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National berths on the line for ASU XC at NCAA West

November 12, 2009

Coming off impressive performances at the Pac-10 Conference Championships two weeks ago in Long Beach, Calif., the Arizona State University cross country teams will travel to the Springfield Country Club in Springfield, Ore., for the 2009 NCAA West Region Championships, hosted by Oregon, on Saturday morning. The men will lead off the day with a 10,000m run starting at 9:45 a.m. PT while the women will compete at 10:45 a.m. in a 6,000m run. The meet is being used as the selection tool for the NCAA Championships, which will be held Monday, November 23, in Terre Haute, Ind.

The U.S. Track & Field, Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) released its national rankings on Tuesday, November 3, both Sun Devil squads moving up into the Top 20. On the men's side, Arizona State's third-place showing at the Pac-10 Championships helped it move up to No. 13 (from No. 16). The women also placed third in the conference, which included a defeat of No. 12 Stanford, and vaulted from being unranked to No. 16 this week.

While individual titles, team titles and regional accolades (Top 25 individual finish in each region) will be on the line this weekend, the ultimate prize for the teams competing will be a trip the NCAA Championships. At each of the nine regional sites, the Top 2 teams will earn automatic berths into the national meet with the NCAA selecting 13 at-large teams, which will be announced on Monday, to round out the 31-team field. Several runners from each region that are not members of selected teams will also be selected to compete individually at the national meet, which is set for the LaVern Gibson Championship Course in Terre Haute, Ind., on November 23.

With national berths on the line, both the men and women will be looking to maintain historical streaks this weekend as both try to advance to the national meet. For the women, Arizona State currently has advanced to the NCAA Championships in 11-consecutive seasons, standing as the third-longest active streak (Providence at 20, Stanford at 16) and the eighth-best all-time in NCAA women's history, and will be aiming for its 12th national berth. The men will look to advance to their sixth NCAA Championship with their last appearance coming in 2007, when the regional meet was held in Springfield, Ore. Prior to that, ASU had last been at the national meet in another odd year, 2005.

Finishing in the Top 2 of the team standings in the west is no easy task, especially with both races have a pair of Top 5-ranked teams. On the men's side, the West Region includes the No. 13 Sun Devils, which are the fifth-highest ranked team behind No. 1 Stanford, No. 3 Oregon and No. 7 Portland with No. 17 Washington and two teams that have received votes (Cal Poly and UCLA) also in the mix. On the women's side, the No. 16 Sun Devils are the fourth-highest ranked team in the West with No. 1 Washington, No. 5 Oregon and No. 14 Stanford ahead of them and No. 24 Arizona and No. 27 California behind them.

When comparing the latest national and regional rankings on the women's side, the two don't quite match up as two lower-ranked teams on the national list sit ahead of higher-ranked foes in the region. Arizona State is currently No. 16 nationally and No. 3 in the West while Stanford sits No. 4 in the region and No. 14 nationally. No. 5 in the region California is ranked No. 27 nationally and is ahead of No. 6 Arizona, who is No. 24 nationally.

The NCAA West Region Championships will host teams from Arizona, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington, which last year consisted of 30 women's teams and 25 men's team. The course at the Springfield Country Club is relatively flat with all running taking place on grass (primarily fairways) with the men running five loops of the course and the women three to account for the 10,000m and 6,000m, respectively.

The 2008 NCAA West Region Championships were held at the Stanford Golf Course in Stanford, Calif., with the women placing fourth overall and the men eighth. The women scored 128 points with Washington (25), Oregon (62) and Stanford (91) placing ahead of them. Individually, ASU had three runners finish in the Top 25 to earn all-region accolades, including Kari Hardt (10th), Jenna Kingma (18th) and Ali Kielty (21st). The men scored 290 points with Oregon (38) and Stanford (72) earning the two automatic berths. Patrick Milloy was the top Sun Devil finisher for the men as he placed 42nd overall.

While this weekend's races will mark the third year in a row the Sun Devils will compete in a championship event at the Springfield Country Club, it will be the second time they have competed in the NCAA West Region Championships on the course after first running there in the 2007 meet. That year, the women placed third overall and the men were sixth as both squads eventually earned at-large berths into the NCAA Championships. The women had four individuals earn all-region honors, including Jenna Kingma (8th), Ali Kielty (11th), Camille Olson (23rd) and Kari Hardt (25th) while the men had two individual honorees, including Kyle Alcorn (7th) and Jeff Helmer (14th).

Brandon Bethke and Kari Hardt led the men and women, respectively, as both finished in the Top 10 and earned First Team All-Pac-10 honors at the 2009 Pac-10 Championships that were held on the Sky Links Golf Course in Long Beach, Calif., October 30. In the team race, the No. 16 men scored 88 points -- the fifth-best total in a Pac-10 meet in program history -- and finished ahead of one higher ranked team in No. 13 Washington (119) while No. 2 Stanford (28) and No. 2 Oregon (45) rounded out the first two positions in the eight-team race. The women, who entered the meet No. 31 in the nation, scored 110 points to edge No. 12 Stanford (111) by one point for third place while No. 1 Washington (35) and No. 8 Oregon (42) took the Top 2 spots. The women also finished ahead of No. 17 Arizona (sixth place), who scored 130 points. The men led off the competition first and Bethke put on a strong showing as he stayed with the leader much of the race and placed second overall in 22:41.1. Bethke also was one of four men to finish in the Top 25, which also included Ben Engelhardt placed 14th overall in 23:34.9. The remaining scoring runners (Top 5 on the team) included Jeff Helmer (22nd, 23:49.9), Dylan Hatcher (25th, 24:00.5) and Patrick Milloy (28th, 24:04.4). ASU also had four other men in the competition, including Nick Happe (35th, 24:18.8), Zeke Van Patten (39th, 24:27.8), Mason McHenry (50th, 24:45.7) and Daniel Lovell (53rd, 24:52.6). Hardt was once again the first Sun Devil across the finish line as she improved two places from last year to take seventh-place overall in 20:07.8. Allie Kieffer, in her first race of the season for the Sun Devils, was 15th overall in 20:28.4. The rest of the team's Top 5 finishers included Lindsay Prescott (21st, 20:37.4), Anna Sperry (28th, 20:49.2) and Kate Lydy (41st, 21:14.8). The remaining Sun Devils in the race included Angela Spadafino (43rd, 21:23.3), Cherise McNair (53rd, 21:37.2), Kauren Tarver (21:58.8) and Brianna Smith (71st, 22:17.6).

