Aug. 31, 2000
Having culminated the 20th Century with its most successful season in school history, Arizona State cross country displayed it has what it takes to be a conference and national contender. This year will be no different as the Sun Devils will look to continue to pave the way toward their consistent rise to excellence in the new century.
"Our experience last year certainly gives us a benchmark," fifth-year head coach Walt Drenth said. "Our reference points are higher, our expectations are higher and I can't see that hurting us."
Last year, the men's and women's programs recorded their best conference, regional and national team finishes in school history.
The 1999 women finished second at the Pac-10 Championships, third at the NCAA West Regional and 12th in their second straight NCAA Championship appearance.
The ASU men made their first national championship team appearance and finished 14th, that after an ASU-best third-place showing at regionals. For good measure, the ASU men matched a school best fourth-place finish at the Pac-10 Championships.
In leading Sun Devil cross country to its most prosperous season ever, Drenth was named the Pac-10's Coach of the Year. But like any successful coach, Drenth is looking to make 1999's outstanding season the norm.
"One of the challenges of a program in transition, once you get to a point where you're consistently competitive, is it is a little bit harder to stay there and that is one of our challenges," Drenth said. "Now that we're competitive, we want to be competitive all the time."
That consistency begins with the wealth of experienced runners who return to the Sun Devils this season, coupled with a promising group of newcomers who join the squad.
"We're expecting a lot from the newcomers," Drenth said. "But we have a good veteran group on both sides coming back, particularly on the women's side. I'm expecting we'll be pretty competitive."
Among those veterans on the women's side, will be junior Lisa Aguilera and seniors Kelly MacDonald and Mary Duerbeck.
Last season MacDonald became just the second All-American in ASU women's history, breaking school records with a 36th place finish at nationals and a fourth-place finish at regionals. MacDonald also earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors and second-team Pac-10 All-Academic honors.
On the track, the Tualatin, Ore. native competed in the Olympic Trials in Sacramento this past July, after qualifying for the event with a 15:55.90 performance in the 5,000 in the Mt. Sac Relays, breaking a 16-year-old ASU mark by three seconds.
"The bright spot of the summer was Kelly MacDonald being able to compete at the Olympic Trials," Drenth said. "That's a great experience gainer."
Joining MacDonald as a leader of the women's team will be Aguilera, who earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors with a school-record fourth-place finish at the conference championships last season. Aguilera, a native of Peoria, culminated her cross country season last year with a 50th place finish at the NCAA Championships. Also a first-team Pac-10 All-Academic selection, Aguilera paired with MacDonald as all-region honorees.
Duerbeck, a fifth-year senior from Chamois, Mo., will especially be looked upon for leadership on the women's side this season. A member of the first-team Pac-10 All-Academic team for the second straight time in 1999, Duerbeck was a key component to the Sun Devils' success a year ago and the same figures to be true for 2000.
Additional veterans to watch on the women's side will be senior Colleen Burke from Phoenix and redshirt-sophomore Brianna Torres from Peoria. Last season, Burke ran in the NCAA Championships and earned all-region honors. Torres, who also ran at nationals a year ago, is fresh off a good season on the track and looks to continue that success on the cross country course in 2000.
Leading the pack on the men's side will be junior Fasil Bizuneh from Indianapolis, Ind., who became the third male Sun Devil to earn All-American honors after placing 19th at nationals last season.
"On the men's side, Fasil is the natural person to look to for leadership from the standpoint of competitiveness," Drenth said. "He was the second fastest freshman in the country at 10,000 meters and I expect big things from him."
Last year, Bizuneh earned all-region and first-team All-Pac-10 honors, in addition to a second-team Pac-10 All-Academic selection.
Drenth will also be relying upon the experience of sixth-year senior Garrett Jensen from Fullerton, Calif. A distance-medley All-American on the track last year, Jensen also posted a 75th finish at nationals and earned all-region honors on the cross country course.
Rounding out the top three returners on the men's side is redshirt-sophomore Jeremy Rasmussen. A native of Glendale, Ariz., Rasmussen placed 145th at the NCAA Championships and earned Pac-10 All-Academic honorable mention honors.
But Rasmussen's breakthrough occurred on the track last year at the Pac-10 Championships as he claimed the 3,000 meter steeple chase title at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.
"Similar to Brianna Torres, I'm interested in seeing how that progress on the track will transition to cross country," Drenth said.
These top men and women have already emerged as leaders of Sun Devil cross country, but considering the teams' depth this year, all Drenth's runners will be looked upon to shoulder some of the load this season.
"With a team like this, in order to be successful, everyone is going to have to assume some responsibility and leadership," Drenth said. "We don't name captains. I expect that different times during the year, different people are going to step up and do what they have to do."
Those other runners may include a few new faces to the Sun Devil program this year. Even if these newcomers do not make an immediate impact this season, they will be honed as the future of ASU cross country.
Freshman Amber Quigley, from Sunnyside High School in Tucson, was a state champion in cross country in 1999. During her prep career, Quigley earned all-city, all-region and all-state accolades, in addition to being named the Tucson Citizen and Arizona Daily Star Runner of the Year in '99.
A sophomore transfer from Adams State College in Colorado, Alvina Begay quite possibly could see time in the women's top seven, according to Drenth. Begay was a two-time cross country state champion and four-time state champion in the 1500 and 3200 meters at Ganado High.
Newcomers for the men include freshman Ryan Bousquet from Yorba Linda, Calif.who, says Drenth, was "arguably the best prep miler in the country this year."
At Esperanza High in Anaheim, Calif., Bousquet earned All-American, all-county and all-CIF accolades, in addition to being named cross country MVP for the Sunset League all four years of his prep career.
Juan Reyes, from Carl Hayden High in Phoenix, is also a promising newcomer for the men's side. Reyes was a two-time state champion in cross country and as a junior was a national finalist.
Dan Maher redshirted for the Sun Devils last year, and according to Drenth, has the possibility of coming in and making an impact this year. A native of Tucson, Maher was the 1998 Southern Arizona Runner of the Year and was an all-state cross country selection as a junior and senior at Salpointe Catholic High.
These talented newcomers will certainly aid in the Sun Devils' 2000 campaign, but the key for Drenth is the corps of veterans on this season's roster. With that luxury, Drenth knows that he can prepare his team for what lies ahead rather than the first few meets of the season.
"It's awful early. We don't have to run well until the end of October," Drenth said. "With a veteran group you plan it differently. In the past, we were not a veteran group and had to run well earlier. Now I feel like we can gear up in a different manner than we have in the past. The progress we make, hopefully you won't see fruition of that until later in the year, the championship season."
The future is now for Sun Devil cross country. Building from a past of rising success, ASU now has the pieces in place to remain a consistent conference and national contender.