When it comes to cross country, the New Mexico women’s team is firmly in blueblood country.
Second-placed Lobos are looking for their third NCAA national championship of 2015, and they looked poised to do so on Saturday.
“Obviously I think we want to do well, but I don’t think we want to have really high expectations for that,” said senior Gracelyn Larkin, who led UNM to their sixth Mountain Regional win last Friday. “Everyone has the same idea of being on the podium. And that’s a collective thing that we all have, but it’s not something we need to talk about, it’s just everyone’s goal.”
When the Lobos compete at the Greiner Family Cross Country Course Saturday in Stillwater, Oklahoma, they will compete with top-ranked state North Carolina, No. 3, and host Oklahoma State, No. 4, Notre Dame and fifth-ranked Alabama.
“Before the meet, there are five universities that probably have a realistic shot without anyone hitting a grand slam,” said New Mexico coach Joe Franklin. “One of those will probably be the national champion.”
The good thing for UNM, he said, is that the course suits their style.
“It’s very wide and the way we run we don’t usually come out really hard and tend to fall behind in the first three minutes of the race,” Franklin said. “We can get to the end of the race together.”
Keeping the wolf pack together is the Lobos’ strategy, he said.
“Of what we have to do, we have to keep our one to five spread very small,” Franklin said. “If we’re under 15-17 seconds, we have a chance. They must all find the Turquoise together and as soon as one of them leaves, they will all follow. I have no idea when that will happen and I have no idea who it will be.”
The Lobos will take 14 runners to the meeting and the final line-up of runners has yet to be determined. But the team’s top seven runners — Amelia Mazza-Downie, Emma Heckel, Larkin, Abigail Goldstein, Ali Upshaw, Samree Dishon and Elise Thorner — have the inside stretch with their personal bests within a 20-second margin.
Who will take control of the Lobos remains to be seen, Larkin said.
“I think it really depends on the day,” said the junior from Rosseau, Ontario. “With our Top 5, you really don’t know who’s going to be one-two-three-four-five. With us it’s always random, and that’s a good thing. It shows the depth of how good we are. And six and seven are right there too.”
So each of them or even a runner from another squad can set the pace.
“The break just happens during the race, and whether one of us goes or someone else from another team goes,” said Larkin, “it’s important to be able to respond when it happens. I think it’s going to be crucial that we all get involved when it happens.”
Representing the Lobo men is Abdirizak Ibrahim, whose challenge is to finish in the top 40 for a third straight All-America honor. He would become only the second UNM men’s runner to accomplish the feat, joining Matt Gonzales at this elite club.