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ASU cross country opens 2008 in Flagstaff

September 02, 2008
The 2008 collegiate cross country season will open for the Arizona State University program this weekend as the Sun Devils will once again start the season at the George Kyte Invitational in Flagstaff, Ariz. The meet, which will be contested at Buffalo Park and hosted by Northern Arizona, will start with the women's 5,000m race at 12:30 p.m. before the men run the 8,000m race starting at 1:15 p.m.

The Sun Devils sent a small 'B' team to Flagstaff to compete in the George Kyte Invitational with both the men and women placing third overall in the team standings. Ali Kielty led the way for the women by finishing 12th overall in the women's 5,000m run while Shane Snyder took top honors for the men with his 19th-place showing.

This year, the Sun Devil cross country rosters include 54 total student-athletes, including 29 women and 25 men that hail from 12 different states. Arizona makes up the largest grouping of athletes on the roster with 25 total (13 women and 12 men) on the team while California second, accounting for 12 athletes (nine women and three men). Washington is represented with six men on the roster while Colorado has four Sun Devils. Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Nevada, New Jersey, Texas and Wisconsin each have one representative.

The Sun Devil rosters are larger this season with 29 women and 25 men set to battle for positions in the starting seven with 12 women and 13 men returning after being on the roster in 2007. The men remain young this season as only six student-athletes are in their junior or senior seasons of competition while the women feature nearly half of their roster (12) set to compete in their junior or senior campaigns.

While the Sun Devils have four women and two men on the roster this season that have earned collegiate All-America honors, only the women have accumulated the national accolade on the cross country course. Last year, both Jenna Kingma and Ali Kielty earned All-America honors in cross country -- their first in the sport -- by finishing 37th and 42nd, respectively. The team's leaders from last year will be joined this year by a pair of senior transfers with cross country All-America honors, including Sunni Olding (2004 and 2005 at Notre Dame) and Haley Paul (2005 at Washington State).

This season, 17 women and 12 men will be joining the Sun Devil roster for the first time in their careers, including 15 true freshmen (10 women and five men). The women also add six transfers this season, including Rebecca Greenwald (Pima CC), Cherise McNair (Cal State Stanislaus), Sunni Olding (Notre Dame), Haley Paul (Washington State), Nicole Pennes (UCLA) and Brianna Smith (Moorpark JC), while the men add three: Brandon Bethke (Wisconsin), Stephen Olsen (Spokane CC) and Noah Shannon (Wisconsin).

The women were ranked in the Top 7 throughout the season, reaching as high as No. 5 toward the end of the year, before running to a total of 251 points and a fourth-place finish at the NCAA Championships to wind up on the podium with a trophy for the second time in three years. The women also finished tied for third in the Pac-10 before placing third in the West region. Jenna Kingma was the top ASU finisher in five races, including a win at the Dave Murray Invitational in Tucson and fifth at the Pac-10 Championships. As a team, the Sun Devils won the Murray meet and finished second at both the Roy Griak Invitational and the NCAA Pre-National Meet. Three women earned All-Pac-10 honors, including Kingma and Ali Kielty, both first team, and Kari Hardt, second team. The trio was joined by Camille Olson as Top 25 finishers at the NCAA West Region meet to also garner All-Region honors.

By earning a berth into the NCAA Championships as an at-large selection in 2007, the Sun Devil women extended their current streak to 10 years in a row at the national meet, keeping them tied with North Carolina for the sixth-longest active streak in the nation. BYU and Providence lead the way with 19 years in a row and are followed by Colorado (16), Stanford (15) and NC State (13).

The men advanced to their fifth all-time appearance at the NCAA Championships in 2007, finishing 26th overall after being ranked 30th among the 31-team field heading into the race. The Sun Devils opened the championship portion of their season by placing fifth in the Pac-10, even after lowering their point total by eight points (finished fourth) from the year before. The team then placed sixth in the West Region and earned an at-large selection to the NCAA meet after advancing to the Championships in 2005, 2004, 2001 and 1999. Kyle Alcorn, the 2008 NCAA Indoor 3,000m and NCAA Outdoor 3,000m steeplechase national champion, led the team much of the season, crossing the line first for ASU in four of his five races while Jeff Helmer led the charge at the national meet, finishing 91st overall. Alcorn was the lone Pac-10 honoree, earning second team honors by finishing 10th at the conference meet while he and Helmer each earned All-Region accolades by finishing in the Top 25. The team won the ASU Invitational while finishing second at the Dave Murray Invitational and the Roy Griak Invitational.

Of the 14 runners that competed in the NCAA Championships last November for the Sun Devils (seven men and seven women), nine return to the program this season, including six of the women that ran to a fourth-place team finish in 2007. The women return their Top 6 from the national meet last year, including Jenna Kingma (37th), Ali Kielty (42nd), Kari Hardt (50th), Camille Olson (51st), Krystal Duke (155th) and Angela Spadafino (180th). The men return their first, third and fourth finishers from the NCAA meet, including Jeff Helmer (91st), Ben Engelhardt (163rd) and Alonso Contreras (186th).

The Sun Devils entered the 2007 NCAA Championships with both teams ranked among the Top 30 nationally with the women sliding one position to No. 6 and the men falling three spots to No. 30 in the final USTFCCCA Top 30 of the cross country season. The ranking for the women meant they had been in the Top 7 all season with four weeks at No. 5, four at No. 6 and once at No. 7. After not being ranked during the first two weeks of the season, the men ended the year with a Top 30 ranking in each of the past seven weeks. Arizona State placed fourth in the women's team race at the national meet -- two spots ahead of where they were ranked -- while the men finished 26th in the meet -- four places better than their ranking.

When the Sun Devil women earned at No. 6 ranking in the final poll of the 2007 season, it marked the 46th week the program had held a place among the Top 10 and their ninth week in a row in the Top 10. Dating back to October 12, 1998, the ASU women have been ranked in the national Top 30 for 73-consecutive weeks while ranking in the Top 20 in 69 of those weeks, including the past 27 rankings. ASU has been ranked in the Top 5 on 18 occasions with No. 3 rankings on September 27, 1999, October 7, 2003, and October 13, 2003, standing as the highest the team has been ranked.

The Arizona State men returned to the national rankings on October 2, 2007, for the first time since also being ranked No. 20 on October 10, 2006. Ranked 30th in the final poll of the 2007 season, the ranking marks the 55th time the Sun Devils have been ranked in the national Top 30 in the history of the program.

On the track in 2008, the Sun Devil men's distance corps saw three of its runners earn All-America honors and capture two national titles. Kyle Alcorn, who recently graduated, won the 3,000m run at the indoor championships after entering the meet ranked 14th overall before heading outdoors to win the 3,000m steeplechase crown at the NCAA meet. Alcorn joined up with fellow distance runners Nectaly Barbosa (800m) and Joey Heller (1,200m) and sprinter Justin Kremer (400m) to finish second in the nation indoors in the distance medley relay and add another eight team points. In the end, those points in the 3,000m and DMR proved very needed as the Sun Devil men beat out Florida State by three points for the NCAA team championship, joining the women as national team champions at the same meet.

Following a weekend off from competition, the Sun Devils will travel to Tucson on Friday, September 19, to compete in the Dave Murray Invitational at the Dell Urich Golf Course. The men will lead off the event with a 6,000m run at 5:15 p.m. with the women following at 5:45 p.m. with a 4,000m run.