Eduardo Herrera, Abby Nichols lead CU Buffs into NCAA cross country finals

Extra years have paid off as CU takes aim at team titles

LOUISVILLE, KY - NOVEMBER 18: Eduardo Herrera #138 of Colorado races during the NCAA Cross Country Championships at E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park on November 18, 2017, in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Daniel Petty/The Denver Post)
LOUISVILLE, KY – NOVEMBER 18: Eduardo Herrera #138 of Colorado races during the NCAA Cross Country Championships at E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park on November 18, 2017, in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Daniel Petty/The Denver Post)

For Abby Nichols, the option to use an extra season of eligibility was a no-brainer, even if at the time she wasn’t entirely certain where she would spend that year.

For Eduardo Herrera, the decision wasn’t nearly as immediate but, like Nichols, taking advantage of the extra season of eligibility granted by the NCAA for all student-athletes for the 2020-21 COVID school year has worked out extremely well for the Colorado men’s and women’s cross country teams.

Owners of seven individual national championships and eight team titles, the Buffaloes will look to add to those totals when they take off and the NCAA cross country championships on Saturday morning in Tallahassee, Fla. The women’s six-kilometer race begins at 8:20 a.m. MT, and the men’s 10-kilometer race follows at 9:10 a.m. MT.

Both races are scheduled to air live on ESPNU.

“We’re very excited. My team and I, we’re ready,” Herrera said. “We know what we need to do, and we’ve said it before — we’re contenders for the NCAA title. We believe that we can win it if we all have a great day. And not only on the men’s side. The women’s team, they’re very good this year. I think if they do something special on Saturday, they can win it.”

Herrera opted to return for his extra season after a disappointing outdoor track season, which admittedly is an odd assessment for an athlete who set the CU school record in the 1,500-meter run (3:38.09) and later competed at the US Olympic Trials. Also, oddly enough, Herrera will be looking for his best finish at the cross country nationals since he was a true freshman in 2017, when he finished 33rd.

Despite the fast start to the spring season earlier this year, Herrera was unable to advance out of the preliminary rounds of the 5,000-meter run at the NCAA outdoor championships. He later finished a distant 15th in the 5K final at the Olympic Trials. Afterward, CU head coach Mark Wetmore implored Herrera to disconnect and take a few weeks off.

“It was a little difficult for me to do it, because obviously finishing that year the way I finished, I was kind of upset,” Herrera said. “I didn’t feel like myself, but it was good to take a few weeks off. All I could think about was trying to get back on my feet and get back to where I was. It was tough for me to do it, but I listened to Mark to take those weeks to get fully recovered and reset and just clear my mind off of things so I could come back this fall and do better things.

Like Herrera, Nichols is another fifth-year senior making the most of her final collegiate runs. Yet unlike Herrera, Nichols was on-board with the idea of utilizing the extra year as soon as the NCAA hinted it would be a possibility.

Nichols, though, wanted a bigger challenge than what she believed she had at her previous school, Ohio State. It was a difficult decision to transfer, as Nichols is an Ohio native who set school records in the 5K (indoor and outdoor) and also became the Buckeyes’ first outdoor conference champion in 2019. She indeed has taken it to another level at CU, winning the pre-nationals invitational earlier this season and earning the Pac-12 Conference Female Athlete of the Year after winning the league title.

With Nichols and Emily Covert providing a huge one-two punch at the top of the Buffs’ lineup, the women’s squad will be one of the favorites for the team title.

“It’s been pretty much everything I wanted,” Nichols said. “So many amazing women I can work hard with and coaches I can trust and amazing places to run. I didn’t get to take a visit, so I was just kind of hoping what I heard about this program was true. And it was.”