,” said Wetmore. “There will be some soon-to-be-varsity people racing for us on Saturday, plus a handful of true freshman running unattached.”