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In a way, there is a reversal of sorts on the New Mexico Lobos cross country teams. In 2011, the women were outstanding and the men were good. In 2012, there might be a flip-flop. But we'll see.
One thing is certain: the coaches of the Mountain West eye the two sides that Coach Joe Franklin has put together and predict that the Lobo women will win their fifth straight MW title and the men will make it four straight.
"I think the conference coaches know we have a good thing going and that this is a program that usually has quality depth," said Franklin, who has more Coach of The Year awards than he has fingers.
"We return all but one of the runners on the men's side, which ran at conference last year. We might not have Top 20 depth on the women's side, but we have some kids with some solid running ability. A lot depends on how much we improve and if we can stay healthy."
Another thing is certain: Franklin has depth on both squads. If that depth stands out, UNM might be outstanding on both sides.
The Lobo men return a handful of proven runners, led by Ross Millington, and have reloaded with some new faces. The women took a hit losing four of their top five runners from last season and have reloaded with some newcomers to run alongside some proven veterans. The women are without Natalie Gray, Sarah Waldron , Ruth Senior and Kirsty Milner.
"We are deep and our systems haven't changed, so we have a shot," said Franklin of his women's side. "We lost four good runners, but we have reloaded with some good runners. There might be a drop, but we expect to be competitive on the national level."
The Lobos look for leadership - and good finishes - from senior Lacy Oeding, senior Josephine Moultrie and senior Shawna Winnegar. There is some first-year talent in Joanne Harvey, a transfer from London and sophomore Kirsten Follett returns to the Lobo pack.
There are a number of other Lobo runners with the potential to make an impact in 2012.
"The last two years might be tough to replicate on the women's side, but we have a goal of returning to the national championships," said Franklin. "That's a realistic goal."
The good thing about the UNM men's side is that Franklin doesn't necessarily need his young or first-year depth to step up. If it does - look out!
The men should be led by Millington, the defending Mountain West champion. He was joined on the 2011 All-MW First Team by Sean Stam while Pierre Malherbe was Second Team All-MW. "Stam has improved and improved and improved," said Franklin.
Franklin also is looking for big seasons for Logan Rosenberg, a transfer from North Carolina; Sam Evan, a two-year letterwinner; freshman Donovan Torres; transfer Adam Bitchell; Elmar Engholm from Sweden; and Luke Caldwell, a transfer from Oxford (England).
"We should be better than last year," said Franklin of his men. "We have a lot of talented bodies. Now, they have to get fit."
Lights, Camera, Action: It's really only fitting that a cross country program with seven consecutive Mountain West titles gets to run under the lights.
The show Franklin has set up for this Friday at the UNM North Course should have a circus-like atmosphere - with more order and fewer clowns.
"The logistics are challenging," said Franklin. "This is more than painting a line and firing a (starters') gun. It's a major undertaking. We are trying to create a fresh, unique and dynamic environment for runners and I think we have done it.
"But this event is special. There aren't many meets run under the lights. We've always had great response for this meet and it's better than ever this year. It will be a record field and it's going to be a great time."
The Lobos are bringing in 18 light towers and setting up the course to wrap around six holes at the nine-hole North Course.