Updated: Jan 13
The New Mexico distance program has had tremendous success on the women's side for the last couple of years. Most recently at the NCAA XC Championships, the Lady Lobos have finished 3rd (2014), 1st (2015), 7th (2016), 1st (2017), and 2nd (2018) in the past five years. Obviously, women have come and gone, but Coach Joe Franklin knows how to recruit and develop his athletes into a powerhouse that has simply been unmatched.
The 2019 cross country season should follow a similar pattern for the Lobos. Charlotte Prouse and Emily Martin have graduated, so it will be difficult to fill those scoring positions, but New Mexico is still in luck. They are returning Ednah Kurgat, Weini Kelati, and Adva Cohen, all of whom scored at last year’s national meet. Hannah Nuttall and Sophie Eckel, the team’s #6 and #7 from that championship meet, are both still on the roster.
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It wasn't until the Nuttycombe Invite where Coach Joe Franklin decided to showcase his top athletes. In a field loaded with teams who could battle for the national title, this was New Mexico's chance to reassert their dominance.
Kelati led the team with a 2nd place individual finish and was only 2.6 seconds behind the race winner. Kurgat was the next athlete across the line for New Mexico in 3rd place. Cohen, racing in her first NCAA D1 competition, got a slower start, but still managed to finish 35th overall. In the end, the team would finish 3rd overall, falling behind both Colorado and Boise State - two teams who were notably better at the #4 and #5 spots.
If New Mexico wanted to win, their depth needed to step up.
Two weeks later and back in Wisconsin for Pre-Nationals, the Lady Lobos came away with both the team and individual win this time around. Kelati solidified herself as the program's #1 runner and a national champion contender. Kurgat placed 2nd behind Kelati while Charlotte Prouse and Adva Cohen earned finishes of 9th and 14th respectively.
Through four runners, New Mexico was simply far too much to handle. There was no team in the country who was going to be able to handle that kind of firepower.
However, even though the team won the meet by 53 points, they had a time spread of 1:32 between their top five (Hannah Nutall finished as the team's #5 in 41st place overall). On paper, their individual finishes were incredible, but their time spread was something that needed to be watched as the season progressed.
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Two 1st place team finishes highlighted the Mountain West and Mountain Regional Championships for the Lobos. Kelati did her thing and easily won both races while Kurgat settled for runner-up in the same two instances. Cohen was improving each race and the team was able to find more cohesion with backend scorers such as Martin, Eckel, and Nuttall.
Going into the NCAA XC Championships, all eyes were on Kelati to take the individual win and for the Lady Lobos to take home the team title.
That, however, did not happen.
New Mexico ended up placing 2nd to a very good Colorado team who somehow matched the firepower that New Mexico had...except it was through all five scorers. Meanwhile, Kelati was three seconds away from winning her first individual title behind Dani Jones.
Overall, there was certainly a lot to be proud of. The team had defeated a handful of elite programs in what may have been one of the best years of women's cross country in recent memory. Still, it was clear that the ladies of New Mexico were capable of (and wanted) more.
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The 2019 cross country season will see New Mexico return with history, talent, depth, and the hunger of avenging their runner-up finish from last year.
Kelati was on a roll during the 2019 track seasons and distanced herself from competition. She ran PR's in the mile, 3k, 5k, and 10k. The superstar Lobo is also fresh off of her 10k national title from the Outdoor National Championships. Her 32:09 personal best this past spring proves that she is on a different level and that she will come out seeking her first-ever cross country individual title this fall after finishing 7th in 2017 and 2nd in 2018.
Kurgat won the 2017 individual cross country title and was 5th last year. She may not have won gold last year, but she was extremely consistent, always finishing in the top five.
During the 2019 outdoor track season, Kurgat only qualified for NCAA’s in the 10k, missing the 5K by one place. In the 10k, she finished 9th overall, which may have been a little disappointing for someone who could have contended for the title. Kurgat’s final cross country season will most likely be one of redemption as she will try to repeat her 2017 individual championship and lead her team to another title in the process.
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Towards the end of the fall and during the track season, Adva Cohen figured out how to race at the D1 level after transferring from Iowa Central Community College. Cohen just missed out on All-American cross country honors in 2018 when she finished 43rd, but earned her first All-American honor with a 4th place finish in the steeplechase.
Success in the steeplechase translates well to cross country, but it should be noted that Cohen is slated to compete at the World Outdoor Track Championship in Doha in late September, so her cross country season may be delayed.
The Lobos will also be welcoming Washington transfer Olivia O’Keefe to the team this fall for her sophomore season. O’Keefe was 32nd at the PAC-12 Championships last and 169th at the NCAA Championships. She has also run a PR of 9:30 for the indoor 3000 meters. O’Keefe has not raced since the indoor track season, so she will be coming to New Mexico without racing in six months, but she could very easily be the #4 scorer for this team in 2019.
But maybe the biggest x-factor in all of this is incoming recruit Amelia Mazza-Downie. The Australian ace has run 15:59, making her someone who could be an immediate impact contributor for the Lobos this fall. It will be interesting to see how she handles the collegiate competition, specifically in cross country, but Mazza-Downie could be the final piece of the puzzle for Coach Franklin's crew this fall.
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New Mexico’s top three is pretty much set in stone. In fact, they are - without a doubt - the best trio of scorers that the NCAA has to offer. Plus, with the addition of Mazza-Downie, the Lobos could be in a similar position to where they were at last year when they still had Charlotte Prouse.
As for O’Keefe, she could add some depth and scoring consistency to the team this fall. Eckel and Nuttall also got some good experience last year on the national stage and will look to help the Lobos return to the podium this fall in Terre Haute.
Much like last year, there is a lot of inconsistency and uncertainty in the latter half of this lineup, but the backend is capable of keeping this team afloat. Nuttall also has a ton of potential upside after running 9:07 for 3000 meters this past winter.
A national title is not out of the picture for New Mexico, it just comes down to how good their backend wants to be...