TERRA HAUTE, Ind. — Through cold, windy and muddy conditions, the No. 3 ranked University of Colorado men’s cross country team once again proved to be the top team in the land as they claimed the 2013 NCAA Cross Country team title here today at the La Vern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course.
This marks the fourth team title for the Buffs since 2001 and is their first since 2006. They also won in 2004. The Buffs now have six overall cross country titles along with two women’s titles, all coming under Coach Mark Wetmore. On top of being the fourth men’s cross country national championship and sixth overall cross country title, it’s the 26th in CU history and 460th in Pac-12 history.
“This is amazing. It’s hard coming to a program like this and living in the shadow of the past national championships,” junior co-captain Blake Theroux said. “I was just talking to Jorge Torres, an individual and team NCAA champion, and told him that we are living in the house that he built and I’m really happy to contribute to that.”
The Buffs soundly defeated runner-up and current No. 1 Northern Arizona (149-169) for the team crown after losing to NAU just eight days ago at the regional meet by eight points. Oklahoma State, ranked second overall, was an overwhelming favorite heading into the race and placed third with 230 points. BYU was fourth (267) and Oregon took fifth overall (274).
“I like it that people said that we were over ranked after the conference meet and after regionals,” Wetmore said. “That adds a little bit to the enjoyment of winning today.”
CU was led by true freshman Ben Saarel with an eighth-place finish, finishing in 30:14.1. It is the highest finish for a Buff since Richard Medina placed eighth in 2011. With the finish, Saarel became the first true freshman to earn All-American honors since assistant coach and Olympian Billy Nelson at the 2002 championship. That year Nelson placed 42nd overall.
“It feels awesome,” Saarel said. “It’s such a privilege to be able to run with these guys and to finish in the top ten is great. I’m not the best freshman in the NCAA, but I did the best I could.”
Saarel started the race back in the 64th position, before moving up to 32nd at the 5k mark. Through 8k he had move up 21 more spots to 11th and continued to work his way into the top-10 by the end of the race.
“Everybody had to deal with the same conditions, so as long as you stay relaxed and stick with the game plan, the conditions shouldn’t affect you too much and that is the attitude our entire team had today,” Saarel said. “I feel really good right now.”
Wetmore was very pleased with his freshman standout’s performance.
“Ben was one of the best high school runners in American just six months ago,” Wetmore said. “We knew he was a big talent, but the NCAA Cross County Championship is a killer race with a lot of mature, developed young men. For him to be eighth overall is indicative of his talent. I don’t think it would be fair for us to take a whole lot of credit for what he’s done in only three months, but he is going to be one of the major runners for us over the next four years if we all make good decisions.”
Colorado did quite well in the unfriendly conditions, placing four of its five scorers in the top-40, which earned each of them All-American honors. Morgan Pearson was CU’s No. 2 scorer, coming in at 17th overall (30:35.0). Theroux finished 23rd overall, improving from a 39th-place finish in 2012, to record his second All-American cross country honor (30:34.6). Pierce Murphy was the fourth runner for the Buffs and he was 39th (30:44.9); improving from 45th place last year. This sets Pearson and Murphy’s first All-American honor.
Rounding out the team scoring and clinching the team title for CU was Ammar Moussa, who placed 95th overall as CU’s fifth runner. He finished in 31:17.1. Moussa also won a national championship with his high school team in 2010 to become one of the first men to win a high school and collegiate national championship.
Although they didn’t score, Zach Perrin and Connor Winter also raced for CU at the meet. Perrin placed 107th (31:23.3) and Winter was 177th (32:02.2). Oregon’s Edward Chesarek was the individual winner, finishing in 29:41.1.
Across the board, the Buffs did what they needed to do, which was steadily move up during the race. They were 10th at the 3k mark and halfway though they had moved into third. CU gradually kept picking off its competition and would be able to best NAU in the final 2,000-meters of the 10k race. NAU placed runners third, 20th, 23rd, 61st and 62nd.
Saarel became the fourth different No. 1 runner for the Buffs this season. Theroux led CU at the Rocky Mountain Shootout and Pac-12s, while Pearson led CU at NCAA Pre-Nationals and Murphy was the top racer at regionals.
“We had four different No. 1 men over the course of the year and people have asked me what the significance of that was and I say it means it’s a heck of a top-five,” Wetmore explained. “Connor [Winter] has been as high as the second runner for us, and he struggled a bit today; but he had been a wonderful leader for us. Everyone has a little bit of an off day. Morgan [Pearson] was a little off at the conference meet. Ammar [Moussa] ran a wonderful last 2k and saved the meet for us, but you have to have that front four. t’s been a pleasure to have an interchangeable front five like we have had this year and they are all back next year.”
This is the fourth win of the season for the Buffs. They also won the Rocky Mountain Shootout, NCAA Pre-Nationals and their third straight Pac-12 Conference meet.
The CU women also had a strong day, finishing seventh overall with 265 points. The Buffs were led by senior Shalaya Kipp who placed ninth overall in 20:21.7 and recorded her fourth All-American honor. In doing so, she became CU’s first ever female to earn All-American honors four times in cross country. Kipp’s finish was the highest for the women since Allie McLaughlin’s fifth-place finish in 2009.
