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Colorado senior and Hopkins native Joe Klecker captured his first Pac-12 Conference Championships title on Nov. 1.

Joe Klecker has accomplished just about everything there in the running world from a high school and now collegiate standpoint on the cross country trail, indoor and outdoor track.

As a University of Colorado, Boulder senior, Klecker not only won his first and the program’s first individual Pac-12 cross country title but helped the Buffaloes regain the team title in Monmouth, Ore. on Nov. 1.

He won the individual 10K race in 23 minutes, 2.70 seconds, crediting his teammates for running their own races to knock off defending champion Stanford. Klecker won the race by three seconds to give the Buffs their seventh team title in nine seasons.

Colorado lost the last two team titles, making the first goal on his cross country checklist to help retake that team title in his final opportunity.

“I tried to do everything I could to beat a good Stanford team and winning the race to score one point is about as good as I could do for my team,” he said during a post-race interview. “When I felt good I went. I didn’t question myself, just remembered to save a gear because this homestretch is long and you don’t want to get passed up with 50 meters left to go.”

The runners dealt with a headwind from the start and Klecker took over the lead at the midway point, never letting go to the end.

Klecker along with classmate John Dressel wanted to set the tone from the start after Standford dictated the 2018 race. Dressel was eighth, and add in freshman Kashon Harrison who was seventh overall to help the cause.

“The Pac-12 is one of the best running conferences so we had to be tactically sound, feel [the pack] out to see if anyone was going to make a move,” the senior biochemistry major and ecology and evolutionary biology minor said. “I felt good and wanted to crack it open. Last year was the opposite where I waited for someone else to do it and I didn’t want to have to respond this year. I wanted to make it my own.”

“The key was to stay calm and stick with your move, not to second guess myself,” Klecker said. “Once the pack catches back up to you, a lot of times that person fades back but when they caught me, I stuck with it.”

Regionals

Eight days after the Pac-12 Championships, Klecker and his teammates successfully navigated the NCAA Mountain Regional to qualify for the program’s 28th consecutive NCAA Championships.

“There are certain things you can do to make sure you get through it because it is a team-based race,” he said where the focus is ensuring they move on to nationals and if are within striking distance for the win to go for it, otherwise preserve the energy for NCAAs.

The regional run in Salt Lake City, Utah, fielded the top three ranked programs in the country including No. 1 Northern Arizona, No. 2 Brigham Young University and No. 3 Colorado which competed for the two automatic qualifying bids to nationals.

NAU pulled away for the win with 21 points thanks to sweeping the top three spots. BYU and CU battled it out for the other spot with the Buffs coming out ahead 53-56 on the 10K course. BYU edged them out earlier in the year at the Pre-Nationals 81-83 points.

Klecker was third on the team with an 11th overall finish in 30:48.5, 1.5 seconds ahead of junior Eduardo Herrera. Klecker’s classmate, Dressel, led the team with a fifth-place finish followed by freshman Kashon Harrison two spots back in seventh place.

College career

Klecker is a four-time All-American (2016, 2017 All-American first-team indoor and outdoor track, 2018 cross country) for the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Klecker impressed from his redshirt freshman season earning fourth place at the season-opening Colorado State Invite. He added a second-place finish at the Rocky Mountain Shootout finishing four seconds behind teammate John Dressel who was unattached.

At pre-nationals, the success continued where he was 24th overall and second for Colorado before earning 19th place at the Pac-12 meet as the fifth scoring runner.

He helped the Buffaloes capture a sixth-consecutive conference title. He excelled in the 10K distance which is what the postseason races extend to after competing in 8Ks during the regular season. He led the team at regionals finishing third overall and was 28th at nationals to earn his first All-American honor.

The success continued the next fall, 2017, as Klecker was fifth at the CSU Invite before garnering fourth overall at the Joe Piane Invite. He went on to lead the Buffs at the next three races including ninth at the NCAA Pre-National Invitational and runner-up at the Pac-12 meet for the best individual finish by a Colorado runner since joining the league in 2011.

At the NCAA Mountain Region Championships, he became the first Buffaloes runner to win since Billy Nelson did so in 2005. Klecker crossed the 10K finish line in 30:13.6. He went on to finish 67th overall at the NCAAs and was Colorado’s third scorer.

Pre-Colorado

A 2014 Hopkins High School grad, Klecker was the Gatorade Minnesota Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year after sweeping the two distance events, the 1,600 and 3,200-meter run at the Class AA state meet. He set a state record in the 1,600 in 4:06.54 and won the 3,200-meter run in 8:57.76.

He was fourth in the mile at the prestigious Adidas Grand Prix in 4:04.13 which ranked fifth among prep runners in 2015. He was named to the USA Today All-America list for the second time.

In the previous fall, he ran to a third-place finish at the Class AA state cross country meet in 15:26.2. He owned the Hopkins records in the 1,600, 3,200 and cross country 5,000-meter course.

Klecker was highly recruited coming out of Hopkins with Minnesota, Furman, Georgetown, and Tulsa all in pursuit before he made the final decision to compete for the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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