In the fall of 2015, it took John Dressel a couple of races to prove he belonged on the varsity for Colorado men’s cross country team.
By the end of that season, he was one of the best runners on the team, and on Saturday, he will wrap up his stellar career with his fourth appearance at the NCAA Championships.
“It is kind of surreal that this will be my last cross country race in a CU uniform,” Dressel said this week, “but it also gives me more motivation to do the best I can for the team on race day.”
Dressel and the Buffs will compete Saturday at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Ind.
The CU men come into nationals ranked second nationally, while the women come in at No. 10.
During his career, Dressel has earned All-American honors three times, including a ninth-place finish at nationals last year. He’s been all-Pac-12 four times, never finishing lower than eighth; all-region four times; and helped the Buffs to three conference titles.
The senior from Cobert, Wash., is aiming for one more great performance, as he hopes to help the Buffs to their first men’s team title since 2014. They’ve finished in the top eight the last eight years.
“It’s just exciting and I’m very excited for what we’ve done this season and what we can do this Saturday,” he said.
This is the 12th time in the last 16 years that the nationals will be held in Terre Haute and the course has been kind to the Buffs over the years. The men’s program has five national titles, with four of them (2004, 2006, 2013 and 2014) coming in Terre Haute. One of the three national titles on the women’s side (in 2004) came on this course, as well.
“It’s a pretty fair cross country course,” Dressel said. “I think it’s one that favors us. We’ve done really well there in the past, before I came here, so I think going back to Terre Haute and knowing the history of success we’ve had on that course, I think we can use that as motivation for what we want to do this week going into the race.”
Coming in ranked No. 2, the Buffs are led by not only Dressel, but senior Joe Klecker, who finished eighth at nationals last year and won the Pac-12 title on Nov. 1. Kashon Harrison and Alec Hornecker will be making their first national appearances, but both have performed well this season.
To win a sixth national title, the CU men will have to contend with a host of other strong teams, including Northern Arizona. The top-ranked Lumberjacks are the three-time defending national champions and they dominated the regional meet last week. Third-ranked BYU, the 2018 runner-up, Stanford and Portland are among the other top teams.
“NAU has been untouchable all year long,” Buffs head coach Mark Wetmore said. “I think they’re a head above most of the rest of the teams, but strange things happen at the NCAA championships Underdog teams maybe rise up, heavily favored teams struggle – it’s happened to us. We’re still going to race.”
The CU women come in as defending champion, but lost 2018 individual champion Dani Jones to graduation. Seniors Tabor Scholl and Sage Hurta and junior Rachel McArthur lead the Buffs. Scholl and Hurta were both top 22 at nationals last year. Sophomore Holly Bent and freshman Annie Hill have performed well this season, as well.
“It’s been a roller coaster season for our women with good weeks and disappointing weeks,” Wetmore said. “Some little illnesses along the way, a few people who didn’t arrive ready for duty in August. We had a woman (Scholl) have to stop last week with a lower leg injury; we hope that will be repaired by this weekend.
“(Regionals) were a bit of a disappointment except that we got through and we’re patching things up and hope to be a little stronger and deeper this weekend.”
Top-ranked Arkansas leads the list of contenders on the women’s side, with Stanford, BYU and Washington being among the elite, as well.
Preview: NCAA Cross Country Nationals
WHEN/WHERE: Saturday at LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Ind.
RACES (all times Mountain): Women’s 6K, 9:15 a.m.; Men’s 10 K, 10:15 a.m.
ONLINE: Live stats – NCAA.com; Live stream – Flotrack.org
CU ROSTER (seven of nine for each gender will run): Men – John Dressel, Sr.; Gabe Fendel, Fr.; Kashon Harrison, Fr.; Eduardo Herrera, Jr.; Alec Hornecker, Jr.; Joe Klecker, Sr.; Justice Ramos, Sr.; Paxton Smith, Jr.; Austin Vancel, Fr. Women – Holly Bent, So.; Madie Boreman, Jr.; Liz Constien, Fr.; Annie Hill, Fr.; Sage Hurta, Sr.; Karina Mann, Sr.; Rachel McArthur, Jr.; Bailey Nock, Fr.; Tabor Scholl, Sr.
NOTABLE: For each gender, 31 teams and 38 individuals not on those teams will compete. … CU is ranked No. 2 nationally on the men’s side and No. 10 on the women’s side. Only two other schools – BYU and Stanford – have both teams ranked in the top 10. … Buffs coach Mark Wetmore was named Pac-12 men’s coach of the year after leading CU to its seventh conference title in nine years. During his 25-year tenure as CU head coach, Wetmore has earned 32 conference coach of the year honors. … CU is making its 28th consecutive appearance (longest active streak nationally for men), while the women qualified for the 27th time in 28 years. … In its history, CU has won five national titles on the men’s side (2002, 2004, 2006, 2013, 2014) and three on the women’s side (2001, 2004, 2018). … Sage Hurta is aiming to become the third CU female to become a four-time All-American in cross country, while John Dressel is looking to become just the fourth on the men’s side to do it. The top 40 finishers earn all-American status. … To follow the races on social media, the official hashtag is #NCAAXC.