Sept. 15, 2014
Coming off a season with no national championship appearance, the Mountain Lions look to find their way back.
Experience could get them there. Five runners from last year’s regional championship are returning and seniors Luke Dakin and Matt Winfrey competed in the 2012 national championships.
Head coach Mark Misch is entering his eighth season for the Mountain Lions. To him, the impact of the teams’ selection to finish fifth in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference preseason poll is minimal.
“It doesn’t really mean anything,” Misch said. “It’s a new year. All that matters is regionals or nationals. No matter what happened last season, we have to get it done when we have the chance.”
The five returning seniors made it clear that anything less than nationals is a defeat.
“Most of our guys are returners,” Misch said. “They’ve been cranking away and putting a pretty high volume of work in.”
Fitness throughout the year is critical to Misch. “We’re in a good spot and we’re where we want to be training wise,” he said. “95 percent of our guys are healthy and they all had big summers.”
After the seventh annual Rust Buster at Monument Valley Park in Colorado Springs on Sept. 13, the Mountain Lions will travel to Denver for the Metro State Invitational on Oct. 4.
The Rust Buster, much shorter than normal championship distances at only six kilometers, is viewed as both a meaningful race and a good way to get the nerves out.
“We’re pretty confident coming into the rust bust,” Dakin said. “We returned everyone from last year, and we’ve had a great core of experienced runners here in Colorado Springs.”
“We have a lot of guys who are really fit right now,” added senior David Marino. “The rust buster is a chance for us to literally bust rust. It’s just a chance to mix it up with the boys and get back into training.”
The RMAC is filled with competitive cross country teams, and UCCS is one of five teams in the conference picked to advance to nationals in the regional poll. Only the top six teams in the region advance. The first half of the season serves as motivation as well as potential disappointment for runners. Each meet carries no weight in qualifying for regionals. The main focus is whether or not the runner is confident with their craft.
“It all comes down to the regional championships,” Dakin said. “Even if we squeak into the top six we’ll take it. Regionals is the focus and we’re getting ready to compete in Washington Park in November.”
“Everything in our season comes down to regionals and nationals,” Misch said. “We lie low and kind of stay off the radar screen for the fi rst half of the season. There’s a lot of season to go.”
The regional championship will be on Nov. 22 in Denver. Nationals are on Dec. 6 in Louisville, Ky.