CROSS COUNTRY RUNS FOR NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS
BOULDER- All eyes will be on senior harrier Renee Metivier as the third-ranked University of Colorado women's cross country team and fourth-ranked men's look to extend their streak to five straight individual and/or team titles, seven in seven seasons, when 65 teams and 531 athletes toe the line at the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships Monday on the LaVern-Gibson Cross Country Course at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center in Terre Haute, Ind. The 6k women's race begins at 10 a.m. (MT), followed by the men's 10k at 11:15.
Colorado's streak is second (since adding the women's championship in 1981) only to the Providence women who took all 12 team and individual crowns from 1989 to 1994.
Monday's championship is the CU men's 19th straight and 23rd in 24 seasons. The 2004 championships represents the 13th straight for the CU women and 15th in 16 years. Colorado is just one of 14 programs to send both its men's and women's teams, one of eight as automatic bids, but only one of three (including Providence and Stanford) to advance both squads as regional champions, as the Buffs took both titles of last weekend's NCAA Mountain Region Championships in Fort Collins, Colo. Providence took both titles in the northeast and Stanford in the west.
Terre Haute was the site of the 2002 championships where Colorado's Jorge Torres won his first NCAA title, capping off the nation's only unbeaten season in a course record 29:04.7. North Carolina's Shalane Flanigan won her first of two straight women's titles, and the Stanford men and BYU women won the team titles. It is also the site for the ?05 and '06 title races. A year ago in Waterloo, Iowa Colorado redshirt freshman Dathan Ritzenhein made men's championship history with the individual title, while Stanford swept both team crowns, leaving CU with fifth and sixth place finishes in the women's and men's races, respectively.
"Terre Haute is a fair course for everyone," said head coach Mark Wetmore. "I wish it were a little more difficult, but there's balance as far as a place that everyone can get to, for a race of this size it's a safe and reliable course. It's a good place to be and we're glad to be going back."
Colorado's best chance to keep its streak alive, Metivier enters the last cross country race of her career as one of two unbeaten runners in the nation, keeping good company with heavily favored Kim Smith of second-ranked Providence. Metivier owns a 553-0 record by a total 1 minute, 49 seconds, with individual crowns in the Rocky Mountain Shootout, Pre-National Invitational, Big 12 and NCAA Mountain Region Championships. She will be the fourth CU runner in five seasons to enter the championships unscathed, following in the footsteps of eventual NCAA Champions Kara Grgas-Wheeler (2000), Jorge Torres (2002) and Dathan Ritzenhein (2003). Torres was also unbeaten in '01, and was the national runner-up. Smith has lost just one race of her two-year career, to UNC's Flanigan in last year's national championship. In 2004 she has a dominating 938-0 record, and her wins have come in a combined 2:08. Smith has never run this course as she sat out of the Pre-National Invitational in October.
"Kim Smith has run a 15:08 5k and Renee a 15:49. On paper it shouldn't be close. It would take both an excellent race by Renee and for Kim Smith to falter for Renee to take the title away. But she's trained very hard and is in excellent shape and if anyone in the country has a chance, I would bet on Renee," complimented Wetmore.
A dominant combined program for the last decade, the Buffs are anticipated to make a run at the podium (top four finish) in both races, but are not a favorite for either team title. Wisconsin has been the top-ranked men's team in the country since the preseason and the heavy team favorite for Monday's title, and if they do, it will be the Badgers first since 1988. Defending women's champion Stanford has been without its top two runners in the last two races, so the Cardinal could find themselves mortal according to Wetmore.
A year ago, Wetmore brought one of his youngest ever men's teams into the national spotlight with a freshman, fives sophomores, a pair of juniors and no seniors. A year later, freshmen Bradley Harkrader and James Strang,
redshirt freshman Stephen Pifer and senior alternate Austin Baillie will be running in their first national championship in the fall. Half of Wetmore's roster has NCAA experience in sophomore Brent Vaughn (110th in ?03), junior Bret Schoolmeester (has been CU's seventh runner in this race the last two years) and seniors Jared Scott (scored as CU's fifth runner, 142nd overall in '03) and Jon Severy, who will be running in his fourth NCAA Championship and will look to improve on last year's 33rd place finish, and his first All-American title in any race. Scott and Severy will be running the last cross country races of their respective careers Monday.
"Wisconsin has an excellent, experienced team with impeccable credentials. They will have to have something very bad happen to them to lose the title. Arkansas has put together an almost completely new team that seems to be coming together very well and will be a strong podium contender. Stanford we know all about and CU is about as strong as they were expected to be. These three will fight for podium positions, but that's what we run the race for...in case the form chart doesn't hold true."
But for the first time in nine seasons (1995), the CU men will not be running a returning All-American in this race as 2001 and '03 All-American and 2003 National Champion Dathan Ritzenhein is pursuing a professional career and 2002 and '03 All-American Billy Nelson is redshirting his would-be junior campaign with an iliotibial band injury. Jon Cooper, Adam Goucher and Clint Wells were All-Americans in '95, but none competed that next fall.
On the flip side, for the second straight season, Wetmore will be sporting an NCAA veteran squad to toe the line in the women's race, as only freshmen Liza Pasciuto and Amber Smith will be racing in their first NCAA Championship. Three All-Americans will be running for the Buffs on Monday, including Metivier, who was the national runner-up here as a sophomore at Georgia Tech in 2001 and 15th a year ago in Waterloo. Junior Natalie Florence who was an All-American in 2002 and scored as CU's fifth runner last year, will run her fourth national race, and fifth-year senior Sara Slattery, making a much welcomed return to this race, is a two-time All-American, finishing eighth as a freshman in 2000 and 10th as a redshirt sophomore in ?02. This will be junior Christine Bolf's third straight national championship race in as many seasons and she will look to improve upon last year's then-career best 66th place finish and run for her first All-American title. Sophomore Laura Zeigle scored as CU's fourth runner in Waterloo, 88th overall, while junior twin sister Jackie Zeigle has a pair of championship races under her belt and is Monday's alternate on the women's team.
"At the beginning of the season, Stanford was Wisconsin-like...seemingly unbeatable. The last two meets they've been without their best, and second best runners. If that's the case Monday, they're a team that looks a lot more mortal. The Duke women have had an excellent roster the last couple of years and have gelled really well this year. On paper, they're second best. I think our third place ranking is fair, but the top teams are close enough that a few changes could happen.
"I expect some of our runners to run great, some to have a bad day, and a few to run average," said Wetmore on his both his team's individual expectations. "This meet is an exercise in who fails the least. There is a lot of practice, a lot of hype and six months of psychological anticipation. It's the biggest, fastest, best race of the year by far and the fifth, sixth or seventh race of the season for most teams.
"There are a lot of reasons for mistakes to be made by both the athletes and the coaches. We just try get here, stay calm and execute a reasonable, conservative plan and try to foul up the least."
2004 NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships
Monday, November 22
LaVern-Gibson Cross Country Course
Wabash Family Sports Center, Terre Haute, Ind.
10 a.m. (MT) 6k Women's Race
11:15 a.m. (MT) 10k Men's Race