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Harriers head to Tucson for Dave Murray Invitational

September 16, 2008
The Arizona State University cross country teams return to action on Friday night as the Sun Devils head south to Tucson for the Dave Murray Invitational hosted by Arizona at the Dell Urich Golf Course. The meet will feature two races and will start at 5:15 p.m. with the men's 6,000m run. The women will close out the meet with their 4,000m run at 5:45 p.m. Along with ASU and UA, several community colleges from the Phoenix and Tucson areas also will be on hand to compete.


The first rankings of the season were released by the U.S. Track & Field, Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) this week with both teams earning recognition. In the West Region, the women are fourth and the men are seventh with both regions figuring to be one of the toughest, if not the toughest, in the nation this year. Nationally, the women are ranked No. 5 while the men are receiving votes.

Looking at the national rankings, both Sun Devil squads are the fourth-highest ranked Pac-10 team in the nation, including the women at No. 5 in the national poll. The Sun Devil women will have to contend with No. 1 Oregon, No. 3 Washington and No. 4 Stanford throughout the season as those are the only four teams from the Pac-10 ranked right now. On the men's side, No. 1 Oregon, No. 11 Stanford and No. 19 California are in the Top 30 with Arizona State (16 votes) and UCLA (eight) receiving votes this week.

With their No. 5 national ranking, the women extended their current streak to 74 weeks in a row that they have appeared in the poll, dating back to a No. 15 ranking on October 12, 1998. Since that ranking, the Sun Devils have spent 74 weeks in the Top 30 and, including this week, 19 different weeks in the national Top 5 and their 10th week in a row in the Top 10. The last time ASU was a member of the Top 5 was a four-week stretch last year (Oct. 15-Nov. 5) while this year's ranking is the highest preseason position the team has held, surpassing the No. 7 ranking ASU entered with in the 2007 season.

The Sun Devils sent a large group of competitors to the Dave Murray Invitational last season, including eight women and 12 men, while 10 others on the roster also competed unattached to the program. The women won the team crown with 22 points and were led by the individual winner in Jenna Kingma, who led a 1-2-3-5-12 finish for the team. On the men's side, Mikias Gelagle was the top finisher on the runner-up team as he placed fifth overall to lead the men to a score of 42 points.

Noah Shannon led the men to second place with his ninth-place showing in his first ASU race and Whitney Blue guided the women to a third-place finish as the Sun Devils opened the season on September 6 in Flagstaff at the George Kyte Invitational. Blue was the top women's runner in 16th place while the remaining six runners finished within 1.5 seconds of her, claiming places 16-22 in the overall finish. Shannon, a transfer from Wisconsin, paced the men as a pair of redshirt freshmen (Daniel Lovell and Thomas Petersen) were second and third on the team, respectively.

At the George Kyte Invitational, seven Sun Devils wore the maroon and gold for the first time in their careers with three of those athletes coming to the program this fall as transfers. For the men, transfer Noah Shannon and redshirt freshmen Daniel Lovell, Thomas Petersen, Jordan Hall and Michael Anderson each ran for ASU for the first time while two senior transfers, Haley Paul and Sunni Olding, competed in their first race for ASU.

For the past 22 years, the home meet for the Sun Devils has been the ASU Invitational. Starting this fall, it will now be the Joe Uff/ASU Invitational. Uff, a former distance runner for the Sun Devils (1998-00) and ASU graduate, lost a four-year battle with cancer on April 12, the same day as his 31st birthday. The Aston, Pa., native began his own business as a thriving entrepreneur and continued to fight the disease with the help of his teammates. At the 2006 ASU Invitational, numerous alumni ran in the meet, sporting white shirts adorned with the words, "UFF IS TOUGH", the battle-cry that also inspired the Uff is Tough 5k run in his hometown to help raise funds for his treatment.

The Pac-10 Championships, scheduled for November 1 at the Springfield Country Club in Springfield, Ore., have been moved ahead one day to October 31 to avoid a conflict with the Oregon School Activities Association's High School Cross Country Championships that are scheduled for November 1 in Eugene. The women will open the Pac-10 meet with their 6,000m run at 2:15 p.m. with the men's 10,000m run starting at 3:15 p.m.

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 McNairSunni Olding (Notre Dame), Haley Paul (Washington State), Nicole Pennes (UCLA) and Brianna SmithBrandon Bethke (Wisconsin), Stephen Olsen (Spokane CC) and Noah Shannon (Wisconsin). (Cal State Stanislaus), (Moorpark JC), while the men add three:

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 Sun Devil women will look for history this year as they will try to capture their first national title. If they can do so, they will not only join an exclusive list of cross country championship programs, they also will put Arizona State in elite company with Texas as the only women's program to win at least one NCAA title in cross country, indoor track & field and outdoor track & field. LSU and Oregon are the only other two women's programs to have won a national title in two different events and need a crown in cross country and indoor track & field, respectively, to join Texas. The Sun Devil women have won the 2007 and 2008 NCAA Indoor and 2007 NCAA Outdoor Championships in recent years.

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).

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.

The Sun Devils will once again hit the road next Saturday as they travel to Minneapolis, Minn., for the 23rd Roy Griak Invitational. The men will run in the 8,000m run starting at 12:10 p.m. with the women competing in the 6,000m Jack Johnson race at 12:55 p.m.