CROSS COUNTRY SEEKING SIXTH STRAIGHT BIG 12 SWEEP
BOULDER - Since 1999 in College Station, Texas the University of Colorado cross country program has never surrendered a Big 12 Conference men's or women's team or individual championship titles, and with their deepest rosters in head coach Mark Wetmore's tenure at the foot of the Flatirons, the Buffs will look to extend that streak to six straight on Saturday when they run in the ninth Big 12 Championship on the Stateland Cross Country Course in Topeka, Kan.
Hosted by Kansas State, the women's 6k race will begin at 10 a.m. local time, followed by the men's 8k at 11.
A year ago in Austin, Texas, then-redshirt sophomore Dathan Ritzenhein and junior Natalie Florence each won their first league titles as the fourth-ranked men's and ninth-ranked women successfully defended all four championships.
With Ritzenhein pursuing a professional career, a new men's champion will be crowned, "The men's race is a lot more available than the other three," said Wetmore. The lead candidate to carry the torch being CU's own Brent Vaughn (second at Pre-Nats) and Bret Schoolmeester, Texas' No. 1 runner and "three or four Kenyans from Kansas, Kansas State, and Texas Tech that are very good," he added. Joining Vaughn and Schoolmeester on the CU men's roster are seniors Jon Severy (20th in '03) and Jared Scott (a career best 33rd in '03), junior Payton Batliner (career best 16th in '03), redshirt freshman Stephen Pifer (who is still working through mild Achilles tendonitis), and newcomers Ryan Deak, Bradley Harkrader and James Strang.
Florence returns to try to become the third CU women's runner to claim back-to-back league titles in the fall, following in the footsteps of Kara Grgas-Wheeler (1999-00) and Molly Austin (2001-02). She need not look far for a challenge, as it will come from 2003 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Renee Metivier, who is unbeaten in a pair of races so far in '04. Junior Christine Bolf (eighth at Pre-Nats) is having her most successful season to date. Sara (Gorton) Slattery will be running in her first fall conference race since the 2002 season, though last week in her first race since the that year's NCAA's, she won the Air Force Open, was third as a freshman in this race in '00 and runner-up in '02. Laura Zeigle was 18th in this race a year ago while Jackie Zeigle was 52nd. Talented newcomers include Amber Smith, Kristen Hoogheem and Liza Pasciuto
"I would be surprised if anyone from opposing teams has anyone that can run with Renee," complimented Wetmore. "She's very fit and was way ahead of the next Big 12 runner at Pre-Nationals. Oklahoma State has a runner from New Zealand that can maybe go with her, but I doubt it."
On paper, the team races are Colorado's to lose. "The Baylor women have an excellent roster with excellent recruiting years as of late. They're a team waiting to break out. Missouri is the ninth ranked team in the nation and Oklahoma State has an international roster that they haven't shown yet, but one that I'm sure is dreaming of taking us out of contention," said Wetmore.
Wetmore expects the men to get a race from the Texas Longorns, "Texas has done some excellent recruiting lately. They've deliberately avoided big races this season, training hard so this will be their first big race. But they've got very good personnel there. Oklahoma State has raced a couple of times, but I'm sure they still have some cards up their sleeves," Wetmore said.
Following the conference championships, both rosters of nine will be shaved to seven over the next two weeks before the Buffs continue their postseason at the NCAA Mountain Region Championships, Nov. 13, in Fort Collins, Colo., and the NCAA Championships, Nov. 22 in Terre Haute, Ind.
2004 BIG 12 CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS
Saturday, October 30
Stateland Cross Country Course, Topeka, Kan.
10 a.m. (CT) Women's 6k
11 a.m. (CT) Men's 8k