“When I think about it, I get goose bumps considering all of that talent that has come before me with Emma [Coburn], Jenny [Simpson], Kara [Goucher] and so many others,” Kipp said. “Not only does that mean I’m good, but that I’m lucky and have great coaches, I have coaches that have kept me healthy and I haven’t had any injuries come NCAAs. I’m very proud.”
Kipp started the race 40th through 2k and climbed up to 10th after 4k. In the final 10 meters she was able to overtake Cal’s Kelsey Santisteban, who had the same time as Kipp (20:21.7).
“Shalaya has had enough cool things happen to her in her career, so she doesn’t need any sympathy, but if not unfair, it has probably been difficult for her in every cross country season. She starts about six-eight weeks after everyone else because she has been lucky to compete at the Olympics and World Championships. This was a wonderful performance for her given how little time she had to prepare. She has been such a leader to the team, and one of the really major people to pass through our program, and I’d say I’m sad to see her go but we have a full track season still to come.”
The women’s team was ranked fifth overall heading into the meet, and coach Wetmore was very pleased with the way his team ran. The team finished 13 points in front of No. 4 Florida State (278), which took eight overall.
The women, like the men, also worked their way up the entire race coming in at 19th after the 2k split time and moving all the way to 10th by the 4k split to finish seventh in the end.
“They started the season around 16th and just kept working their way up,” Wetmore said. “Seventh is a wonderful finish for them given how young they are. I’m as happy for them getting seventh as I am for the men winning.”
Abby Levene was the second scorer for CU, finishing 59th in 20:57.4. Melanie Nun was next for the Buffs in 68th (21:04.0) and Erin Clark took 97th (21:17.7). CU’s final score was Carrie Verdon, who placed 132nd (21:31.4).
Also running at the meet for CU were Jenny DeSouchet and Liz Tremblay. DeSouchet finished 161st (21:43.1) and Tremblay was 175th (21:52.0).
“I’m so proud of the team,” Kipp said. “They made huge jumps this season; Erin Clark and Melanie Nun coming in as freshmen and not really knowing what to expect and Carrie stepping up as a leader of a team, it’s all been a great learning experience. I know today is not what they wanted. Erin fell down and Carrie fell down twice, but I think the team really did do well. Not everything went the way we hoped, but still ending up seventh is great compared to where we were ranked at the beginning of the year.”
Top-ranked Providence won the women’s 6k race with 141 points and No. 2 Arizona took second with 197 points. Dartmouth’s Abbey D’Agostino was the women’s individual finisher in 20:00.3.
CU graduates three women (Shalaya Kipp, Abby Levene and Liz Tremblay), while all of the men will return next season.
2013 NCAA DIVISION I CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIP
La Vern Gibson Cross Country Course (Terre Haute, Ind.)
MEN’S TEAM TOP-10 10K RESULTS (of 31 teams):
1. Colorado, 149. Northern Arizona, 169; 3. Oklahoma State, 230; 4. BYU 267; 5. Oregon, 274; 6. Iona, 284; 7. Portland, 293; 8. Indiana, 306; 9. Wisconsin, 326; 10. Syracuse, 329.
MEN’S TOP-10 INDIVIDUAL FINISHERS:
1. Edward Cheserek, UO, 29:41.1; 2. Kennedy Kithuka, Texas Tech 29:59.1; 3 Maksim Korolev, Harvard, 29:59.5; 4. Futsum Zienasellassie, NAU, 30:05.7; 5. Jim Rosa, SU, 30:08.9; 6. Stanley Kebenei, Arkansas, 30:10.1; 7. Andrew Colley, N.C. State, 30:12.5; 8. Ben Saarel, CU, 30:14.1; 9. Patrick Tiernan, Villanova, 30:15.7; 10. Luke Caldwell, NM, 30:17.2.
17. Morgan Pearson, 30:25.0; 23. Blake Theroux, 30:34.6; 39. Pierce Murphy, 30:44.9; 95. Ammar Moussa, 31:17.1; 107. Zach Perrin, 31:23.3; 177. Connor Winter, 32:02.2.
WOMEN’S TEAM TOP-10 6K RESULTS (of 31 teams):
1. Providence, 141; 2. Arizona, 197; 3. Butler, 200; 4. Michigan, 215; 5. Georgetown, 226; 6. Michigan State, 236; 7. Colorado, 265; 8. Florida State, 278; 9. Virginia, 283; 10. New Mexico, 301.
WOMEN’S TOP-10 INDIVIDUAL FINISHERS:
1. Abbey D’Agostino, DU, 20:00.3; 2. Emma Bates, BSU, 20:03.9; Kate Avery, IU, 20:05.4; 4. Aisling Cuffe, SU, 20:09.3; 5. Emily Lipari, VU, 20:10.8; 6. Colleen Quigley, FSU, 20:11.3; 7. Emily Sisson, Providence, 20:17.5; 8. Shelby Houlihan, ASU, 20:20.9; 9. Shalaya Kipp, CU, 20:21.7; 10. Kelsey Santisteban, Cal, 20:21.7.
59. Abby Levene, 20:57.4; 68. Melanie Nun, 21:04.0; 97. Erin Clark, 21:17.7; 132. Carrie Verdon, 21:31.4; 161. Jenny Desouchet, 21:43.1; 175. Elizabeth Tremblay, 21:52.0.