2017 XC TOP 25 TEAMS: #6 Colorado Buffaloes



6. Colorado Buffaloes

Coach: Mark Wetmore

Notable Departures: Ben Saarel

Notable Additions: Mark Tedder

Projected Scoring Five:

Joe Klecker (Rs. SO) [TSR#15], John Dressel (JR) [TSR#16],

Zach Perrin (Rs. SR), Ryan Forsyth (Rs. JR), Reilly Friedman (Rs. SO)

Analysis:

Are we surprised anymore? That Colorado is ranked this well? The Buffaloes are once again a team not to be messed with as they return a heavy portion of their 2016 squad this fall. With the Wetmore Factor on their side once again, the men from Boulder will continue to stay in the hunt for a top four All-American spot.

Last year was an interesting season for the Colorado men as they kept fans and spectators on their toes as to what their plan was for 2016. Would Dressel and Saarel redshirt the season in order to save their eligibility for 2017? That was the biggest question mark I had for the Buffaloes last fall.

Colorado began their season at the Rocky Mountain Shootout where they competed against other top programs in the state such as Air Force and Colorado State. Yet, even without Dressel and Saarel in the scoring (they ran unattached), the Buffs cruised through their early season rust-buster with a perfect score of 15 over the entire field. Sure, it was a strong start to the season, but the competition at Rocky Mountain was child's play in comparison to what the Buffs later faced at Pre-Nats.

After another two weeks of training, Colorado sent their full squad to Terre Haute with both Dressel and Saarel on the starting line. It was an indication that the Buffaloes were all in for the 2016 season.

Despite the assurance that their two low-sticks were racing in 2016, the Buffs weren't ready to put forth their best effort just yet. Ryan Forsyth led the way with a 15th place finish overall while the rest of the squad seemingly tried to practice their pack running by taking spots 24, 27, 28, and 30. Still, even with their conservative racing plan, Colorado would finish 3rd overall, only 14 points behind Arkansas. Was Pre-Nats just a workout or did Mark Wetmore's squad have something bigger in mind?

That question would be answered at PAC 12's, a meet where Stanford and Oregon were favored to take the conference title. Of course, Colorado had something else in mind. Thanks to a breakout race by Zach Perrin who placed 4th overall, the Buffaloes pulled off a massive upset to defeat Stanford by seven points and take the PAC 12 crown. In that race, the Buffs finished 3rd, 4th, 6th, 9th and 19th overall.

No Ammar Moussa? No Connor Winter? No Morgan Pearson? No Pierce Murphy? No problem. That was just classic Colorado.

Although their PAC 12 win was exciting, they still needed to get through a very deep Mountain Region Championship meet that held some of the hottest teams in the NCAA such as NAU and BYU. Naturally, the Buffs didn't flinch when faced with the challenge and wound up defeating BYU by three points to secure the 2nd automatic qualifier to Nationals (losing only to Northern Arizona).

The men from Colorado were on fire as they entered NCAA's which is never a good sign if you're an opposing team trying to earn a spot on the podium. Unfortunately, the Buffaloes couldn't find their way into the top four All-American teams with finishes of 17, 22, 26, 59, and 99 (in the team scoring). Colorado would finish 6th in the team standings, and although they weren't in the top four, they still walked away with three individual All-Americans (Klecker, Saarel, Dressel).

In 2017, Colorado is primed for another great season. Then again, when are they not? This program has been nearly unstoppable for almost two decades now and we have become accustomed to expecting big things from this squad every single year.

This fall, the Buffaloes will be led by Klecker and Dressel, two up and coming stars who have established themselves as one of the best 1-2 punches in the NCAA. With another year of experience under their belt, I expect this duo to continue improving and mix it up with some of the best in the nation. I am eagerly awaiting PAC 12's to see how they'll matchup against other third-year stars like Matthew Maton and Grant Fisher.

Joining that Buffalo tandem up front is Zach Perrin who, in retrospect, got robbed from a spot in our Top 50 individuals earlier this summer. Perrin will need to improve his performances at regionals and NCAA's, but his 4th place finish at PAC 12's indicates that he can help lead this team if Klecker or Dressel were to have an off day.

In fact, the same thing goes for Ryan Forsyth who has shown that he can be a key scorer on this squad after placing 15th at Pre-Nats and 9th at PAC 12's. Like Perrin, his regional and NCAA performances could use some improvement, but results outside of those meets have been very encouraging.

As for the fifth and final spot on this squad, it could go to almost anyone on this roster.

Four Buffaloes who could potentially grab that final spot are Reilly Friedman, Christian Martin, Ethan Gonzales, and Adam Peterman. Although these four vary in age and eligibility, they all gained the experience of racing in Colorado's top seven at least once last year. Although they may be able to provide some solid and consistent support in the 6th and 7th spots, the real challenge will be how much of an impact can they have as a top five runner.

Obviously, this is Colorado we're talking about. There is always young talent patiently waiting for their moment to race among the best. Three redshirt freshmen I have my eye on are Phillip Rocha, Eduardo Herrera, and Connor Dunne: high school stars who redshirted the 2016 season to prep for a breakout fall in 2017. Wetmore has always thought about the long term success of this program and it hasn't failed him yet. It is very likely that we see one of these young men breach the top seven (or even top five) in the next three months. The only question is, who?

The final potential scorer to mention is Mark Tedder, a Cornell distance star who is finishing his final year of eligibility with the Buffaloes while going to grad school. Although Tedder is more of a track-oriented athlete, Wetmore could very well transform his cross country fitness and make him yet another weapon on this powerhouse squad.

While I may have ranked BYU and Colorado in the same spots that they finished at NCAA's, it's only because I truly believe that these are the appropriate spots for both teams at the moment. However, that then begs the question of "Why isn't Colorado ranked in the top five?"

With Ben Saarel out of cross country eligibility, the Buffaloes have one less consistent ace who guarantees them a low-stick spot in every cross country they race in. The loss of an experienced superstar mixed without knowing who the fifth scorer will be has left me cautious of ranking Colorado too high. Yet, at this point in our Top 25, I'm just being picky.

Let's remind ourselves that this is Mark Wetmore and the Colorado Buffaloes we're talking about. How could anyone argue that this team isn't in contention to make the podium? Actually, scratch that. How could anyone argue that this team isn't in contention for the national title? Plenty of teams have good and bad years while others go through rebuilding stages. But for Colorado, that narrative is different. Never underestimate what they can bring to the table. Plenty of people (including ourselves) did that last year at PAC 12's and look how that worked out...

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