Richard Medina and Ellie Rastall are both Colorado high school graduates and both figure prominently in their respective team's hopes for successful seasons this fall. Photos by Alan Versaw.
Unlike the DII programs, the Division I programs in Colorado do not belong to a single conference. Colorado runs in the Big XII, Air Force and Colorado State in the Mountain West, and the University of Northern Colorado in the Big Sky.
National championship tradition runs deep in the Colorado program and the program at the University of Northern Colorado is recently rejuvenated. Somewhere between these two extremes lie Colorado State University and the Air Force Academy.
University of Colorado
It's no secret. Coach Wetmore's teams struggled in 2008. The women missed making nationals for the first time in recent memory while the men, though capturing the Mountain Region title, managed only a 12th-place finish at nationals.
Barring major setbacks to injury, both teams should improve on last year's performances this fall.
For the women, the good news is that Jenny Barringer is back for her final season. Barringer is on everybody's list of contenders for the individual national title now that she has finished some business at the world championships of track and field.
Behind Barringer is the solid core of a team that just missed making nationals last year. Emma Coburn (Crested Butte), Laura Thweatt (Durango), and Emily Hanenburg (The Classical Academy) need to continue taking their performances to new levels. If these three have the seasons they are capable of, the Buffs will be competitive at nationals on November 23. If Aislinn Ryan and Allison Sawyer can summon the echoes of the form they showed as prep stars in New York, watch out.
The Buffaloes also bring in a boatload of talented freshmen women. Among them are two who were right at the top of high school distance runners in Colorado last school year--Allie McLaughlin (Air Academy) and Laura Tremblay (Thompson Valley). While it's difficult for freshmen to make an impact in a program as strong as Colorado's, these two are not to be dismissed lightly.
On the men's side, the Buffaloes have the look of a team itching to redeem themselves. Outside of Jordan Kyle (14th at the NCAA championships last fall) the big three returning for the Buffs are Kenyon Neuman, Richard Medina (Grand Junction), and Matt Tebo. Christian Thompson also showed enormous potential last year as a (redshirt) freshman. This year, as a sophomore, Thompson will be even more important to the Buffs hopes. The Buffs desperately need for one or more of this group to step up and join Kyle as the kind of runner who can compete for a top 20 slot at the national championships. Individually, the Buffs simply found themselves too far back in the field at last year's national championships.
The Buffs' schedule doesn't provide many early looks for the competition. The CU Alumni/Open time trial on September 5 is little more than a perfunctory exercise in holding pace. The Rocky Mountain Shootout on October 3 provides little more in the way of the thrill of speed. Don't expect much of a read on either the men's or the women's team until pre-nationals on October 17.
Colorado State University
For two years running, the Rams have been dropping hints that they could be a team due for a breakout year. In 2007, the women were surprise titleists at the Mountain Region meet. Last year, the men narrowly missed an at-large bid to the national championships. The Rams are due to deliver on their promise.
Conspicuously absent from last year's results but present on this year's roster are Samantha McMillan, Margaret Wood, and, most notably, Kristen Hemphill. As these three rejoin teammates Ellie Rastall (Fort Collins), Kendra Gerk (Greeley West), Allison Gohl (Northglenn), and Nicole Peters, the Rams start to look like a team that could reprise--and maybe extend--the magic they found in 2007. Remaining healthy will be an important compenent of the Rams' success, however. If that happens, a strong incoming freshman class may have to bide their time for a year.
The men have a need similar to the need down the road in Boulder. They need people to take a serious move up. Jeremy Freed (Evergreen), Jake Keyser, Daniel Wallis, and Andrew Mauk (Fort Collins) each established themselves as solid DI runners last fall. This fall, the Rams need just a little bit more out of this group. Losses to graduation and attrition for this team were minimal, so optimism among Bryan Berryhill's crew should be running high.
Air Force Academy
For the first time in what must seem like forever for the current team members, the Falcons enter the cross country season with some continuity at the head coach position. Juli (Henner) Benson started producuing results about as soon as she passed through the gate at the Air Force Academy, and the Falcons--both men and women--could be the surprise team of the Mountain West this year.
For the men, there are some serious holes left by the graduation of Matt Williams, Sean Houseworth, and a couple of others. Five of last year's regional team members have departed by way of graduation, leaving only Justin Tyner and Zach Nordahl from that team. When numbers of returning team members are this small, expectations tend to be even smaller.
But the ranks are very deep in this program. James Walmsley is probably the next best shot for the Falcons to step up and produce this year. Though Walmsley's cross country season came to a premature end last fall, he did show well in the USA Cross Country Championships in February.
The women's program, after hitting rock bottom a couple of years ago, seems now to be strongly into recovery mode. Several nice showings in track last spring give the Falcons strong hope for occupying the upper half of the Mountain West standings when the dust settles this fall. The top returners from last year's team are Katie Lynch (Smoky Hill) and Ally Romanko. But, based on last spring's track performances, don't be surprised to see these two getting help from several different corners of the team. And, an interesting sidenote on Ally Romanko: she hails from Coos Bay, Oregon. Okay, she didn't graduate from Marshfield High School, but there must be some magic just on account of being from Coos Bay.
University of Northern Colorado
Currently, the biggest need for UNC is some depth in their cross country program. It's tough for a new program to recruit against a full slate of already-established top-tier programs within the same state. Such is the challenge UNC is up against.
If the number of freshmen on this year's roster is any indication, however, there is hope for the program to find itself on more solid footing in the near future.
Denise Kintzley (Poudre) and Danny Sojka rank as the top returning runners and figure to be out in front for the Bears. Bridget Tiernan (Pine Creek) is one freshman who could have the potential to contribute right away. Kellie Callahan, another former Pine Creek star, begins the season penciled in as the #2 runner for the women.
Both the UNC men and women were picked to finish 9th in the 9-team Big Sky Conference coaches' polls. Pretty clearly, the conferences coaches have left UNC no place to go but up.
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