Paul Aiken / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Fri, Sep 04: Colorado State Invitational in Fort Collins
Sat, Oct 03: Rocky Mountain Shootout in Boulder
Sat, Oct 17: Pre-Nationals in Louisville, Ken.
Fri, Oct 30: Pac-12 Championships in Colfax, Wash.
Fri, Nov 13: NCAA Regional
Sat, Nov 21: NCAA Championships in Louisville, Ken.
Mark Wetmore is no stranger to history, and he fully understands the weight that’s being placed on the Colorado men’s cross country team as it heads into the 2015 season on the heels of back-to-back national championships.
A third consecutive title for CU would be the first trifecta for any NCAA Division I team since Arkansas finished out the last millennium with such accolades.
Not only was Wetmore confident at this summer’s media day at the Dal Ward Athletic Center, but the longtime coach made a declaration about his men’s and women’s teams that may translate into much celebration come November.
“Combined, the men and the women might be the best two teams we’ve had, ever here,” said Wetmore, ahead of his 21st season at CU. “So I’m real excited about that.”
While seeing is often believing, Wetmore simply is visualizing the potential having not witnessed his runners’ progress over the summer. That’s standard for him as cross country is the latest of the fall sports to get underway, therefore none of the athletes had yet to report to school.
What’s not standard is the talent level of the 2015 Buffaloes, particularly on the men’s side. It’s really not debateable as to whether the Buffs will be ranked preseason No. 1, with CU returning five All-Americans in Pierce Murphy, Ben Saarel (each two-time All-Americans), Ammar Moussa, Morgan Pearson (who missed 2014) and Connor Winter.
Moussa finished fifth individually last year at the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., the highest placing for a CU male since Brent Vaughn in 2007 (fifth, as well). However, with four returning top-10 placers and a heap of brewing talent, CU could challenge the 65 points it scored last year as a team.
“It’s not atypical to have four or more varsity-experienced returning athletes, but it is atypical to have four that are that good,” Wetmore said. “We have four people returning from last year’s team that were All-Americans, and that’s a pretty good place to start when you’re scoring five.
“We get it, we’re the defending champs. We get that we have a good roster, and that when the rankings come out we’ll be No. 1. This is a good group, on the men’s side, guys who have been there before and are less likely to make dumb mistakes when we get to the big race. What we have to manage is any sense of entitlement among them, or that they get cavalier about it.”
Sophomore Adam Peterman also returns after a consistent season, and there are a handful of freshmen Wetmore predicted could have an immediate impact on the results. Those include John Dressel (Colbert, Wash.) and Joe Klecker (Minnetonka, Minn.).
Nick Harris, a transfer from Washington who graduated from Niwot High School, also will be eligible to suit up when the season begins at the Colorado State Invitational on Sep. 4.
After placing seventh in consecutive seasons at the NCAAs, the women’s team is one Wetmore said “could challenge for the podium.” Junior Erin Clark’s stronghold as the team’s top runner each and every meet is expected to be challenged by Madeline Alm and Kaitlyn Benner — both from Louisville’s Monarch High School. Annie Kelly, a junior, also returns as a postseason scorer.
Some of the female newcomers that might work themselves right into the scoring mix are Dani Jones (Phoenix), Brianna Schwartz (Pittsburgh) and Tabor Scholl, who dominated the small-school scene in Colorado.
The Buffs women won the NCAA Mountain Region Championships by beating New Mexico in 2014, and in 2015 the women are eyeing their first Pac-12 title since 2011. The Pac-12 Championships will be held in Colfax, Wash., on Oct. 31, and the NCAA Championships will be located in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 21.