Although the Mountain region is typically known for it’s men’s teams, one cannot deny that the women’s teams have stepped up their game in 2018. There are currently five women’s teams ranked in the national poll with two more receiving votes (including three in the top nine). Our current Kolas projections have the Mountain region sending five teams to Nationals, making it just as strong as any other region in the country.
Of the four teams currently receiving first place votes, two of them are in the Mountain region and they will face off this weekend. TSR#3 New Mexico has been one of the most dominant teams over the last four years, winning two NCAA titles in 2015 and 2017, including the lowest point total at an NCAA Championships in over 30 years, scoring just 49 points in 2015. As good as they have been, this years team could be one of their best yet through three or four runners (maybe one of the best ever).
However, it takes five, and TSR#5 Colorado has five. In a classic Mark Wetmore move, the Buffalos ran a "B" team at Pre-Nats. After beating New Mexico two weeks prior at Nuttycombe, many fans around the NCAA were left wondering what they had up their sleeve. Though they were beat handily by an impressive TSR#1 Oregon squad at PAC 12’s, we know that they still are pretty darn good.
At NCAA’s, it seems like there the podium is well-defined, but the order that those podium teams finish is anyone's guess. Will we see both New Mexico and Colorado at full strength this weekend? Doubtful, with just an eight day break between regionals and Nationals, this meet serves as more of a prelim for teams like these.
Besides, with the depth that both of these teams possess, we could easily see Colorado and/or New Mexico hold a few runners out (or at the very least, see them “tempo” the early portions of the race) in an effort to save their legs for the following weekend.
The excitement of a regional championship lies with the team on the bubble of making the NCAA Championships. As was mentioned earlier, five teams are currently projected to make it to Nationals. With two of those teams all but finalized, a group of about six schools will look to grab the remaining three spots.
BYU is one example of a team closing the gap on their men’s program. They find themselves ranked #8 in our rankings and should be one of the first at-large teams selected for NCAA’s.
Now we are left with two spots, and five teams. Southern Utah, Northern Arizona, Air Force, Utah State, and Utah all have a chance to secure a trip to Madison for the “Big Dance".
As it sits, SUU and NAU will be those final two teams. SUU handily beat the Lumberjack women at the Big Sky Championships, but both were in the top 10 of their respective races at Pre-Nats. Coach Mike Smith inherited a national caliber team in the men, but his work with the women’s team validates his skill as a coach. Have they done enough to get the women to the national meet?
The Utah women, on the other hand, skipped Pre-Nats, leaving us with some question marks as to where they fit in regionally. They were 10th at the Penn State National Open, and they were 7th at PAC 12’s, giving them some regular season wins that would be enough to qualify if they were to finish in the top five on Friday.
Air Force did go to Pre-Nats where they were 10th in the White race, ahead of Utah State, but behind Southern Utah. Neither Utah nor Utah State’s resume really stacks up so far this year, but it’s tough to say that NAU or SUU are going to easily run away from them. Those 4th and 5th spots will be two of the exciting ones to follow, as they will also impact qualification around the country.
The individuals in the mountain region are much more spread out than the men. Of course, New Mexico’s 1-2 punch of defending NCAA champ Ednah Kurgat and Weini Kelati are the caliber of athletes who can be a factor in nearly any race in the world. Not far behind them are transfers Charlotte Prouse and Adva Cohen.
On a similar note, if the race proves to be tactical, Dani Jones of Colorado could easily be a favorite as well. She out-kicked Jessica Hull of Oregon to win the PAC 12 title and also proved last spring / summer that she is world class performer over 1500 meters, clocking 4:07 twice, including a win at the historic Pre Classic. Does her late track season mean more success come November? Or just the opposite? We may not know for sure until NCAA’s, but this weekend will be a fun glimpse at some of the top athletes in the country.
Who’s got a shot at snagging the individual qualifying spots? They will surely be tough to get. Unlike the men, I don’t see someone outside the top 15 or 20 making it individually. UTEP’s Linda Cheruiyot and Winny Koech are probably locks, most likely finishing in the top five or top 10. If Air Force doesn’t make it as a team, then senior Jaci Smith should be in the mix. She was 5th at the Mountain West Championships between a handful of New Mexico and Boise State scorers.
Utah State’s Alyssa Snyder is another one to consider, although she has struggled a bit with injury since transferring from Montana State. However, she was 4th at NCAA’s in the 10k and looks to be climbing the ladder back to elite status.
On that note, Montana State senior Kelsi Lasota should also be in the mix. She was 2nd at the Big Sky Championships, behind only Angie Nickerson of Southern Utah.
1. New Mexico Lobos
2. Colorado Buffaloes
3. BYU Cougars
4. Southern Utah Thunderbirds
5. Northern Arizona Lumberjacks
6. Air Force Falcons
7. Utah Utes
8. Utah State Aggies
1. Ednah Kurgat (New Mexico)
2. Weini Kelati (New Mexico)
3. Dani Jones (Colorado)
4. Charlotte Prouse (New Mexico)
5. Erica Birk Jarvis (BYU)
6. Adva Cohen (New Mexico)
7. Winny Koech (UTEP)
8. Weini Kelati (UTEP)
9. Angie Nickerson (Southern Utah)
10. Makenna Morley (Colorado)