Buffs Prep For Nationals
BOULDER - The University of Colorado swept the NCAA Mountain Region titles last Saturday to earn automatic bids to the NCAA Championships on Mon., Nov. 20. Indiana State will host the event at the Lavern-Gibson Cross Country Course at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center in Terre Haute, Ind. for the third consecutive year.
The women's 6k race is slated for a 12 p.m. (EST) start and the men's 10k will follow at 1:15. An awards ceremony will follow the races.
Last season was the first time from 2000-04 the Buffaloes had not come away with a championship, either individual or team. Kara Grgas-Wheeler won in 2000, leading the women to their first championship. The men followed up with a team championship in 2001. Jorge Torres won in 2002 and Dathan Ritzenhein won in 2003. Both teams took home hardware in 2004.
The championship is the 20th consecutive race for CU's men and is the 24th in 25 years. The women will race in their 14th straight and have participated in 15 of the last 16.
Of the 31 men's teams participating, second-ranked Colorado will face three other Big 12 opponents in No. 12 Oklahoma State, No. 16 Texas and No. 17 Kansas. Only three of the 31 teams on the women's side are Big 12 schools. Sixth-rated Colorado is joined by No. 13 Texas Tech and No. 30 Baylor.
"Wisconsin has had the number one ranking all season," head coach Mark Wetmore said. "In the most recent poll they got every one of the number one votes except for one, which went to Arkansas. We're ranked second, Arkansas is ranked third. On paper Wisconsin should win it, but they're not untouchable as some number one teams have been in the past. Any of the top four teams that have a good day could win it.no kid
"Unlike the men, the women's race does have a team that stands ahead of everyone else and that is Stanford. They would have to have something go wrong for any of the rest of us to give them a real serious challenge. But after that, second through 10 (in the poll) could race every week for six months and it would come out differently every time. So it becomes a matter of who can conduct themselves with the greatest grace under the fire of this particular competition and I think we are pretty good at that. Even though our sixth-ranking is probably kind, I still hope we can finish higher than that."
Jenny Barringer has been leading the Buffs all season. She has one first-place finish, one third-place finish and a pair of runner-up finishes heading into nationals. Barringer should be a contender for the national championship. Liza Pasciuto, CU's only returning female All-American, will also be in the hunt for a national championship. She has been CU's No. 2 runner this season, but tends to run her best at nationals. Pasciuto earned a ninth-place finish in 2005 after coming in 13th in 2004 as CU's top freshman.
"For us to do well, they both have to be pretty high up in this race" Wetmore said. "Jenny has only lost to three women this season. There are a couple other women she hasn't faced who are very good. I think she will be very disappointed if she is not in the top-10. I think she could be quite a bit higher than that.
"Liza has a good record on this course. She is nursing a little bit of a sore leg and we've had to compromise our racing strategy and our training a little bit recently. I'm not going to ask her or expect her to be as high as she was a year ago, although I wouldn't put it past her. She's going to race conservatively and move up through the pack and see how many people she can bring back. She's a pretty tough lady when her mind is set."
Colorado's underclassmen are helping to lead CU to a sixth-place ranking. Freshmen Claire Maduza and Aislinn Ryan have each finished third and fourth for the Buffs twice. Maduza earned third-place finishes at the Rocky Mountain Shootout and the Big 12 Championship; while Ryan was third at pre-nationals and regionals.
"If the weather stays good out there and the course is dry and mowed well, we would hope for them to run below 21 minute," Wetmore said. "If for some reason the course is not fast, we will throw out the clock and just compare them to the third and fourth runners from all of the other competitive teams. They've had very good freshman years and are going to be big runners for us someday soon."
The other CU women competing on Monday are senior Erin Marston, redshirt freshman Rachel Gioscia and freshman Hilary McClendon. Freshman Emily Hanenburg will be CU's alternate.
The Buffalo men have a strong line-up. Senior Billy Nelson and junior Brent Vaughn will be leading the way for a chance at a national title for the men. Nelson is coming off an eighth-place finish at regionals, while Vaughn was one step behind at ninth.
"They are both going to have to be pretty high and so will Stephen (Pifer) for us to even have a chance," Wetmore said. "There's no team that is a head above everyone else, but the other contender teams have leaders up front. Wisconsin will have Chris Solinsky, Iona and Arkansas will have their Kenyans up front. So Billy, Brent and Stephen will have to be pretty high up in this thing."
Senior Erik Heinonen and juniors Stephen Pifer and James Strang have rounded out CU's scoring this season. Strang led CU at last year's NCAA Championship (35th) and Pifer was 37th.
The other CU men racing are sophomore Bradley Harkrader and junior Pete Janson. Redshirt freshman Kenyon Neuman is the alternate.
"We'll need Brad and Pete to be even closer if they're going to help us in event of a bad day of someone in the top five," Wetmore explained. "A really strong team will have seven runners come in within 30-40 seconds. So far we haven't demonstrated that. But Brad is going to be in his third or fourth race in 15 months. This will be Pete's first varsity race on this course and I think that will help him."
2006 NCAA DIVISION I CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS
Monday, Nov. 20
Lavern-Gibson Cross Country Course
Wabash Family Sports Center, Terre Haute, Ind.
12 p.m. (ET) 6k Women's Race
1:15 p.m. (ET) 10k Men's Race
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Race Notes are available in .PDF below.