Men's cross country eyes NCAA Championships in 2012
With the Fall semester about us, the 2012 NCAA cross country season is ready to get underway. For the Arizona State University men’s team, that means a shot at redemption after some missed opportunities last season left the team painstakingly shy of qualifying for the NCAA Championships.
This year’s team returns the an exceptional balance of seasoned veterans and talented youngsters that could provide the perfect combination to make the Sun Devils a contender for the Pac-12 Championship in October and to be competitive at the national level as well.
“We built some nice momentum during the (2012) track season and seeing the emergence of Nick Happe on the track and the way Darius Terry running was outside,” head coach Louie Quintana said. “That momentum has carried over into the summer and we are exciting about the foundation coming into the fall.”
Quintana says that he is relying on the mantra of keeping things simple in practice and getting better every day.
“Our minimum expectation is to qualify for the NCAA Championships as we have been painstakingly close two years in a row and that’s not a great spot to be in,” Quintana said. “The conference is pretty wide open this year and no team is a ton better than the next so naturally we think that if we can improve a lot at the conference level, we will have a chance to win the whole thing.”
Here a look at your upcoming Sun Devil men’s cross country season:
Perhaps the greatest strength on this year’s cross country team will be the senior leadership. The team returns Nick Happe, Darius Terry and Doug Smith to the roster and all have been consistent point-scorers through their careers at Arizona State.
In 2011, Terry started the season strong with a victory at the season-opening George Kyte Classic in Flagstaff, Ariz., and had a strong run at the Griak Invitational as well. Injuries began to take their toll on the junior though and after a rough outing at the Pac-12 Championships, Terry was forced to sit out the team’s appearance at the NCAA West Regional Championships.
This year though, Terry looks to be back to form and has been the top runner through the summer for the squad. The 2011 1,500-meter All-American redshirted the track season but set personal records at the distance as an unattached athlete.
Nick Happe saw a steady emergence as one of the top runners in the program, finishing as the team’s lead runner through most of the races in 2011 and earning NCAA All-West Region honors in the process. Happe carried that momentum to the track, running under four minutes in the mile indoors and qualifying for the NCAA Championships in the process.
“I expect Nick and Darius to race together and provide low scores for us,” Quintana said. “We feel confident that if we keep them healthy, we will be successful.”
Doug Smith is another gritty veteran who is bouncing back from an abdominal sprain but is someone that Quintana feels can add some depth to the bottom part of the team’s scoring line-up.
The team also brought in Zach Zarda as a graduate student after spending his undergraduate career at Kansas University. Zarda was an NCAA West Preliminary qualifier on the track at 5,000 meters and is someone that Quintana feels can make an immediate impact on the team.
“He’s been running 100 miles a week over the summer and is riding some momentum into the fall,” Quintana says. “I think he could be a great surprise for us.”
The strength of the ASU juniors might come from the emergence as a team leader of Steven Schnieders over the course of the summer. A Pac-12 point-scorer in two consecutive years, Schnieders has upped his mileage to over 100 miles of training per week and is someone that Quintana is confident can provide great depth to the program.
Though not a junior, sophomore Garrett Baker-Slama is in his third year with the program and is right up there with Schnieders in terms of mileage and assuming a leaders role on this year’s team. A raw talent, Baker-Slama came to the Sun Devils with just one year of competitive running experience after spending the majority of his prep career as a soccer player.
“These are two walk-ons that were under-heralded and under-recruited,” Quitana said. “They’ve gained the respect of their peers and teammates and are going to provide great depth for us.”
The Sun Devils also brought in junior college transfer Garrett Seawell out of American River College in California. There, Seawell was the state junior college cross country champion and broke the course record in the process.
“Garrett is someone who has the ability to compete on the big-time stage,” Quintana said. “Coming out of junior college, he was undertrained and we have been trying to grow his mileage some but he is a guy with great experience.”
The team will also look for contributions out of Matt Estlund, someone that Quintana has said always seems to come our strong in September before petering out as the season goes on. Quintana says Estlund’s training has been focused on flipping that as the team wants him to be running well in October.
As mentioned, Garrett Baker-Slama will be the leader amongst the sophomores this season. Accomplished on the track, Baker-Slama is also one of the team’s top student-athletes and has maintained a 4.00 GPA thus far at Arizona State.
“Our team has a 3.49 GPA and that’s the top GPA on campus,” Quintana said. “We have to use our best asset if we are going to compete well each week and that’s our brain.”
Andy Cannata will also provide depth as a sophomore to the program.
The bulk of this year’s team will come out of the freshmen ranks. Redshirt frosh Daniel Wong will see his first action this year after a strong spring that saw him take third at the U.S. Junior Championships in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
Ryan Herson had another strong unattached year last season and will look to carry that momentum to his redshirt freshman season.
“Ryan has run as fast as any unattached freshman I have ever had,” Quintana said. “Both he and Daniel are running 100 miles a week this summer and are in a training zone with the older guys.”
Herson and Wong were high-level recruits coming out of high school and Quintana looks for them to help bridge that gap between the veterans and the youngsters on this years team.
The team welcomes C.J. Albertson this year as a true freshman that could make an immediate impact on the team. He was arguably one of the top cross country runners in the nation at the prep ranks early last fall before an injury slowed his season. Despite that, Albertson went on to make it to the finals at the Footlocker Championships and comes by way of Buchanan High School, home of ASU great Kyle Alcorn.
“If he stays healthy, he’s probably one of the top freshmen in the country,” Quintana said. “He has an even keel about his demeanor that will help him in distance running and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s running with the front two or three guys by the end of the season.”
The team also welcomes redshirt freshman transfer Jeff Bickert by way of Cal Poly SLO. Quintana described Bickert as being very fit and someone that could have an immediate impact on the team after a strong summer of training.
Arizona State will open the season on Saturday at the George Kyle Classic in Flagstaff, Ariz. Complete meet notes will be available on Wednesday, August 29.