LOUISVILLE -- Going into Saturday, the Colorado men's cross country team had a lot of things weighing on its collective shoulders.

The Buffaloes carried the nation's No. 1 ranking. They were back-to-back Pac-12 champions. They were running just a few miles from their Boulder campus. And, they had thousands of people -- including Colorado running royalty -- in attendance to watch them perform.

"A lot of pressure," CU junior Blake Theroux said.

It didn't seem to bother the Buffs. Running in front of a large home crowd at Coal Creek Golf Course, the top-ranked Buffs won their third consecutive Pac-12 championship.

Led by Theroux's third-place individual finish, the Buffs scored 28 points to win the men's race, with Oregon (54 points) coming in second and Stanford (79) third. Oregon's Edward Cheserek won the individual title, in 24 minutes, 36 seconds.

The CU women had a great showing, too, as they placed second. With 75 points, they were barely edged by No. 1-ranked Arizona, which scored 69. Stanford's Aisling Cuffe was the individual champ, in 21:04.

It was the men's team that carried most of the pressure coming in, but the Buffs were sensational on what turned out to be a gorgeous day for running.

While Theroux led the way, finishing in 24:47, Connor Winter (fourth place), Ben Saarel (fifth), Pierce Murphy (seventh) and Ammar Moussa (ninth) were all within 28 seconds of Theroux.


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"It's fun to have a lot of people here (watching), but they're here to see them and they're here to hope that they win, so it's a greater gamble that something goes wrong," CU coach Mark Wetmore said of the pressure on his team. "(The CU runners) are young guys, and it's not a team full of fifth-year seniors, and they didn't blink. They did fine."

The Colorado men’s cross country team celebrates its third conference title in a row.
The Colorado men's cross country team celebrates its third conference title in a row. ( CLIFF GRASSMICK )

CU has won all three men's titles since joining the Pac-12 in 2011. This was the Buffs' best score during their three-year run, though, as they executed their plan to near perfection. Halfway through the 8K race, six Buffs were among the top 10. After 6K, five Buffs were in the top 10.

"The key was going out slow," said Winter, a sophomore. "The course is kind of sneaky hard. There's a couple of hills. ... If you just stay patient and you make sure you're together as a group -- and we really stayed together, probably five or six guys -- and we really executed our plan. We finished all really close and it was fun to look back and immediately see the rest of the guys right there with you."

CU always likes to run in a pack, but there are several races throughout the year where the field is too large to do that. With only nine teams and 79 runners on the course Saturday, CU was able to bunch up.

"Today with a smaller field, it was easier to run together and we knew that we could do it," Theroux said. "We definitely played that to our advantage, took control of the race up front. We just stayed relaxed.

"I knew these other teams, it would be foolish for them to try and run away from us at elevation. I knew they were sitting on us, but as long as we were up there feeling relaxed, which we were, we'd be fine."

The CU women's team was better than expected. The Buffs came in ranked No. 16 nationally, but that was fourth among Pac-12 teams.

Favored Arizona won the title, but CU pushed the Wildcats. Senior Shalaya Kipp used just about every ounce of her energy in securing an eighth-place finish to lead the Buffs. Kipp finished the 6K course in 21:33, with teammate Carrie Verdon just two spots and nine seconds behind.

"I definitely did (give everything)," Kipp said. "Sometimes you cross the finish line and it's not really where you hope to be, but I am so proud of our team today. Second to No. 1 ranked Arizona, that is phenomenal -- within six points of them. We had a lot of girls step up and really give it their all."

Kipp said she and her teammates were fueled by the crowd and emotions of hosting the meet.

"A huge portion had to do with all the adrenaline you get on a home course and so many people yelling, 'Go Colorado!'" Kipp said. "It really helps; you have no idea. That first 5K, you're running on pure adrenaline."

CU had four of the top 14 runners, with Erin Clark placing 13th and Melanie Nun 14th.

"We basically told them to pay attention to your race and how your body feels and don't key off of any of any teammate, and don't key off any opponent," Wetmore said. "Most of them did pretty well at that."

This is the 18th time in the last 20 years that the CU women finished in the top two at a conference meet.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.