With its highest national ranking in more than 20 years, the ninth-ranked Missouri women’s cross country team should be optimistic about Saturday’s Big 12 Conference championship in Topeka, Kan.
Colorado has them feeling challenged, though.
Since the conference’s inception in 1996, Colorado has won all eight Big 12 men’s titles. Its women’s team has won seven of the past eight races, including five in a row. The Buffaloes are the favorites again Saturday.
Although the Tigers’ women’s team returns All-American junior Amanda Bales and two other All-Big 12 runners, upsetting No. 3 Colorado will not be easy.
Missouri coach Jared Wilmes said the team needs to be realistic about who they are up against.
“We need to do the things that only we can control,” Wilmes said. “Like getting out fast and getting into a position to challenge.”
Along with Bales, who finished third at the Big 12 meet last year, seniors Jill Petersen and Serena Ramsey have been the Tigers’ top runners this year. Wilmes said he expects the three to set the pace and be the leaders they have been all year long.
“We can’t just win with a few girls running well,” Wilmes said. “We need five girls running well to win.”
Although the team will race nine runners, only the top five scores will count.
Juniors Valerie Lauver and Kristen Hansen, along with freshman Maddie Schueler, give the Tigers the depth needed to place high in the conference.
“It’s nice to have this kind of depth,” Wilmes said. “Our seventh runner could finish ahead of a lot of other teams’ fifth runner.”
Lauver and sophomore Ashley Patten were held out of the Tigers’ most recent meet two weeks ago in order to be at full strength Saturday.
On the men’s side, Wilmes said his team is the deepest it has been in three or four years. The men’s team is ranked fourth in the NCAA’s Midwest Region.
Juniors Chase Hall, Matt Noonan and Tim Ross and senior Josh Davis have consistently been the Tigers’ top four finishers this season.
Ross finished 14th at last year’s Big 12 Championship earning him All-Big 12 Honors.
The men’s team has never finished higher than third in the conference. With three Big 12 men’s programs in the top 30 in the National Coaches Poll, it does not appear that the Tigers will be able to crack that top three placement.
The women’s team, though, is poised to finish the year as one of the 10 best in the nation.
“The women’s team has been really focused and driven,” Wilmes said. “We have a lot of veteran leadership who have been through this and want to do better.”
Although Colorado is a legitimate contender for the national title, Wilmes said the women’s team needs to be wary of Oklahoma State and Baylor, which finished second in the Big 12 last year.
“Oklahoma State has been overlooked and not given a lot of attention,” Wilmes said. “Even though they haven’t run a lot of high-profile meets, they have good athletes and we are aware of them.”