Aug. 24, 2007
Entering the 2007 season, the Arizona State University cross country program carries high expectations again as both the men and women will strive to place highly in the Pac-10 Conference, the NCAA West Region and, ultimately, at the NCAA Championships.
"I am excited to get this season started and see what both the teams and individuals can accomplish this year," fourth-year Head Coach Louie Quintana said. "Our men are young and inexperienced, but bring a desire to excel and succeed. The women don't possess the depth they usually carry, but I am confident the athletes we have will once again bring Arizona State to the top of the standings."
Coming off a season that saw the women compete at the NCAA Championships for the ninth year in a row and finish in 13th place overall, the women are once again poised to place high at all three championship meets.
"I think we are still vying to be in the Top 10 and, if things go well up front, we could score low and earn another trophy finish," Coach Quintana said. "We return our Top 4 finishers from last year and have had some girls make some big jumps in the spring. We have finished second in the Pac-10 seven times in eight years and five in a row and I believe we are ready to win a conference title in 2007."
The men will look to a younger corps of runners to carry the team this year with 14 of the 22 student-athletes on the roster entering their freshmen or sophomore seasons, including eight true and redshirt freshmen.
"The men are one year older and relatively deep, but they are just inexperienced," Coach Quintana said. "It is one thing to have talent on your team, but it is another to translate to the cross country course. These guys have had productive and consistent summers. They look great and look ready to compete this fall. A lot of these guys are eager to put on the ASU uniform for the first time and step on the line. Our men have great chemistry and their goals going into the season are to finish in the Top 3 at the Pac-10s and make the national meet where we can be a Top 15 team."
While a trip to the national meet as a team would be just the fifth in the history of the men's program and its first since 2005, it also could potentially set the stage for greater things to come in the future.
"We would like to get to nationals, but tentatively we are being a little cautious about saying we can do something because of our youth," Coach Quintana said. "We have a group of five guys we brought in last year and two redshirted. Those guys are going to be together for the next few years and this season could be a defining moment for them. If we can make the national meet, it will really bode well for the rest of their careers here where they could trophy (Top 4) at the national meet."
The 2007 schedule is nearly identical to its predecessor, with the lone exception being the Roy Griak Invitational coming one week later that last year. The Sun Devils open the season on September 1 in Flagstaff, Ariz., at the George Kyte Invitational before heading to Tucson for the Dave Murray Invitational two weeks later.
"Although the first meet of the season is in Flagstaff, the evaluation process will take place in Tucson, which is a shorter race," Coach Quintana said. "It puts us in a little bit of a competition mode and helps us determine our roster for Minnesota (Roy Griak Invitational) two weeks later."
At the Griak, the Sun Devils will see their first major competition as the annual meet, this year on September 29, will attract numerous top teams to Minneapolis.
"Griak is a week later than normal which will give us another week to get some work done and prepare to race well in Minnesota," Coach Quintana said. "Essentially, from the first day of practice, we have six weeks of practice before heading to Minnesota, where we can take 10 men and 10 women and race them all. It helps because we can give more people an opportunity to compete and maybe move into the Top 7 for the remaining meets. We want to fair well in Minnesota because that is a meet that can really help us prepare for the championship season as athletes but also can score some points toward us making the national field."
The Sun Devils will play host to the Arizona State Invitational on October 5 before splitting their squads for a pair of meets on October 13. While the top runners will head to the NCAA Pre-National meet, the remaining athletes will compete in the Canyon West Classic at Kiwanis Park.
"Both sides are so young that you really don't know what to expect from either team this year. My hope is we can continue to train well and prepare for each meet and then, by the time the Pac-10 Championships roll around, be able to ride a momentum wave and fair well at the Pac-10s and continue on to the nationals."
The championship season gets underway October 27 in Corvallis, Ore., for the Pac-10 Championships with the NCAA West Region Championships heading to Eugene, Ore., on November 10 with a shot at the NCAA Championships (November 19 in Terre Haute, Ind.) on the line.
SUN DEVIL WOMEN
Carrying the sixth-longest active streak in the nation for making the NCAA Championships field, the Sun Devil women will look for their 10th consecutive appearance this year on the strength of three talented front-runners and strong, talented supporting cast behind them.
