Dec. 13, 2000
TEMPE, Ariz. - Post-season accolades continue to roll in for the Arizona State women's cross country team, as junior Lisa Aguilera was named the Pac-10 Conference Female Athlete of the Year and fifth-year head coach Walt Drenth was named the Pac-10 Women's Coach of the Year, conference commissioner Tom Hansen announced yesterday.
Aguilera, who was also named the West Region Athlete of the Year last month, just completed the best individual performance in ASU cross country history. The Peoria, Ariz. native became the third Sun Devil woman to earn All-America honors with her school-record fifth-place finish at the NCAA Championships in Ames, Iowa, Nov. 20.
"I thought Lisa had clearly one of the best seasons of anyone in the country," Drenth said. "With the progress she's made and the consistency of her performances all year, I'm excited for her. It's a great tribute to Lisa."
It was Aguilera who led the ASU women to nationals by winning the NCAA West Regional individual title Nov. 11, the first Sun Devil to capture first-place in a championship meet. At the Pac-10 Championships Oct. 28, Aguilera matched her school record performance set last year as conference runner-up. She was also recognized as a first-team Pac-10 All-Academic selection with a 3.71 GPA in civil engineering.
"I don't think I did anything different from the past two seasons, I just think the training is starting to payoff for everyone because I think everyone on the team is improving a lot," Aguilera said. "I think next year even more people will come around and we'll have even more All-Americans."
"It's a great award for her but I don't think we've ever stopped looking ahead at what we can do better," Drenth said. "I don't think it's a fruition of anything, it's an indication of where the program is headed. Certainly I think that Lisa will be better next year and hopefully she'll have some teammates that are right on her shoulder."
Drenth, honored as the Pac-10 Women's Coach of the Year for the second straight season, continues to guide the Sun Devils to unprecedented heights. The new millienium marked a historic year in ASU cross country under Drenth, as the Sun Devil women finished an ASU-best sixth at the NCAA Championships, moving up six spots from last year's standing.
Drenth was also recognized as the West Region Women's Cross Country Coach of the Year after guiding ASU to a school-record second place finish at regionals. This year, his women's team recorded the highest school finishes at the West Regionals (second) and the NCAA Championships (sixth), while matching the previous record finish of second at the Pac-10 Championships.
"This award is more of a testament to what the kids have done," Drenth said. "The athletes have come in and wanted to improve. I don't take a step. It's a nice award coming from peers, but I'd much rather be making the progress that we're making as a program than have the award. You see the progress as being tangible and that's what I came here for. There are great coaches in the conference and a lot of great programs in the conference, so from that standpoint it's a great honor."
Prior to Drenth's arrival on the ASU campus in 1996, the ASU women had never made a team appearance at nationals, 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 Championships.
Under the tutelage of Drenth, the ASU women made their first of three straight appearances at the NCAA Championships in 1998, climbing from a 23rd-place finish, to a 12th-place finish in 1999, to this year's record sixth-place performance in Ames, Iowa.
The Sun Devil women were ranked for the first time in 1998 - climbing as high as third in 1999 - and have had three different All-Americans in as many years (Priscilla Hein, Kelly MacDonald, Aguilera).
"When you look at the work Walt has done with both cross country teams, I think it's amazing," ASU track and field director Greg Kraft said. "But particularly so with the women because of their lack of tradition before his arrival and the many years of occupying the cellar at the Pac-10 meet. I think this has maybe been the biggest turnaround in cross country.
"What is more amazing is that he's done it with local kids from right here in the Valley like Lisa Aguilera. She's the poster child for that group. First-team Pac-10 all-academic, Pac-10 runner of the year, 3.7 GPA in engineering and she's from Centennial High School right here in the Valley.
"It's really been a great story for us. Even I, although quite optimistic that Walt would get it done, have been pleasantly surprised at how quickly the turnaround has happened. Being realistic, I thought we would just be beginning to reach the crest right now, but for two straight years the women have been Pac-10 runner-up. And this year we also had 11 women on the Pac-10 All-Academic team, so we're not just running fast. It speaks volumes for what he's done, but better days are still ahead."