New faces hope to lead women's cross country back to top
With the Arizona State University cross country season well on its way, the women's team is looking to its youth to be the strong starting block as they hit the course and work towards earning a place at the national championships.
After twelve consecutive appearances at the NCAA national championships, the women's cross country team fell short last year and broke the streak. However, with a new head coach and a team whose roster consists of eight freshmen - more than half the team - the ASU squad are relying on these new additions and the knowledge of the returners to help the program continue to establish itself as one of the elite running institutions in the nation.
ASU historically has one of the top-ranked teams and is one of only four teams in the conference to have won trophies at the NCAA Championships in the last five years, a feat that requires a top-four finish at the competition. In fact, ASU has won two in the last six years, with fourth-place finishes in 2005 and 2007. With a new year and many new faces, former assistant coach - and now head coach - Ryan Cole is hoping to add another trophy to the case before too long.
"[We] want to continue to be one of the best programs in the country," Coach Cole commented.
And with the help of the 2011 recruiting class, they very well could be.
These eight new additions to the team consist of highly rated runners from across the country. And that's quite the literal statement, as all eight come from a location not named Arizona. One such student-athlete already looking to make a splash is Shelby Houlihan, who hails from Sioux City, Iowa, where she was one of the most successful runners in state history.
Houlihan has quickly become a standout leader for the Sun Devils with her extreme work ethic and tenacious mindset by just getting out there and working hard.
"I'm just doing my best," Houlihan says, "I want to show people what I can do."
She is doing exactly that. After her 24th place finish at the notable Roy Griak Invitational two weekends ago in her collegiate debut, Houlihan won't be sneaking up on anybody anymore. The finish was good enough to pace the team at the competition and lead them to an 11th place finish among well over 20 teams.
"I want to win every race and I go into every race to win," Houlihan remarks. It is this drive from Houlihan, along with her young teammates, that could hopefully lead them to nationals before all is said and done.
Coach Cole recognizes this overall mindset, expressing that he is "very fortunate to be able to come out to practice each day and have the group a women that they have recruited and to continue [as] highly achieving runners."
Hoping to add to this expected achievement is another rising freshman, Macy Bricks out Clovis, Calif. Bricks was a national top-20 runner timewise at 3,200 meters during the track season as a senior last year and posted top-10 cross country finishes at the California State Meet as a junior and senior. She seems to have carried that impressive nature with her to ASU, scoring for the Sun Devils at the Griak meet in her collegiate debut as well, the second freshman in ASU's top-five behind Shelby Houlihan in this year's invitational.
"Everybody is good at this level and you have to put in a little extra work in [to be successful]," Bricks said.
The women of Arizona State's cross country team are definitely putting in that work. Before the sun has even risen and most college students are still sleeping, these women are off at practices before heading to weights, meetings and class before each day is over. The success behind this extra work is evident among the entire team, especially the freshmen as they make the critical transition from high school to collegiate competition.
Already, Coach Cole is "very confident in the freshmen." He feels because although they are very young, "they are all very accomplished and have all been in competitive situations". That's a trait that he and the rest team are relying on to guide them to victory.
Other notable freshmen include Carly Paracholski, a Canadian junior record holder at 800-meters and one of the team's more versatile runners as she has trained with the sprint team early this season as well. Payton Schutte was a member of the Jesuit High School (Portland, Ore.) distance team that advanced to the Nike Cross Country nationals all four years that she was a member of the team, winning three regional championships in the process.
Mackenzie Maki was the state cross country champion in Kansas as a junior and senior and won six individuals titles overall during her cross country and track and field career at Kapaun Mt. Carmel High School. Kayla Springford is another state champion out of Massachusetts and Shaina Corbin (Ohio) and Taylor Conway (Wisconsin) were also successful prep runners during their time.
With the freshman bringing a fresh start to the team, the Sun Devil women are looking to continue making their mark throughout the rest of the season's competitions, bypassing last year's finish at and adding to their historic list national appearances.