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Defending champions open indoor season in Flagstaff

January 22, 2009

The Arizona State University men's and women's track & field teams will open their indoor national title defenses on Friday night as the Sun Devils will head north to Flagstaff, Ariz., for the Friday Night Challenge at Northern Arizona University. The meet will start at 4:30 p.m. inside the Walkup Skydome with 39 Sun Devils set to compete.

While the current edition of the Sun Devils get set to open their season this weekend, several former distance runners recently competed in one of two prestigious races on Sunday, one of which was a national champion. In Houston at the U.S. Half-Marathon Championships, four former Devils competed, including Fasil Bizuneh, who placed sixth in the men's race in 1:02.40, and Desiree Davila, who was fourth overall in the women's race at 1:12.24. Alvina Begay took 17th in 1:15.39 while Amy Hastings was 24th in 1:17.13. Back in the Valley, a pair of women competed in the P.F. Chang's Rock-n-Roll Marathon, including current graduate assistant coach Jenna Wrieden, who was ninth among women in 2:50.45, and Cassie Bando (formerly Rios), who took 11th among women in 2:51.58. They were two of 2,972 women to finish the 26.2 mile race.

Arizona State enters the indoor season as the defending national champions as both the men and the women captured titles at the 2008 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships in Fayetteville, Ark. (March 14-15). The women scored 51 points to win their second crown in a row as LSU took second with 43 points. The men, who won their first indoor crown in program history, edged top-ranked Florida State, 44-41, for the title.

The Sun Devil sweep in Arkansas last March was just the second time in NCAA indoor championship history that the same school won both crowns. The only other school to do so was LSU in 2004. If ASU can win at least one title this indoor season, it will fare better than LSU as the 2005 titles went to Arkansas (men) and Tennessee (women).

Arizona State's women are the two-time defending champions after claiming crowns in the 2007 and 2008 meets. One of only five schools to win back-to-back indoor titles, the Sun Devil women are position to become only the second school to win three in a row or more following LSU's five in a row streak (1993-97) and another three in a row (2002-04) by the Tigers. The only other schools to have won back-to-back crowns were Nebraska (1983-84), Texas (1998-99) and UCLA (2000-01).

Heading into the indoor season, the men will look to defend their crown and, if successful, would become just the fourth school to win back-to-back titles, joining Kansas, UTEP (twice) and Arkansas (three times). The last time the men's champion won in back-to-back years was in 2005 and 2006 when host Arkansas won.

The USTFCCCA preseason rankings were released earlier in January with both Sun Devil teams ranked among the Top 6 nationally heading into the season. Calculated by points earned based on an athlete's placement on the national descending order list from last year, the Sun Devil men enter the season ranked second (129.59) with Pac-10 rival Oregon leading the way (132.21). Arkansas (129.31), Florida (126.03) and Florida State (104.43) round out the Top 5 for the men. On the women's side, ASU is No. 6 (84.35) with the Top 5 formed by Texas A&M (149.39), LSU (127.20), Michigan (119.57), Tennessee (117.19) and FSU (109.87).

During the 2008 seasons, the Sun Devils combined to win six team championships with four from the women and two from the men. The women won a pair of conference championships, claiming the MPSF (indoor) and Pac-10 (outdoor) while also winning the NCAA Indoor Championships and NCAA Outdoor West Region. The men also won NCAA Indoor Championships and the NCAA Outdoor West Region, their first in both meets.

Last year, Arizona State athletes won seven individual national titles, including three indoors and four outdoors. Of those titles, only two return this year, including Ryan Whiting, the defending indoor shot put champion, and Sarah Stevens, the defending outdoor discus champion. Whiting won his first national title with a heave of 21.53m (71-03.50) to set the NCAA meet and Pac-10 indoor records. Stevens, who won the indoor shot put in 2007, captured her first outdoor title in the discus on her second-to-last throw (184-02) to edge teammate Tai Battle for the crown.

Three Sun Devils that won a combined five national titles last year are not back after graduating from ASU and exhausting their eligibility. Those athletes include 2008 U.S. Olympian Jacquelyn Johnson, Jessica Pressley and Kyle Alcorn. Johnson won her third indoor pentathlon crown with an NCAA indoor and NCAA meet record score of 4,496 points before winning her fourth outdoor heptathlon title. Pressley successfully defended her outdoor shot put crown while also earning All-America honors in the hammer and discus in the same meet. Alcorn was a vital player in the Sun Devil men's success as he won the indoor 3,000m run as the 14th-seeded runner and then captured the outdoor steeplechase.

Prior to finishing second at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Track & Field and earning a berth in the Beijing Olympics, Jacquelyn Johnson made history in the heptathlon at the NCAA meet as she became the first four-time champion in the event and only the fourth woman in NCAA history to capture the same event four times in a career. The Pac-10 and Arizona State record holder, the senior from Yuma, Ariz., joined the company of four-time champions Suzy Favor of Wisconsin in the 1,5000m run (1987-88-89-90), Seilala Sua of UCLA in the discus (1997-98-99-00) and Angela Williams of USC in the 100m dash (99-00-01-02).

In her specialty event (multi-events), Jacquelyn Johnson was a seven-time national champion, winning three indoor pentathlons and four outdoor heptathlons. The only non-first-place finish in the pentathlon came in 2004 when Johnson, a true freshman, finished second overall at the national meet to senior Hyleas Fountain.

Three marks recorded at the 2008 NCAA Indoor Championships by the Sun Devils found a place on the all-time world rankings. Ryan Whiting's toss of 21.53m (71-03.50) in the shot put ranks as the 33rd-best throw in the history of the indoor event. Those 33 marks were recorded by 13 different men with Whiting ranking 13th overall in the world and eighth among men from the United States.

Jacquelyn Johnson also appears on the all-time world rankings list with her 4,496 point-performance in the pentathlon at the NCAA Championships in 2008. Although that score ranks as the 96th-best (tie) all-time in the world, it ranks as the third-best among American women. The scores ahead of Johnson came from DeDee Nathan (4,753 in 1999) and Kym Carter (4,696 in 1995).

The distance medley relay team of Joey Heller, Justin Kremer, Nectaly Barbosa and Kyle Alcorn ran a school-record 9:32.49 and finished as the national runners-up. That time, which ranks 29th all-time on the world lists, sparked the Sun Devil men to the national title.

There are 15 athletes returning for the Sun Devils this year that have earned All-America honors in their ASU careers, including nine women and six men. Those women include Jeavon Benjamin, Shauntel Elcock, Stephanie Garnett, Kari Hardt, Ali Kielty, Jenna Kingma, Dominique' Maloy, Sarah Stevens and Charonda Williams with the men's group comprised of Nectaly Barbosa, Darryl Elston, Joey Heller, Justin Kremer, Joel Phillip and Ryan Whiting.

The 2009 Sun Devil rosters are made up of 96 student-athletes. There are 52 men and 44 women that will compete for the Sun Devils, including 25 men and 23 women that are returning from last year.

Of those 96 athletes on the roster this spring, 48 are new to the program, including 27 men and 21 women. Thirty of the 48 newcomers are freshmen, including 14 women and 16 men that are entering their first collegiate seasons after high school graduation.

The Sun Devils will return to Flagstaff, Ariz., next weekend as they will compete in the Mountain 'T' Invitational on Friday and Saturday (January 30-31).