2013 Pac-12 Cross Country Championships storylines

There’s a reason why the Pac-12 is known as “the Conference of Champions,” and that moniker couldn’t be more true for cross country. For years, the schools that make up the conference have been the same freakishly fast bunch to earn podium spots at the NCAA championships. (Check out the men's and women's histories for proof.)

This year shouldn't be any different. With both men’s and women’s No. 1-ranked teams competing in the Pac-12 (Colorado and Arizona, respectively), this year’s Championships should bring some mind-blowing matchups Saturday in Louisville, Colo. Some storylines ahead of race day:

[Related: 2013 Pac-12 Cross Country Championships event schedule, videos and more]

Ranked teams all over the place

The conference is currently stacked on the men's and women's sides with ranked teams ranging from No. 1 through 26 in the country.

Starting from the top, we have both the No. 1 Colorado men and No. 1 Arizona women, who are rolling deep and coming off big wins from mid-October. On the men’s side, the list continues with No. 4 Oregon, No. 13 Stanford and No. 25 Washington. The women’s starting line will look like this: No. 12 Oregon, No. 13 Washington, No. 16 Colorado, No. 20 Stanford and No. 26 Arizona State. And we’re just getting started.

Wisconsin and Pre-National domination

Most of the conference teams are coming off huge point-earning races at either the Wisconsin adidas XC Invitational or the NCAA Pre-Nationals Invitational, both of which where held Oct. 19.

Wisconsin was a breakout party for the Arizona women, who had previously been ranked No. 3, but took home the meet title with an impressive 117 points led by sophomore Kayla Beattie, who finished seventh on the 6K course in a time of 19:56 (that’s 5:21 mile pace). Also, to put a little perspective on how competitive this meet was, Wisconsin hosted 17 ranked teams in the women’s race and 18 ranked teams in the men’s race. Check out the stacked field here.

Meanwhile in Terre Haute, Ind., the Colorado men came out guns blazin’ and solidified themselves as the top team in the country, throwing down 90 points to No. 4 Oregon's 113 total. Freshman Edward Cheserek (fourth overall) led the charge for the Ducks and was followed by a breakout performance from Colorado sophomore Morgan Pearson (seventh overall). The Buffs’ Pre-Nat title and Oregon's runner-up finish make for a huge contest for Pac-12 bragging rights come Saturday in Colorado.

[Related: Video: Pac-12 coaches talk cross country misconceptions]

The dark horses

The Stanford men were handed a No. 29 ranking prior to racing at Pre-Nats, but took that placement and stomped all over it with a fourth-place finish in Terre Haute. With a 148-point spread, Stanford finished right behind No. 1 Colorado, No. 4 Oregon and No. 8 Iona. The Cardinal men may be young this season, but they usually have something up their sleeve, so don’t count them out.

The Washington women are also a team to look out for at the Championships. Normally they would not be considered a dark horse because they are usually big contenders, but they failed to live up to expectations of their No. 4 ranking with a ninth-place performance at Wisconsin. The team is young but the Huskies always roll deep.

Individuals to look out for

Lawi Lalang (Arizona): The two-time Pac-12 cross country champion is returning from a summer of personal bests and collegiate records. He clocked 13:00.95 at the Monaco Diamond League meet, the fastest-ever 5K by a collegian. Lalang had a late start to training for cross country season because of his summer race schedule, but look out for him to defend his conference title this year.

Kelsey Santisteban (California): Santisteban qualified as an individual for the NCAA championships last year, and has posted some great times so far this season. She won the white race at Pre-Nats in a time of 20:18, which would have put her in the top-10 finishers had she been in the higher-rated blue race. Because there were so many teams competing at Pre-Nats, the races were organized according to national ranking, placing the ranked teams in the blue race and the remaining squads in the white race. 

Aisling Cuffe and Jessica Tonn (Stanford): The duo finished second and fourth overall at Pre-Nats and were top-10 finishers at the 2012 Pac-12 Cross Country Championships in Los Angeles.

Aaron Nelson (Washington): The Husky is on a roll this season with two individual meet wins and a fourth-place finish at Wisconsin, covering the 8K course in 23:26 (that's a 4:42 mile pace). Expect to see a big showing from him on Saturday.

Shelby Houlihan (Arizona State): The 2011 Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year and cross country All-American was a top-10 performer at last year’s Pac-12 Championships and is coming off of a fourth-place finish at Wisconsin.

[Related: Find the bibs, win a Pac-12 prize pack]

Last year and what it means for this year

The No. 1 Colorado men are eying a Pac-12 Championships three-peat on their home course that also plays to their advantage at 5,000 feet above sea level, a very fortunate advantage for the Buffs and an incredibly unfortunate disadvantage for everyone else.

The No. 12 Oregon women are looking for a second conference championship after winning their first title since 1995 at the 2012 Pac-12 Championships. But with No. 1 Arizona having a big year, the Ducks have their work cut out for them.

Where to be and when

Catch all the Pac-12 cross country action this week as the gun goes off Saturday Nov. 2 at 10:40 a.m. MT for the men and 11:40 a.m. MT for the women. Watch Pac-12 Networks' coverage of the meet Monday, Nov. 4 at 6:30 p.m. PT/7:30 MT.