When it comes to cross country, the New Mexico women’s team is solidly in blueblood country.
The second-ranked Lobos are looking for their third NCAA national championship dating back to 2015, and they seemed well-poised to do it Saturday.
“I think, obviously, we want to do well but I don’t think we really want to put a super big expectation on it,” said senior Gracelyn Larkin, who led UNM in winning its sixth Mountain Regional last Friday. “Everyone has the same idea in their head of being on the podium. And that’s a collective thing that we all have that mindset but it’s not something that we have to talk about, that’s just everyone’s goal.”
When the Lobos hit the Greiner Family Cross Country Course on Saturday in Stillwater, Oklahoma, they will be vying with the top-ranked North Carolina State Wolfpack, No. 3 and host Oklahoma State, No. 4 Notre Dame and fifth-ranked Alabama.
“Going into the meet, there are five universities that probably have a realistic chance without somebody hitting a grand slam,” said New Mexico coach Joe Franklin. “One of those is probably going to be the national champion.”
The good thing as far as UNM concerned, he said, is that the course suits its style, he said.
“It’s very wide, and the way we run, typically we don’t get out real hard and we tend to be behind in the first three minutes of the race,” Franklin said. “We can get to the outside of the race together.”
Keeping that wolf pack together is the Lobos’ strategy, he said.
“From what we need to do, we have to have our spread from one to five very small,” Franklin said. “If we’re under 15-17 seconds, then we have a chance. They all have to find the turquoise together and once one of them goes, they’re all going to follow. I have no idea when that happens and I have no idea who it will be.”
The Lobos will be taking 14 runners to the meet and the final lineup of runners is 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 track with their personal bests sitting at a 20-second spread.
As to who is going to take control for the Lobos, well, that also remains to be seen, Larkin said.
“I think it really depends on the day,” said the junior from Rosseau, Ontario. “With our top five, you really don’t know who’s going to one-two-three-four-five. It’s always random with us, which is a good thing. It shows the depth with how good we are. And six and seven are right there, as well.”
So any one of them, or even a runner from another squad, can set the breaking tempo.
“The break just kind of happens as the race goes, and whether it’s one of us or somebody else from another teams goes,” Larkin said, “it’s important to be able to react to it when it happens. I think it will be crucial that we all follow along when it happens.”
The Lobo men will be represented by Abdirizak Ibrahim, whose challenge is to finish among the top-40 to earn a third consecutive All-America honor. He would become just the second UNM men’s runner to accomplish that feat, joining Matt Gonzales in that elite club.