MAGS-NIFICENT: Dani Jones Leads Colorado Women To Dominant Win at 2018 NCAA Cross Country Championships

By Jonathan Gault and Robert Johnson
November 17, 2018

MADISON, Wis. — The Buffs are back on top.

It had been 14 years since the Colorado women had a title to celebrate at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, and while that may not sound like much of a drought, it felt like a long while for a program that in the interim has produced world champions like Jenny Simpson and Emma Coburn — neither of whom ever came away from this meet with a first-place trophy. But thanks to individual champion Dani Jones and her amazing teammates (five others in the top 30!), the Colorado Buffaloes are once again NCAA cross country champions.

This is team title #8 for head coach Mark Wetmore (five men’s, three women’s) and few of them were as impressive as this one. Led by Jones and Makena Morley (8th in a big run), Colorado scored 65 points — just the fourth team in the last 25 years to crack 70 — to trounce reigning champion New Mexico (103). Oregon (160) and Michigan (213) rounded out the podium.

Photo by Ken Moreland via @CUBuffsTrack Photo by Ken Moreland via @CUBuffsTrack

Despite two inches of overnight snow that painted the course white, the women’s race was going largely to form in the late stages with pre-race favorite Weini Kelati of New Mexico opening up a gap on the field with just over a kilometer to go at the 15:20 mark. But Kelati was unable to pull away convincingly for the win as she had at Pre-Nats and the Mountain West champs, and as she entered the final straight, Jones was hot on her heels.

And there is no more dangerous kicker in the NCAA than Jones, who used her closing speed to pull off a DMR/3k double at the 2017 NCAA indoor meet and ran 4:07 for 1500 meters on the track this spring. She reeled in Kelati on the snowy final incline and wound up winning by daylight, clocking 19:42.8 to Kelati’s 19:45.3 to earn Colorado’s first women’s individual title since Kara Goucher in 2000 (like 2018, that year’s Buffs squad also earned the team title).

Top 10 Results Below – Full Results Here
1 Colorado 65 1 Jones, Dani SR-4 Colorado 19:42.8
2 New Mexico 103 2 Kelati, Weini SO-2 New Mexico 19:45.3
3 Oregon 160 3 Hull, Jessica SR-4 Oregon 19:50.4
4 Michigan 213 4 Monson, Alicia JR-3 Wisconsin 19:55.2
5 Stanford 232 5 Kurgat, Ednah JR-3 New Mexico 19:55.8
6 Boise State 288 6 Ostrander, Allie JR-3 Boise State 19:56.9
7 BYU 310 7 Birk, Erica JR-3 BYU 19:58.1
8 Notre Dame 313 8 Morley, Makena SR-4 Colorado 20:00.1
9 Washington 321 9 Prouse, Charlotte SR-4 New Mexico 20:02.1
10 Wisconsin 325 10 Rohrer, Anna JR-3 Notre Dame 20:02.4

Interviews and quick take analysis appear below.

Quick Take: Dani Jones is now a bona fide Colorado legend

A lot of incredible runners have passed through the University of Colorado during Mark Wetmore’s tenure — Adam Goucher, Kara Goucher, Jorge Torres, Dathan Ritzenhein, Simpson, Coburn, Buffs legends all of them.

You can now add Dani Jones’ name to the list. Not only has she won the NCAA individual XC title — something Simpson and Coburn never did — but she has won an NCAA individual title on the track and XC and anchored Colorado’s DMR to a national title. No one, male or female, has ever done that in the storied annals of the CU program.

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After the race, Jones began to tear up when we mentioned that she joined women like Coburn, Simpson, and Goucher. And while she has a long way to go to match what those women have achieved as pros, she belongs on that sentence based on what she has accomplished in college.

Jones is a miler at heart (she finished 5th at USAs today after redshirting this spring), but the 6k distance in the women’s race gives the milers a chance, and she took it today.

“Before I got on the line, [Colorado associate head coach] Heather [Burroughs] told me, shoe sponsors aren’t exactly keen on cross country titles when you’re a 1500 runner but this is for you. This race is for you, it’s not for anybody else.”

Jones and her Colorado teammates also embraced the conditions today.

“I wanted it to be more snow than it was,” Jones said. “We wanted the hardest conditions because we’ve practiced having calm minds all season. We woke up and it was like Christmas morning. We were like, woo-hoo! Snow!”

Jenny Simpson hadn’t been to an NCAA XC champs since her meltdown back in 2009, but she was here supporting the Buffs today and was glad she made the trip.

“This is the best day to be a Buffalo,” Simpson said. “What an incredible gift they gave to me to be able to celebrate them winning at every level on such an important day.”

Simpson feels a close connection with the team as she trains with them three to four times a week — she even braided Jones’ hair this morning — and joked that she was sad the XC season is over as she won’t have any training partners now.

Quick Takes: Hats off to Colorado — they were fantastic

Hats off to Colorado. In today’s era, when you score 65, you win. Period. The last team to score in the 60s and lose was Wisconsin in 1986 which was just the sixth year of the championships when the field was half the size it is now (15 teams then vs. 31 now). That Wisconsin team was 2nd with 64.

