Aug. 29, 2001
In the five years since Walt Drenth took over the reins of Arizona State's men's and women's cross country programs, both teams continue to achieve school-record finishes with each passing year. The 2001 season should be no different as the Sun Devils, host of this year's Pac-10 Championships, return three of their six All-Americans in school history.
Women's Cross Country Outlook
When Arizona State's women step up to the cross country starting line this fall, two of the three female All-Americans in school history will be poised and ready to guide the Sun Devils to quite possibly their best season ever as 2001 unfolds.
Leading the way will be returning All-Americans Kelly MacDonald and Lisa Aguilera. MacDonald led ASU to a 12th-place national finish in 1999, while Lisa Aguilera helped ASU leap frog to a sixth-place national finish in 2000. With both seniors in top form, the sky is the limit for the Sun Devils this season.
Adding to the one-two punch of MacDonald and Aguilera will be a group of solid returners, including four veterans of the 2000 NCAA Championships, plus some exciting newcomers that have head coach Walt Drenth optimistic about his sixth year at the helm.
"We should be a better cross country team than we were last year, there's no question about it," Drenth said. "Having two legitimate front-runners, maybe as good a first two as anyone in the country with Kelly and Lisa, gives us a great chance to be competitive with most schools in the nation."
Last season, with MacDonald using a redshirt year, Aguilera enjoyed the best individual season of any female runner in ASU history. Placing fifth at nationals, first at regionals and second at the Pac-10 Championships, Aguilera raced to West Region and Pac-10 Women's Cross Country Athlete of Year honors. Also awarded was Drenth, who earned his second straight Pac-10 Women's Coach of the Year and first West Region Women's Coach of the Year honor after guiding ASU to a second-place finish at both the conference and regional championships, before placing sixth at nationals.
This season ASU will have to make up for the loss of senior Mary Duerbeck from last year's squad, who just missed a top-50 finish at nationals, but many candidates stand in the wings to replace her. "We had a great surprise last year in Mary being all-conference and finishing third at the regionals in what amounted to somewhat of a breakthrough year for her," Drenth said. "This year we need to have a couple women have similar years for us to have a chance to improve as a team and win the conference."
Torres, a senior, was ASU's fourth-best finisher at nationals (114th) and earned all-region honors last season. Atencio, a redshirt-sophomore, is coming off surgery on her calf, but will look to regain the form that saw her earn ASU's second-highest finish at nationals last year (41st).
Additional returners playing vital roles this season will be Cody Sohn and Jen Hurbis. Sohn, a junior, redshirted last cross country season before having a strong spring on the track, placing fifth at the Pac-10 Championships in the steeplechase. Hurbis, a sophomore, was ASU's alternate for the 2000 NCAA squad and gained a great deal of experience in her freshman year last season.
"If they have made the same progress this summer as they did the second half of last year, they can be tremendous assets for us," Drenth said.
Despite the number of returners, Drenth will also rely upon a solid group of newcomers to add to this year's depth. Coming off redshirt seasons are freshman Amber Quigley and sophomore Alvina Begay. Quigley was an Arizona state high school champion in cross country in 1999. "I would look to her now to be a person who could have an impact on our cross country team," Drenth said.
Begay redshirted last year after transferring from Adams State College and could also step in and contribute. "Alvina has a good racing perspective and is competitive," Drenth said. "I'm excited to see how she returns as well."
New faces to ASU include incoming freshmen Desiree Davila (Chula Vista, Calif.), Mandi Fitz-Gustafson (The Dalles, Ore.), Liz Lindgren (Klamath Falls, Ore.) and Amanda Lyon (Phoenix, Ariz.). "Those are the four primary freshman who are capable of coming in and making an impact," Drenth said. "I'm committed to running them all towards varsity positions. They'll be given a chance to test themselves right through the conference meet."
Davila was a Footlocker All-West Region selection in cross country and also earned all-state and all-region honors. Fitz-Gustafson and Lindgren were both Oregon state champions in either cross country or track, while Lyon was a state runner-up in cross country and on the track.
With the Pac-10 Championships on ASU's home turf this October and two of the nation's top collegiate female distance runners leading the way, the Sun Devils have good reason to aim high in the coming year.
Men's Cross Country Outlook
Like the women's squad, Arizona State's men's cross country team is anxious to have its All-American leadership back on the front line when the 2001 season begins. Junior Fasil Bizuneh used his redshirt year last season, and after leading the men to their first and only NCAA Championship team appearance in 1999, he's back to bolster the Sun Devil lineup.
Joining Bizuneh on the 2001 squad will be four of ASU's starting seven from last year's team that ended the season ranked 24th nationally in the MONDO Men's Cross Country Poll. Adding to the depth of this already talented team will be two incoming state high school champions who could make an immediate impact.
"The first person you have to mention when you talk about our returners is Fasil," Drenth said. "He is clearly going to be our leader. On the track last spring, he was sixth at nationals in the 10,000m and the Pac-10 runner-up at 10,000m as well. There is nothing in my mind, provided he stays healthy, detracting him from being an All-American and a high scorer at the NCAA Championships this season."
In 1999, Bizuneh became just the third male in ASU history to earn cross country All-America honors with a 19th place finish at nationals. In their first team appearance at nationals, the Sun Devils placed 14th after a third place finish at NCAA Regionals. Last year --without Bizuneh -- the men put together a strong season, taking fourth at the Pac-10 Championships and fifth at regionals, but were unable to receive an at-large bid to nationals.
"I believe that we can be as good if not better than we were two years ago," Drenth said. "A lot is going to depend on our ability to stay well. We certainly have the talent to go back again to the top 15 and if everyone is healthy and has a sustained season of training, we may be a top 10 team."
Behind Bizuneh, the primary runner to look to is sophomore Juan Reyes, who as a true freshman last year earned all-region honors and was one of ASU's top two finishers in every major meet. In his first collegiate race last fall, Reyes was the top Sun Devil finisher at the UC Irvine Invitational (ninth).
"Juan's experience last year of having to be one of our front guys and getting in there and mixing it up with some of the better people in the country at a number of meets is going to help him as well as us," Drenth said. "He's kind of in a 'no pressure' situation because Fasil is our leader this year. Juan is just going to have another great example to learn from."
Among additional top returners are juniors Kris Alexander, Ronnie Buchanan and Jeremy Rasmussen. Alexander earned all-region honors last season with a 19th-place finish at regionals, second only on the ASU squad to Reyes' 17th-place finish. Buchanan was also a strong member of last year's team, while Rasmussen did his best late last year finishing runner-up in the steeplechase at the Pac-10 Championships.
Drenth will look to two incoming freshman that will have the ability to step in and contribute this season. JJ Duke (Clovis, Calif,) and Roger Cahill (Glendale, Ariz.) were state champions in cross country and track, respectively. "These two guys are going to be very good and I think they have a great shot at being on the varsity this year and in the future being major contributors to our program," Drenth said.
The Sun Devils will look to fill the holes left by departing seniors from last year's squad Garrett Jensen and Brandon Strong, but according to Drenth, this team is prepared to step up.
"Certainly we'll miss Garrett and Brandon because of their leadership and experience, but from a competitive standpoint, I think we can be better because we've given all these other guys a chance to mature," Drenth said. "Our depth will be better, as well as our experience and maturity."