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Joe Klecker’s second place powers CU Buffs to top-3 finish at NCAAs

John Dressel captures a rare fourth All-American title

Daniel Petty/The Denver Post
TERRE HAUTE, WI – NOVEMBER 23: Joe Klecker #526 races during the NCAA cross country championships at LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course on November 23, 2019, in Terre, Haute. (Photo by Daniel Petty/The Denver Post)
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TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — The Monday after Colorado senior Joe Klecker won the Pac-12 individual cross country title in early November, he watched a recording of last year’s snowy NCAA cross country championships from Wisconsin.

He studied what former Wisconsin runner Morgan McDonald had done to win an individual NCAA title — his pacing, tactics, and positioning throughout the race. “I tried to emulate that,” Klecker said.

It turned out pretty well here at Saturday’s NCAA cross country championships.

Klecker’s runner-up finish in 30:37.1 — just five seconds behind Iowa State’s Edwin Kergat — propelled the No. 2-ranked Buffaloes to a third place finish with 164 points, just one point behind Northern Arizona University, the heavy pre-race favorite. Brigham Young University led early and ran away with the team title, scoring 109 points.

“I’m pleased to end up on the podium today, but I wouldn’t mind for it to have been one point less,” said Colorado coach Mark Wetitlemore, now in his 28th season with the Buffaloes, his 25th as head coach. “I should have yelled louder out there somewhere.”

The last time a Buffalo placed this high at a men’s NCAA cross country championship was Dathan Ritzenhein’s individual win in 2003.

“I gave everything I had,” Klecker said. “Obviously, I wanted to win. That was the goal from day one. But getting second, it’s a lot better than it could have been.

“Third (as a team) isn’t what we wanted, but third is better than a year ago,” he continued. “Maybe we can win one in the next couple of years.”

The athletes raced here at LaVern Gibson Championship Course under a steady drizzle and slate-gray skies as temperatures hovered just above freezing — typical of midwest weather in late November. The women first ran on the course about an hour before the men, softening the already muddy grass and making the race all the more perilous.

“I really tried to shadow Edwin Kergat,” Klecker said. “Unfortunately, I let him get away (near the end) and left a little too much ground to make up. Looking back, I probably should have been a bit more aggressive and gone with him earlier.”

Fellow Buffs senior John Dressel was close behind Klecker, finishing seventh overall to capture a rare fourth All-American title in his career. “Joe and I, we set our team up for success to win that team title,” Dressel said. “It takes five to score. It was just an emotional day aftewards. But we are bringing home a trophy, at least.”

Colorado junior Alec Hornecker — a walk-on transfer from Portland State running his first NCAA championships for the Buffs — was 38th overall to also claim All-American status.

“Everywhere I’ve gone all season people have been asking, ‘Who the hell is Alec Horneaker?’ and I say, ‘He’s a guy that knocked on my door and said I’m coming on to your team.’” Wetmore said. “I didn’t make it easy for him, and he didn’t need it to be easy, and looked what happened.”

Junior Eduardo Herrera was 55th overall, and a trio of Buffs freshman were the fifth, sixth and seventh runners — Kashon Harrison (90th), Gabe Fendel (139th) and Austin Vancil (150th). Harrison, who had been reliable throughout the season, dropped back 44 places from 3K to 8K before passing seven more runners in the final 2K. In cross country, the top five runners’ places are added together to form a team score. The lowest scoring team wins.

“He’s been one of the best freshmen in the country all year long,” Wetmore said. “He’s a huge future guy for us. I can’t fault him. Anybody could outkick someone for a single point. We tell them, ‘Remember, we won (a championship) once by a point.” And I guess we’ll now tell them we got third by a point.”

Results

Men’s Team Standings — 1. BYU 109; 2. N. Ariz 163; 3. Colorado 164; 4. Iowa State 211; 5. Tulsa 243; 6. Stanford 248; 7. Michigan 250; 8. Notre Dame 269; 9. Oregon 307; 10. Portland 314; 11. Purdue 338; 12. Iona 348; 13. Indiana 367; 14. Furman 379; 15. Harvard 384; 16. Utah State 428; 17. Virginia Tech 451; 18. Wisconsin 462; 19. Washington 466; 20. Virginia 468; 21. Boise State 525; 22. Ole Miss 535; 23. Villanova 556; 24. Alabama 582; 25. Texas 588; 26. NC State 605; 27. Syracuse 610; 28. Georgetown 676; 29. Florida State 694; 30. Arkansas 728; 31. Mid. Tenn. State 865.

Men’s Individual 10-Kilometer Leaders (249 finishers)—1. Edwin Kurgat, Iowa State, 30:32.7; 2. Joe Klecker, CU, 30:37.1; 3. Conner Mantz, BYU, 30:40.0; 4. Peter Seufer, Virginia Tech 30:40.1; 5. Vincent Kiprop, Alabama, 30:43.5; 6. Cooper Teare, Oregon, 30:49.2.; 7. John Dressel, CU, 30:52.2; 8. Amon Kemboi, Cambell, 30:55.9; 9. Gilbert Kigen, Alabama, 30:57.2; 10. Jaret Carpenter, Perdue, 30:58.7.

CU finishers – 38. Alec Hornecker, 31:18.5; 55. Eduardo Herrera, 31:32.4; 90. Kashon Harrison, 31:55.9; 139. Gabe Fendel, 32:16.3; 150. Austin Vancil, 32:19.6.