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Rooney: Mark Wetmore leading CU Buffs to nationals a familiar sight at end of unprecedented year

Veteran coach ‘going to be here a while’

BOULDER, CO - Aug. 3, 2019: ...
Daily Camera file photo
Former runners of longtime Colorado cross country coach Mark Wetmore are coming to his defense in light of an ongoing investigation into alleged body-shaming practices. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Ask John Dressel about his potential fortunes at the upcoming NCAA outdoor track and field championships, and Colorado’s distance specialist typically delivers yet another steady, on-point performance through his response.

However, ask Dressel about the influence of coach Mark Wetmore during his time in Boulder, and Dressel is like most runners who have thrived under Wetmore’s guidance. He’s off and running.

On Wednesday, the Buffaloes kick off the first day of the NCAA track and field outdoor championships with Dressel taking the spotlight in the championship round of the 10,000-meter run. The meet caps a 2020-21 athletic calendar for the Buffaloes that has been unlike any other, from the delayed-until-November kickoff to the 2020 football season to crowd-less venues to fall sports like soccer and volleyball competing in winter/spring schedules in 2021.

Yet after enduring all the unprecedented hurdles and chaos amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the slow return to normalcy at the end of that 2020-21 athletic calendar offers a welcome and familiar sight at the finish line — a handful of Buffaloes athletes heading off nationals, with Wetmore leading the way.

“He and Heather (Burroughs) and Billy (Nelson), they were one of the biggest motivating factors for me to come to CU in the first place,” said Dressel, a native of Cobert, Wash. “His character and personality is not like a lot of other coaches in the NCAA. You look at the history and what coaches have done, and he’s definitely by far one of the most historic, most successful coaches there is. Not just for what he’s done at Colorado, but for how he’s helped develop runners for them to go and be post-collegiate professional athletes and Olympians.

“I wanted to come into a program where I knew I would be pushed. I’ve always wanted to run after college as well, and I felt confident and calm in the fact that if I came to CU, I would be developed into a great runner. And there’s the way he helps us as a coach for life, in autonomy and being on time and organized. Some things that I’ve had to keep working on myself. They don’t have us on a leash, and they’re not telling us every little detail of what we have to be doing. A lot of it is on you, and the expectations they put on you to get things done.”

The outdoor championships will mark the end of Wetmore’s 28th season at CU. In track, his athletes have collected over 100 conference championships and 22 individual national titles (indoor and outdoor). He remains the only coach to lead men’s and women’s individual and team national titles in cross country at the same school.

Like every other coach this past season, Wetmore and his staff have been forced to adjust on the fly. Cross country was another fall sport pushed into 2021, forcing the staff to oversee cross country and indoor track seasons simultaneously. Yet none of the pandemic challenges diminished Wetmore’s zeal for his job. This past year has brought the retirement of former women’s basketball coach and associate athletic director Ceal Barry, who spent 37 years at CU, and ski coach Richard Rokos, who wrapped up his 31st and final season in March. Don’t expect Wetmore to join them in retirement any time soon.

“I have some very exciting young people here now. Very exciting young people coming in. I’m going to be here a while,” Wetmore said. “I enjoy it. I look forward to it every day. There’s always something new to get excited about. And when it goes well, it’s as good as it ever was, for sure.”