"If we have several of the younger women step up and compete, we will have a deep group of nine or 10 runners that will be right in the mix to be among our Top 7 and push us to be better. While our three front-runners will push us toward the top, the rest of the team is definitely as important to our success. These three women should be ready to run this fall and lead the women toward reaching their goals."
Leading the way for the Sun Devils are a trio of runners including juniors Ali Kielty, the 2006 Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year, and Jenna Kingma along with sophomore Kari Hardt, a member of the 2007 U.S. Junior World Championship Team.
"Kielty making the jump to the national indoor meet on the track before backing that up by making the outdoor meet as a redshirt freshman was a big deal," Coach Quintana said. "She had a very solid summer and was very consistent in her training this fall. She was 68th at the NCAA cross country meet last year and her goal is to move up and become an All-American. She raced until June and is a little behind, but at the end of the day, she will be ready to run this year and help us.
"Kingma and Hardt both had great summers and are coming in with very high expectations for what they want to do individually this year," Coach Quintana said. "They both want to be in the Top 20 at the NCAA meet and I feel they have the ability to do so. Hardt is a solid cross country runner and made the world junior team last year by running at elevation in the mud and cold and that bodes well for us because where the championship meets are this year could be the same conditions."
While several student-athletes will vie for positions among the Top 7, Quintana sees a pair of women as being keys to a successful campaign.
"The main x-factors of our team will be Whitney Blue and Whitney Lemieux," Coach Quintana said. "I look at our Top 5 being Kielty, Kingma and Hardt along with Angela Spadafino, Krystal Duke and Cassie Bando battling for 4-5-6. Both Whitneys, right now, are 7-8, but both have the ability to close that gap and make everyone else better. If they can all run together as a group and really push everyone along, I know this team will see solid results.
Overall for the women, things are looking great and we just need to stay hungry to succeed. Last year, the women felt they underachieved at nationals with their 13th-place finish and they are motivated to return to the meet and improve."
SUN DEVIL MEN
Despite their inexperience on the course, the Sun Devil bring a mixture of veteran leadership, junior college experience and youthful exuberance to the table in 2007. With 22 student-athletes, the roster not only contains a depth of names, but also a depth of talent.
"It is going to be a competitive environment to be in our Top 7 this year and we are at the point now that the recruits we have are ready to run and translate that training into success on the race course," Coach Quintana said. "Although we have only one returning athlete that has competed at the NCAA Championships in the past, I believe these men are ready to succeed together as a team."
"Alcorn has goals to be in the Top 5 at the Pac-10 meet after finishing 10th last year and that is an attainable goal," Coach Quintana said. "He is much like Kielty in that he raced until June and is a little behind right now, but he is getting back in the flow and will be rolling at the end of the season when we need him. He wants to be a Top 25 guy (nationally) and, looking at what he has done on the track, he has put himself among the elite distance runners returning this year.
"Heller has come back in great shape after having a tough spring," Coach Quintana said. "He has found his rhythm again. He just missed scoring at the Pac-10 meet last spring in the 1,500m and that reinvigorated him to compete. He struggled in the 5k and we put him in the 1,500m where we thought he could do well and he did. He was right there and ended the season on a good note and that helped him with his training this fall. He wants to crack the Top 10 at the Pac-10 and that would be great for us and our team goals."
Similar to the women, a large group of runners comprise the supporting cast to the front-runners.
"From three through nine or 10, is a very nice group of runners," Coach Quintana said. "I am excited about the additions of Santos Castro and Alonso Contreras, two guys that have a lot of experience at the junior college level. Castro was seventh at the Juco nationals in 2005 and Alonso was 10th last year in a very strong race. They are very competitive and very talented guys that we see contributing in many ways."
The freshmen and sophomores also figure to play a large role in the team's success this year, including a 2006 recruiting class that features sophomores Mikias Gelagle and Jeff Helmer as well as redshirt freshmen Garrett Kelly, Ben Engelhardt, Collin Eckelman and Patrick Milloy. Joining them in the mix are returners David Mehlhorn, David Gott and Jack Mann, all juniors.
"All of these guys have put in a lot of great work this summer and fall and have committed themselves to improving not only individually but as a team," Coach Quintana said. "These guys are ready to run for us and we will need them. Just like the women, even if they are not among the Top 7, each of these runners is capable of being there and will push each other to improve and push the team further."