Emily Hanenburg captains a sharply improved women's team this year at the University of Colorado. Colorado Track XC File Photo.
The championship season has arrived for the state's Division I programs. Colorado heads to Columbia, Missouri, for the Big XII Championship. Air Force and Colorado State travel to Utah for the Mountain West Championship. And Northern Colorado hosts the Big Sky Conference meet in Greeley tomorrow.
For Northern Colorado, the conference meet represents a golden opportunity to enhance the stature of the program with a mid-pack kind of finish in the conference meet. Running at altitude gives the Bears a little bit of an advantage and the program is gradually picking up steam. The women, in particular, led by Kellie Callahan, Megan Horsch, and Denise Kintzley have been taking home improved finishes in every meet they've been attending. The men, led by Dylan Hedges and Daniel Sojka, are also showing signs of improvement, but still trailing behind the women in meet placement.
Colorado, on the other hand, is riding a crest of excitement that has been missing for a few years. Jenny Barringer and Allie McLaughlin are pushing the pace hard at the front. The rest of the team, including Laura Tremblay, Emma Coburn, Laura Thweatt, Emily Hanenburg, and Katie Cumming are providing the kind of team consistency that has been absent over the last couple of years. Expect the Buffs to be in the thick of the conference title race with challenges coming from Texas Tech, Iowa State, and Baylor.
For the men, the swagger is back, but conference rival Oklahoma State has a well-earned swagger of their own. While the Buffs lack a Brent Vaughn or a Jorge Torres in this year's lineup, they have a very solid top five from top to bottom. Christian Thompson, Richard Medina, Jordan Kyle, Kenyon Neuman, and Andrew Wacker produced an 18.5-second pack time at Pre-Nats two weeks ago, all placing in the top 40. Only Stanford could produce a better score. The Big XII meet should provide a stearn test for the Buffs.
Colorado State and Air Force, meanwhile, travel to Orem, Utah, to work on breathing some additional life back into their seasons. Colorado State, in particular, has been riddled with injuries and the dreams of a highly competitive season have fallen on hard times. If the Rams men can come away with third place in the conference meet, it will be an encouraging sign for Coach Berryhill's program.
The Air Force men, however, will also come into the meet looking at third place as something of a level of validation. Justin Tyner, Zach Nordahl, Jim Walmsley, and Jonathan Rock have been running well for the Falcons, but the men in blue have been taking on too many points at the fifth and final scoring position.
BYU and New Mexico figure to sweep the top two places among men's teams at the MWC meet.
For the women, BYU and New Mexico again figure to dominate, but the CSU women could be in a position to give one or both a challenge with a solid team performance. Ellie Rastall, Sarah Heuer, Nicole Peters, and Kristen Hemphill have been leading the pack for the Rams of late and each need to have big races in Utah for the Rams to have a shot at climing above third in the conference.
For the Air Force women, it's been a struggle all season long to reach the level of performances they believe they should attain. Ally Romanko has been consistently in front, for the Falcons all season long, but only two other Falcon women rank in the top 25 in the conference coming into the conference meet.
Look for results from all three conference meets to be posted on Colorado Track XC as they become available tomorrow.