As the inaugural champions of the Pac-12 Conference in 2011, the men and women of the Colorado Buffaloes cross country team will enter this year’s conference championship in Santa Clarita, Calif. with a bit of a chip on their shoulders. Men’s RaceAfter their impressive run at the pre-Nationals meet on Oct. 13 that saw the Buffs beat a then No. 3 ranked BYU, the men are going into the meet ranked No. 2 in the country — their highest ranking since 2007.
That’s not to say that Saturday’s meet, hosted by UCLA, will be an easy victory for the Buffs. In attendance will be No. 3 Stanford, No. 8 Oregon and No. 15 UCLA. With four teams ranked in the top 15 in the country toeing the line, the Pac-12 may be the most difficult conference to win in the country. The men’s race is also bolstered by last year’s individual champion, Arizona sophomore Lawi Lalang. Lalang, a Kenya native, is coming off of a stellar track season that saw two individual titles (indoor 3k/5k) and two All-American certificates (outdoor 5k/1500m). Lalang’s teammate, senior Stephen Sambu, will throw his hat into the ring as well. Sambu is the 2010 runner-up at the NCAA Cross Country Championships and owner of a 13:13.7 5,000-meter personal best. Though the Arizona 1-2 punch will be hard to beat, junior Jake Hurysz and the rest of the Buffs have been focusing on this meet the entire year. Though the team has impressed the country with the meets they’ve ran so far, Coach Mark Wetmore is one that keeps his cards close to his chest, and it’s safe to say we haven’t seen all the Buffs have just yet. Women’s Race If the men’s race is competitive, then the women’s race is going to be warlike. Though the women pulled off the surprise victory in 2011, 2012 may be a different story. Of the top six ranked teams in the NCAA, four of them are members of the Pac-12, and that doesn’t include the No. 21 Buffaloes. In the crowd will be No. 3 Oregon, No. 4 Stanford, No. 5 Arizona and No. 6 Washington. Then there is CU, who started off the year ranked No. 13 but has steadily dropped in the rankings as the season has progressed. The team will be led by NCAA Champion and 2012 Olympian, senior Shalaya Kipp. Kipp, who finished fourth at last year’s Pac-12 meet and 19th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, has had a slow start to the 2012 season, likely still weary from a long track season. She finished a modest 21st at the NCAA Pre-Nationals meet, but expect her to be in contention come Saturday. For the women to win, it’s going to take everything coming together on that day, but again, that’s what Wetmore’s Buffaloes are known for. Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Ryan Sterner at Ryan.firstname.lastname@example.org.