Three Sun Devils placed in the Top 14 of the Pac-10 Championships to earn placement on the All-Pac-10 teams, including two men and one woman. For the men, Brandon Bethke was a first-team honor as he finished second overall in the meet while Ben Engelhardt was a second-time honoree as he placed 14th overall. On the women's side, Kari Hardt was a first-team honoree as she finished seventh overall.

With his runner-up showing at the Pac-10 Championships, Brandon Bethke tied a program record for the best finish in a Pac-10 meet. Former All-American Fasil Bizuneh was the first Sun Devil man to place that high in the Pac-10 meet as he was second in 2001.

Of those returning Sun Devils, five enter the season with at least one individual All-America honor earned while representing Arizona State either in cross country or on the track. For the women, both Kari Hardt and Ali Kielty have earned the national honor in cross country as Hardt finished 39th overall last year and Kielty took 42nd in the 2007 meet. On the men's side, Brandon Bethke earned his first All-America honor as a Sun Devil by finishing fourth at the 2009 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in the 5,000m run; Mason McHenry was an indoor All-American in 2009 while competing in the 800m run; and Nectaly Barbosa collected a pair of honors during the 2008 track seasons, first as a member of the national runner-up indoor distance medley relay before earning All-America accolades outdoors in the 800m run.

Six women and five men make up the newest members of the Sun Devil roster with two of those women and one man joining the program after transferring to Arizona State this summer. The two women that transferred in include senior Allie Kieffer (West Islip, N.Y.), who comes to ASU from Wake Forest, and junior Anna Sperry, (Simi Valley, Calif.) who comes to the Valley from BYU, while the men's lone transfer is Zeke Van Patten (Corvallis, Ore.), who formerly ran at Western Oregon University. The remaining four women and four men are all true freshmen this fall and include Kevyn Murphy (Manhattan Beach, Calif.), Karlee Owens (Arroyo Grande, Calif.), Natalie Todd (St. Louis, Mo.) and Liz Zuniga (West Covina, Calif.) for the women and Matt Estlund (St. Charles, Mo.), Nick Happe (St. Charles, Mo.), Steven Schnieders (Yorba Linda, Calif.) and Doug Smith (Roxbury, N.J.).

Advanced to their 11th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Cross Country Championships and placed 14th overall (381 points)... appearance streak at the national meet currently stands as the third-longest in the nation while their streak also ranks as the eighth-longest in NCAA history... earned a berth into the national meet by finishing fourth overall at the NCAA West Region Championships (128 points) after taking fourth in the Pac-10 Championships (105 points)... individually, Kari Hardt led the team much of the year as she was the top finisher in each of the three championship races... she earned her first All-America honor by placing 39th overall at the NCAA Championships (20:42.10), was an All-West Region selection by placing 10th (20:18.96) at the regional meet and was a second-team All-Pac-10 honoree for finishing ninth in the league meet (20:26.57)... Hardt also was one of two women to win an individual race on the season as she captured the title at the Roy Griak Invitational in Minnesota (21:18.40) two weeks after Ali Kielty won the Dave Murray Invitational in Tucson (13:39.62) to lead the women to the team title as well... Kielty also was an award winner as she was a second-team All-Pac-10 honoree while joining Jenna Kingma as a member of the All-West Region team... academically, Kielty earned recognition, along with the team, from the USTFCCCA while Kielty, Kingma, Angela Spadafino and Maureen Stringham were Academic All-Pac-10 honorees... Kingma was inaugural recipient of the Pac-10 Scholar-Athlete of the Year for Women's Cross Country, presented by Toyo Tires.

Posted a pair of eighth-place finishes in their two championship appearances, scoring 198 points at the Pac-10 Championships before scoring 290 points in the NCAA West Region Championships... Patrick Milloy was the top runner of the men during the season as he was the first across the line in four races, including the championship events where he placed 28th in the Pac-10 (24:32.61) and 42nd in the region (30:23.11)... similar to the women, the men also won the Dave Murray Invitational in Tucson after taking second at the season-opening George Kyte Invitational in Flagstaff... academically, the men's team earned recognition from the USTFCCCA... seven Sun Devils also earned Academic All-Pac-10 honors, including a first-team selection for Thomas Petersen and second-team picks for Ben Engelhardt and Daniel Lovell.

Next up for Sun Devils, should they not place in the Top 2 at the NCAA West Region Championships this weekend, will be the NCAA selection announcement that will take place on Monday. If the Sun Devils are selected, either as an automatic qualifier or at-large team, they will travel to Terre Haute, Ind., and compete in the national meet on Monday, November 23, at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course.