Tuesday, September 3, 2013

NCAA XC Top 31 Countdown: Men's #3- Colorado

Editor's note: For the next month, The Wood Report will be counting down projected team finishes in this year's NCAA Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, IN.

#3 Colorado
Head Coach: Mark Wetmore (19th Season)
2012 National Finish- 3rd

Key Returners from 2012
  • Blake Theroux (Jr., 3:45 1500m, 8:11 Open 3k, 8:49 3k Steeple, 39th NCAA XC '12)
  • Jake Hurysz (Sr., 3:40 1500m, 8:01 Open 3k, 32nd NCAA XC '12)
  • Hugh Dowdy (Sr., 3:47 1500m, 8:50 3k Steeple, 9th Pac-12 XC '12)
  • Pierce Murphy (So., 14:04 5k, 29:36 10k, 45th NCAA XC '12)
  • Connor Winter (So., 3:44 1500m, 14:09 5k)
  • Ammar Moussa (So., 3:47 1500m, 8:11 Open 3k, 13:57 5k, 88th NCAA XC '11 (Frosh)
Impact Recruits/Transfers
  • Ben Saarel (Fr., 1:51 800m, 4:02 1 Mile, 8:49 3200m (Alt. time), 4th FL '12)
  • Zach Perrin (Fr., 8:55 3200m, 10th FL '12)
  • Adam Peterman (Fr., 8:57 3200m)

Season Preview

One of the most iconic teams in the NCAA are the Colorado Buffaloes. Year in and year out, somehow, the Buffs always come around when it matters most. You can credit much of this to the enigmatic Mark Wetmore. No one does a better job with developing talented, but untapped, talent in the country than Wetmore. Every single year when NCAAs rolls around, the Buffs are always ready to roll and produce at the right time. 

This will be the case again this season as Colorado is reloaded with talent and have some outstanding freshman coming in that will be incredible additions to an already excellent program. 

It is interesting how both teams that were placed at #3 in the preseason, both finished 3rd last year at NCAAs. Pure coincidence. The beauty of Colorado is that they have a great mix of high school studs, that are still studs, and diamonds in the rough, that are now All-American-good. The mix of Jake Hurysz's and Ammar Moussa's (big time prep athletes) with the Hugh Dowdy's and Pierce Murphy's (more diamonds in the rough-although still solid preps) is what makes Colorado so great and Wetmore such a good coach. 

The leader of the Buffs is Jake Hurysz. Although he has been hurt this offseason, he will be back in time for Pac-12s and will still be an asset to this squad. In fact, he might be better of being hurt at this time in the season. Much of the time when athletes are too fit too soon,  they end up seeing their wheels come off at the end of the season. If Hurysz can time this right, he should be looking at All-American honors in Terre Haute and an improvement from his 32nd finish last season in Louisville. 

Blake Theroux is the legit no. 2 on this team and as consistent as they come in xc for the Buffs. In every race he ran last xc season, except for NCAAs (where he was 39th and All-American), Theroux finished in the top 15. That is including Pre-Nats, Pac-12s and the brutally tough Mountain regional. This consistency will definitely benefit the Buffs this season as with Hurysz out for a good chunk of the year, Theroux will need to step up in a leadership role and be a solid front-runner. 

Connor Winter might have had the best outdoor track season of the entire bunch returning from 2012s 3rd-place team at NCAAs. Winter ran, as a freshman, 3:44 for 1500m and qualified for the West regional. Winter is still quite young and is only going to get better. He was impressive as a freshman at NCAAs XC in 2012 where he finished 65th. 

Even though he did not compete in 2012, due to an injury, Ammar Moussa will be back in action in this season and will look to improve upon his solid freshman year for the Buffs in 2011. Moussa lived up to his hype coming out of high school his frosh year where he finished 88th at the NCAA meet. Moussa was finally healthy for outdoors this past spring and had a solid year where he ran 3:47 for 1500m and 13:57 for 5k. Having him healthy and rolling in the front of their pack is a good sign for CU. 

Hugh Dowdy, Pierce Murphy, Dillon Shije and Morgan Pearson are all solid contributors to their top seven and are going to be interchangeable parts to an already stacked front pack for the Buffs. 

What makes Colorado even scarier is incoming freshman-stud Ben Saarel. He is all the hype. he is the real deal. Having watched him run in person on a handful of occasions (15 plus times), I can assure you that he is the complete package. There might not be an incoming freshman in the country with the kind of range and ability that he has, mixed with the race savvy of an elite-college athlete. Saarel dominated the outdoor track season with big wins at Arcadia and the Dream Mile. His 8:49 3200m run at altitude, breaking Luke Puskedra's Utah high school state record, was unreal to watch. Besides Ed Cheserek, there might not be another freshman in the NCAA that will make as big of an impact in their first year than Saarel. 

Oh yeah, don't forget Zach Perrin of Montana who was 10th at Foot Locker this past year and is a sub-9 3200m kid along with fellow Montana prep Adam Peterman who will be in the mix up front as well. 

If Hurysz can get healthy and not do it too quick, but quick enough to run at Pac-12s, the Buffs will be looking at a very good shot at a podium spot. In fact, Colorado might be a team that is scary enough that if they get the ball rolling at NCAAs in Terre Haute (which they perennially do), if Oklahoma State is not on their game--or has lost a few to injury, the Buffs have a legitimate shot at taking home a NCAA title in 2013. 

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