In the seven seasons Walt Drenth has guided the Arizona State cross country program, the Sun Devils have established themselves as one of the premier teams in the west each year. Entering his eighth season at the helm of the distance corps, Drenth and his harriers have raced toward the front of the pack on both a national and conference level and again are poised to advance the growing history of the ASU cross country program.
Since 1996, the women have finished fourth or better in the conference five times, placed in the Top 3 four times at the west region meet and advanced to the national meet five times. The men also have fared well, placing in the Top 4 in the Pac-10 five times and in the Top 5 regionally four times.
What is more impressive about the program's rise to success was what happened prior to Drenth's arrival. Before 1996, ASU's women had never made a team appearance at nationals, never earned a national ranking and never produced an All-American. For good measure, the Sun Devil women had yet to finish higher than sixth at regionals since 1986 and had only mustered three finishes better than seventh at the Pac-10 meet.
Since taking the reins, the ASU women have made trips to the NCAA Championships five years in a row (1998-02) including a school-record sixth-place finish in 2000. They also have been regional runners-up twice and Pac-10 runners-up three times which all began in 1999, the same time the team was a stronghold in the national polls, including a program-best No. 3 in the 2001 season. They also began a streak of four years (1999-01) in which a Sun Devil earned All-America honors (Priscilla Hein in 1998, Kelly MacDonald in 1999 and Lisa Aguilera in 2000 and 2001).
The revival of ASU's men's program is no less impressive. Like the women's program, the men had never made a team appearance at nationals, had never earned a national ranking, had finished higher than seventh at the Pac-10 Championships only three times and higher than seventh at regionals only once prior to 1996.
The Sun Devils made their first appearance at nationals in 1999, finishing 14th with Fasil Bizuneh becoming the third All-American in school history with a 19th-place finish. Bizuneh added a 22nd-place finish at the 2001 national meet to claim his second All-America honor. The Sun Devils were ranked for the first time in 1999, staying in the polls all year and climbing as high as ninth. At regionals, the Sun Devils smashed the school record in 1999, finishing third, including an individual school record second-place finish by Isaiah Festa. In the Pac-10 meet, ASU has established a school record with fourth-place finishes each of the last three years, including 2000, only to see that fall when the host Sun Devils took second in 2001.
"I went out and recruited Coach Drenth for this position with the vision of ASU cross country becoming a conference and national contender," said ASU head track and field coach Greg Kraft. "That's exactly what has happened. He obviously is one of the hardest working and most knowledgeable middle distance/distance coaches in the country."
With the All-Americans gone from the women's side and young squads on both fronts, Drenth found a winning combination in 2002. The women set school records for lowest points at the Pac-10 Championships (59) to take second place before finishing second at the regional meet with 70 points. The squad, made of mainly freshmen and sophomores, advanced to the NCAA Championships where they captured 23rd place. Jessica Scalzo, a true freshman, earned Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year honors while Amy Hastings, another rookie, placed 20th overall and was the fastest American finisher at the 2003 World Junior Cross Country Championships.
As his teams steadily improved, several firsts for the program became reality. Prior to his arrival, ASU had two All-Americans total between the men (2) and women (0). Not only did he guide the program's first female All-American, he also mentored the first two-time winners for both genders in Aguilera and Bizuneh. Aguilera also was the first Sun Devil harrier to be named Pac-10 Athlete of the Year (2000) and NCAA West Region Athlete of the Year (2000). Scalzo (2002) and J.J. Duke (2001) also earned the program's first Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year awards. Before 1996, six Sun Devils have earned all-conference. Since then, 14 student-athletes have earned 17 selections to the first or second team.
Drenth also has made an impact on the track at ASU. In his tenure, 12 school records in distance events have been established with several of them having been set multiple times. He also has molded the Sun Devils into a force in the 3,000m steeplechase. The Pac-10 added the event to its championship meet three years ago with MacDonald winning the inaugural race and Aguilera taking the next two. Jeremy Rasmussen also won a title on the men's side, giving ASU four of six possible titles. He also has guided his athletes to three other conference crowns. On a national stage, Drenth has seen 14 All-American finishes on the tracks, including Aguilera (steeple) and Desiree Davila (5,000m) in 2003.
In the classroom, the ASU women have also showed improvement. Aguilera led the way with Verizon Academic All-America honors in 2000 (first team) and 2001 (second) in cross country and in 2001 (third) and 2003 (second) in track. She joined Garrett Jensen (second in 2000) as the first national academic award winners for the Sun Devils.
During Drenth's tenure at ASU, 14 of his student-athletes have earned a spot on the first or second-team Pac-10 All-Academic squads and combined for 20 honors. From 1997 through 2002, the women's cross country teams were named Academic All-America squads by the Women's Intercollegiate Cross Country Coaches Association and in 2000 and `01, the women compiled the highest cumulative GPA for any women's team on campus while the men did the same in 2000.
Such success may be new to ASU, but not to Drenth, who has been a head cross country coach for 16 seasons. He has been honored as a conference coach of the year nine times (including back-to-back Pac-10 women's honors in 1999 and 2000) and district coach of the year four times, while taking nine teams to the NCAA Championships, and capturing seven conference championships and two district crowns. In addition, he has tutored six cross country All-Americans and 18 All-Americans on the track.
Before coming to Tempe, Drenth led the William & Mary Tribe to five Colonial Athletic Association cross country titles and two track and field crowns in six years (1990-95). He was named CAA Cross Country Coach of the Year on five occasions, including each of his last four seasons in Williamsburg. He also was tabbed as District II Coach of the Year in 1990 and 1995. W&M was the District II champion in cross country in 1990.
Drenth's harriers also fared well at the NCAAs. The Tribe took 15th at the national meet in 1990, finished 18th in 1994 and placed 17th in 1995. Drenth tutored two All-America harriers in Paul Vandegrift in 1990 and Steven Swift in 1991. On the track, Drenth led W&M to two CAA titles, in 1992 and 1993. He tutored five All-America distance runners in his six seasons in Williamsburg, including 1991 NCAA 1,500 meter runner-up Vandegrift. One of Drenth's other All-Americas, Brian Hyde, represented the U.S. in the 1,500m at the 1995 World Championships and the 1996 Olympic Games. Drenth has coached four additional Olympic Trials qualifiers. He also coached three IC4A champions and three runners-up.
Prior to his stint at W&M, Drenth was the head cross country coach and assistant track coach at his alma mater, Central Michigan University, from 1985-90. He was named District IV Coach of the Year in 1989 after leading CMU to the District IV title. He led the Chippewas to two Mid-American Conference titles, in 1988 and 1989 and was named MAC Cross Country Coach of the Year both years. Drenth also led CMU to three successive Central Collegiate Conference titles from 1987-89, and was selected Central Collegiate Cross Country Coach of the Year all three years. He coached two All-Americas on the track.
Before heading back to CMU, Drenth was an assistant coach at two Michigan high schools, Charlevoix and Ypsilanti.
He earned his bachelor's degree in psychology and political science from CMU in 1981 and his master's in physical education from CMU in 1990. Drenth and his wife, Cara, have two children, Emma and Gerrit.