Maybe this will help everyone understand how good Colorado was. If Dani Jones hadn’t scored at all — if the individual champ was wiped off the scoreboard — and Colorado was forced to score  their #2-6 instead, they still would have won, 94 to 98. How is that possible? Well because Colorado’s top six were All-Americans. Val Constien was their sixth in 30th (top 40 are All-American).

Please don’t tell us you saw this result coming. Three weeks ago at the Pac-12 meet, Oregon soundly beat Colorado 32 to 48 by putting four in before Colorado had three. Today, Colorado only scored 17 more points at NCAAs than they did at Pac-12s. Yes, the Pac-12 is the best cross country conference in the country, but that’s amazing.

Colorado’s win today is the second time in three years that a losing team at Pac-12s has won it all. In 2016, Oregon went from 4th at Pac-12s to first at NCAAs but that was a little easier to understand as the winning point total was 125.

Quick Take: New Mexico ran pretty well themselves. In fact, their coach called their run “fantastic” as well.

It’s not like New Mexico bombed and ran awful. They ran very solidly.

New Mexico put three women in the top 10. Their fourth runner (Adva Cohen) just missed All-American honors by 3.4 seconds in 44th. Their fifth runner (Emily Martin) was 55th.

“Our women were fantastic, Colorado, they were just like we were in 2015 [when we scored 49],” said Lobos coach Joe Franklin. “I’m over the moon [with how we ran]. There is absolutely nothing else we could have done.”

New Mexico’s 103 is a very good runner-up score. It’s the lowest score for a runner-up since 1997 when Stanford was 2nd with 102. 105 is often low enough to win (that was the average winning score from 2008-2017). While it would have won just just one of the previous four years, it would have won 10 of the last 20 championships counting this one.

Mark Wetmore interview

We interviewed Wetmore as the Colorado women were receiving the team trophy (don’t worry, he was okay with that, “saying it’s their time”) and kept his comments brief. He said that he wasn’t surprised that his women ran as well as they did today, and though he doesn’t make pre-race projections, he felt this group was special.

“We don’t map it out on paper, we map it out in our hearts,” Wetmore said.

Wetmore did say before the race that most of his team had been sick earlier this week, but they certainly looked over it today.

Weini Kelati had no regrets

Kelati knew that she didn’t have the best close in the field — “that last 100, I don’t have a finishing [kick]” — so if she was to win, she had to create some separation before the final straight. She did that, putting about 20 meters on the field by 5k, but she could not stretch the lead any more than that and Jones eventually reeled her in. Kelati said she was happy with her performance — she just got beat by a tremendous athlete in Jones.

“I decided to make a move and I think it worked out,” Kelati said.

Who underachieved and overachieved? Villanova bombed, Portland overachieved

We always like to compare how teams finished compared to their national rankings. Normally with so many meets in the books, things line up pretty closely with a few glaring exceptions. That was certainly true today as 19 of the 30 ranked teams finished within three spots of their national ranking.

The biggest underachievers were 8-time NCAA champ Villanova. The Wildcats came into the meet ranked in the top 10 at 8th but left with a disastrous 24th-place showing. On the opposite end of the spectrum was second-time NCAA participant Portland. The Pilots came in ranked 23rd and nearly cracked the top 10 after finishing 12th.

In the chart below you can see how all the teams did as compared to their national ranking.

PL Team Rank Difference
1 Colorado 3 2 spots better
2 New Mexico 1 1 spot worse
3 Oregon 2 1 spot worse
4 Michigan 6 2 spots better
5 Stanford 7 2 spots better
6 Boise State 3 3 spots worse
7 BYU 9 2 spots better
8 Notre Dame 16 8 spots better
9 Washington 14 5 spots better
10 Wisconsin 10 even
11 Michigan State 12 1 spot better
12 Portland 23 11 spots better
13 North Carolina St. 11 2 spots worse
14 Arkansas 5 9 spots worse
15 Iowa State 13 2 spots worse
16 Florida 21 5 spots better
17 Indiana 20 3 spots better
18 Columbia 19 1 spot better
19 Oklahoma State 24 5 spots better
20 Penn State 22 2 spots better
21 Princeton 17 4 spots worse
22 Ole Miss 26 4 spots better
23 Furman 15 8 spots worse
24 Villanova 8 16 spots worse
25 Southern Utah 25 even
26 Florida State 18 8 spots worse
27 Oregon State 29 2 spots better
28 Georgia Tech 30 2 spots better
29 Minnesota 27 2 spots worse
30 Dartmouth 28 2 spots worse
31 Texas NR NA

In our next Week That Was weekly recap, we’ll compile a similar list for how teams fared compared to the pre-season ranking. Villanova was #8 in the pre-season while Portland was unranked.

Jessica Hull interview

Hull, the NCAA 1500 champ who won here at Pre-Nats in October, was very happy to finish third overall.

Alicia Monson interview

We imagine that if you had asked Alicia Monson if she would take fourth at NCAAs at the beginning of the season, then she would have said yes. But after going undefeated (in races where she tried) until this point, she was a little disappointed to only finish fourth.

“Not feeling satisfied, but I’m proud of the way I came back at the end of it,” said Monson,

Anna Rohrer interview

Rohrer has been a bit banged up this year and as a result was pleased to take 10th.

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More: Complete 2018 NCAA XC Coverage 
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