Dani Jones And The Colorado Mindset

Mark Wetmore “is all about toughness and tough love. Anything that makes it more difficult is good for us,” says Dani Jones. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

There is something about Dani Jones that makes her the quintessential Colorado cross country runner. She is hard-working, tough as nails, low-key, and under the radar screen—just the way highly successful distance guru Mark Wetmore likes it. After the women’s race concluded, the Colorado sensei was his matter-of-fact self in explaining that while no one really picked Jones as a likely title contender, her win was no surprise to her fellow Buffaloes. “I am very pleased with her race,” he said. “She did everything she planned to do. She was calm and responded when she needed to. I felt that if she was near it with 500 to go that she would win the race. I told her that, [Colorado coach] Heather Burroughs told her that.”

Undaunted by the raceday-eve snowfall, the new NCAA champ considered the severe weather conditions a blessing, an unexpected incident providing an advantage for the Buffaloes. “I wanted there to be more snow than there was,” she explained. “I have a teammate from Montana, two from Colorado. I’m from Arizona so I am not exactly in the same boat. But I’ve been training in Colorado for 3 years and we wanted the hardest conditions. So when we woke up and it was like Christmas morning and we were like, ‘Woo-hoo! Snow!’”

But what is it about the Boulder teams that makes them thrive when championship conditions are the most challenging? Jones, who won the Pac-12 (see video interview here) yet finished only 6th at the Mountain Regional, didn’t hesitate with her reply: “It is the Colorado mindset. I think everyone knows that Mark is all about toughness and tough love. Anything that makes it more difficult is good for us. We’re all training in 40mph winds some days, snowy conditions other days, and some days that are so unpredictable. Yet we all think that Colorado is the place to be.”
She explained the Wetmore-like sense of calmness she captured, notwithstanding the race-long frenzy that pervaded the lead pack, saying, “Different people were making different moves. With 1K to go, we were definitely trying to squeeze it down. But honestly there is a comfort in having [rivals like Jessica Hull and Elise Cranny] there because those are girls I race a lot and I know I can run with. I really liked that. I found an awful lot of comfort in having then there with me.”

The 22-year-old Indiana native, who finished 22nd in the ’16 championships and 10th last year, offered her thoughts about her unmatched burst of speed over the final 500 meters that propelled her to the title: “Honestly, I wanted to beat the BYU woman [7th-placer Erica Birk] who was in front of me. She really closed that gap [created by Weini Kelati’s late-race break]. And once I went around her I noticed that Kelati wasn’t getting further away from me. And I felt pretty good. So I really was just paying attention to my own sensory data and I just noticed I was getting closer to her.” That Colorado mindset did the rest. □

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