Updated: Jan 13
Despite losing four All-Americans, the Colorado Buffaloes will once again be in the title hunt come November...and somehow, no one is really all that surprised.
Both Dani Jones (1st) and Makena Morley (8th) are out of cross country eligibility (both still have track) while Taylor Tuttle (24th) and Val Constien (30th) have graduated, leaving only Sage Hurta, Tabor Scholl, and Holly Bent returning from last year title-winning lineup.
While most programs would be looking at a down year or two, Colorado will be looking to pick up where they left off after a couple of transfers and a strong recruiting class add to an already insanely talented roster. With coaches Mark Wetmore and Heather Burroughs leading the way, the women of Colorado will come into the season as a national title contender yet again.
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Leading the way this fall will be a pair of returners in Sage Hurta and Tabor Scholl. At NCAA's last fall, the pair finished 22nd and 15th, respectively and both have potential for top 10 finishes in 2019. Scholl comes into this fall on the heels of her best track season ever, setting personal bests in everything from the 1500 to the 10,000 meters. During cross country in 2018, she never finished worse than 19th, showing a level of consistency that will be massively important for a Colorado team that has a handful of new faces.
Hurta comes in after an equally successful track season where she broke the school record in the 800 meters while running unattached, notching a mark of 2:00.99 at the Music City Distance Carnival. She also posted personal bests in the 1500 and 5000 meters, running 4:09 and 15:54, respectively.
Despite only racing three times last fall, Hurta comes into 2019 with the potential to be one of the top runners in the country. Having a breakout track season in the middle distances is one thing, but when you realize that she has already proven herself during cross country, you can't help but wonder if she'll replicate that fitness on the grass and dirt.
Scholl and Hurta should certainly be All-Americans this season and should be joined by two new faces who will bring exciting scoring potency to the table.
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After just missing a top 40 finish as a freshman, Emily Venters narrowly made it in 2018, finishing 39th overall while running for Boise State to earn her first All-American honors. The junior transfer was a key runner for Boise State last fall, placing top 10 at both Nuttycombe and the Mountain West Championships. Venters is also coming off a strong indoor season as well where she ran new personal bests in the 3000 meters (9:07) and 5000 (15:45). She may be (arguably) the most talented transfer of the summer.
Another new face to the program is Rachel McArthur, formerly of Villanova. The junior opted to move west after two seasons on the east coast where she was an All-American indoors in 2019. For most of last fall, McArthur was having a phenomenal cross country season, finishing 29th at Nuttycombe and winning the Mid-Atlantic regional title. However, the one race where McArthur has historically struggled at is NCAA's, finishing 204th (2017) and 119th (2018). She will certainly need to improve on those performances if Colorado hopes to make another run at the team title, but she has shown great potential during the regular season and should be a key contributor this fall. Don't let her performances at the national meet trick you, she is truly one of the better distances runners in the country.
With four proven runners, Colorado will have a number of women who could step up and claim the fifth spot. Holly Bent is the next returner from last year’s NCAA roster and could make a big jump in 2019. As a true freshman, Bent made huge strides in her first season of collegiate competition, starting with a 79th place run at Nuttycombe and improving to a 22nd place finish at PAC-12's. Bent ultimately finished 80th at NCAA's and if she can break into the top 50 this fall, Colorado will have a serious chance at defending their national title.
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The Buffs also bring in one of the best recruits in the country in Emily Covert. The Minnesota native finished 4th at NXN and 5th at Footlocker this past fall, which came alongside her second straight Minnesota state title in cross country. Covert came into her senior track season injured and ultimately finished runner-up in the 3200 meters at the state meet (behind Furman commit Lauren Peterson), but has since been healthy. She owns personal bests on the track of 10:06 for 3200 meters and 4:47 for 1600 meters. The biggest adjustment for Covert will likely be making the jump from sea-level to altitude, but the transition has historically gone well for Minnesota runners at CU (i.e. Joe Klecker).
Covert has enough talent to push for an All-American finish at NCAA's, but it will be a question of how well she transitions to the collegiate level that will likely decide where she ends up.
Another strong recruit who could find her way into the top seven this fall is Anna Shults of Lafayette, CO. Shults is four-time runner-up at the Colorado state meet and owns personal bests on the track of 4:57 and 10:46 for 1600 meters and 3200 meters respectively.
Potentially even more impressive is that Shultz finished 14th at the World Mountain Running Championships in 2018. Although mountain running requires an entirely different approach than cross country, many top runners have competed at the WMRC including Southern Utah All-American alum Hayden Hawks. Shults has experience running at altitude after growing up in Colorado and she should be a dark horse to watch on Colorado’s team this fall.
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With a group of proven veterans and a handful of young talent, Colorado has a great chance at winning the national title yet again. The biggest questions, however, will be how well Venters and McArthur adjust to life in Boulder, as well as who will fill the #5 position.
Just a few months ago, many of us weren't expecting Colorado to be in a position where they could secure NCAA gold for a second year in a row. Sure, maybe they could have fought for a podium spot, but a national title seemed a bit unrealistic.
Now, at the tail-end of August, the Buffaloes have once again reemerged as a legitimate title threat to every other program in the country. The addition of elite transfers and star recruits revamped the identity of this group, making them one of the most exciting teams in the country.
The message is clear.
The Buffs aren't content on rebuilding.
Instead, they want to reload.