TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- Coach Mark Wetmore’s team from Colorado has done exactly what it expected to do so far this cross country season, maintaining its preseason No. 1 spot with four dominant performances throughout the season.
But the Bufflaloes know it’s all about what happens on race day Saturday at LaVern Gibson as Blake Theroux and company look to give Wetmore his first back-to-back NCAA Championships. In addition to last year’s 149-169 win against Northern Arizona, Wetmore has guided his men’s teams to national titles in 2006, 2004 and 2001.On Saturday at LaVern Gibson Championship Course in Terre Haute, Indiana -- where Oklahoma State (2009, 2010) and Oregon (2007, 2008) have already enjoyed repeat titles recently -- No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 Oklahoma State are among the teams trying to stop the Buffaloes from achieving the feat.
Colorado features a parallel pack of seven runners, but Theroux and sophomore Ben Saarel could be poised for top-10 finishes. That’s not to say there aren’t teams capable of slipping ahead if Colorado slips.
Upstart No. 2 Syracuse showed it could be a threat when the Orange put five runners in the top 24 at the Wisconsin Invitational last month. And last year’s runner-up, No. 9 Northern Arizona, has a true frontrunner in Futsum Zienasellassie.
Wetmore believes in his team but he also knows there’s plenty of dangerous teams.
“I’ll say I have a good team I'm excited about it. It's not an unbeatable team,” Wetmore said.Oregon could have two top-five finishers in the field as sophomore Edward Cheserek looks to defend his title after becoming the NCAA’s fifth freshman male to win the individual crown. Redshirt senior Eric Jenkins, a transfer from Northeastern in his first cross country season for the Ducks, finished as runner-up to Cheserek in the Pac-12 Conference meet and was third in Pre-Nationals.
Cheserek followed up his NCAA cross country title with two indoor track titles (3,000 meters and 5,000 meters) and another one outdoors (10,000 meters). Cheserek showed he’s not invincible in the West Region when Stanford’s Maksim Korolev outkicked him for the victory.
As Cheserek is sure to be, the Buffaloes are focused on the task at hand, living up to the expectations as the favorite.
“They recognize it's a new team, new opponents and a new day. I don't think they feel extra pressure for that [repeating as team champions],” Wetmore said.”I guess it does give me some level of confidence, more so than if they were seven freshmen. They have been pretty solid all season long. If they perform as they have so far in four races, I think they'll do very well.”
Sophomore Patrick Tiernan of Villanova is another runner capable of knocking off Cheserek. The Australian was ninth last season. He ran to a dominant win in the Wisconsin Invitational.
Other men expected to be in the mix near the front of the pack are Joe Rosa of Stanford, Anthony Rotich of UTEP, Arkansas senior Stanley Kebenei and John Mascari of Indiana State.