Head coach Mark Wetmore didn’t hide his disappointment at the end of the last cross country season.
For a University of Colorado cross country team that boasted two All-Pac-12 First Team runners (Eduardo Herrera and Rachel McArthur) and five more athletes on Second Team (Alec Hornecker, Austin Vancil, Madie Boreman, Abby Nichols and Micaela Degenero), the women’s team only managed a seventh-place finish and the men took 14th during the 2020 NCAA Cross Country Championships.
Herrera, who placed 107th at nationals, had been a force on the course for the Buffs all season but wore himself out in the process.
“I feel I didn’t handle (Eduardo) well from March of 2020 to June of ‘21, July of ‘21,” Wetmore said. “It was a year that we never experienced before and we were making it up as we went along and we made the best decisions we could but in retrospect, I feel there were some decisions I wish I made a different way. So he was getting tired by the end of the outdoor track season.
“He had some excellent cross country races for us, won the Pac-12 cross country championship in early March, had some very good track races — a school record in 1,500 meters and one of the fastest 5,000-meter times in the outdoor track season — just a handful of weeks after cross country concluded but did indeed end June disappointed with his performance at the NCAA, which is more my fault than his.”
Since then, he’s had plenty of time to rest and rebuild his energy reserves. The Buffs hit the course again for the 2021 season starting Friday at the Wyoming Invitational.
Herrera returns as the defending Pac-12 Conference Men’s Cross Country Athlete of the Year and has an additional year of experience to work with. He earned that title in early March after winning the conference crown as he clocked in at 22 minutes, 30.9 seconds. He’ll lead a Buffs team that boasts talent new and old, and one that is ranked 12th in the United States Track and Field/Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCA).
The Buffs return many faces to their squad, including all of the First Team and Second Team finishers, and welcome many new athletes to their ranks. Wetmore touted three male and two female transfers, each of which he believes can make an immediate impact on varsity. They’ll build up their arsenal with 14 new freshmen that have high aspirations.
Abby Nichols, a graduate student who earned her first All-American honor with an 18th-place finish at last year’s NCAAs, will rejoin the Buffs for a second season. She’ll be joined by Rachel McArthur, another senior who’s poised for a stellar season after leading the Buffs in most races last fall.
As with any collegiate athlete, McArthur hopes her team can fulfill its true potential and improve its NCAA Championship marks from last season.
“Every year, obviously I just want to get better at what I do and I want the team to get better with me, so I think going into the season with time goals or place goals is never really what I do,” she explained. “I’m really looking forward to the season. As Mark said, we have a lot of talented individuals coming in, so my goal would obviously be place well as a team come the NCAAs for cross, as that’s a huge thing for us, and then obviously stay healthy and stay motivated throughout indoor and outdoor.”
The athletes in Boulder have certainly come to the right place to achieve those goals. In the past few years, the Buffs have boasted three Olympian alumni in Val Constien (Tokyo, women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase), Emma Coburn (Tokyo, women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase) and Jenny Simpson (2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympics).
The tools the Buffs need to succeed are everywhere they look.
“We have everything you need to be a great middle- or long-distance runner here in Colorado,” Wetmore said. “Now, of course, Val is out two years, but she had four or five years with us and then she has the momentum of that still. We have a great town. We have access to hundreds of miles of unpaved training venues. We have a town that appreciates athletes like Val, Jenny Simpson and Emma Coburn and our collegians. You go to a restaurant in town and their pictures are on the wall. Heather Burroughs is the best associate head coach in the country. We wouldn’t be nearly as good without her. Excellent nutrition staff, excellent strength and conditioning staff. My recruiting coordinator Billy Nelson, is the best. She praises me, but it takes a village to raise a team, and we have a killer village.”