UA Women's Cross Country 2001 Outlook

Sept. 25, 2001

The University of Arizona women's cross country team was on the cusp of greatness in 2000, finishing third at both the Pacific-10 Conference Championships and the NCAA West Regional. The team placed 19th at the NCAA Championships, but this year's team is poised to be even stronger.

Six of the team's seven runners from last year's NCAA Championship squad return, and the Wildcats have a not-so-secret weapon in store for 2001.

The addition of senior Abby Peters to the Wildcats' lineup could have the biggest impact on a team of any newcomer in the conference, maybe even the nation. Peters sat out the 2000 season under NCAA transfer rules after coming to Arizona from Boise State.

As a member of the Broncos' squad in 1999, Peters won the Big West cross country championship and also claimed conference titles in the 3,000m and 10,000m during the 2000 track and field season. Peters then went on to earn All-America honors in both cross country and track and field at NCAA Championship events, notching a best finish of seventh in the 10,000m on the track.

While Peters' talents are amongst the best in the conference and nation, she will toe the starting line with one of the other best runners in the collegiate ranks.

Not to be overshadowed by the newcomer, Tara Chaplin returns for her senior season, during which she will set out to defend her 2000 Pac-10 title. Chaplin claimed the individual crown at the conference meet in Seattle by over 10 seconds.

'Tara defined herself as one of the best runners in the nation last year by winning the Pac-10 title,' head coach Dave Murray said. 'She is coming back this year with another year of experience, as well as a lot more confidence.'

Chaplin won a total of three races last season, including titles at the Purdue Invitational and Roy Griak Invitational in the first two races of the year. Her biggest win came at the Pac-10 Championship, when she became just the second Arizona woman (Amy Skieresz, 1995-98) to win a conference cross country title.

'Adding Abby to our team gives us a considerable one-two punch this season,' Murray said. 'They are both runners who are going to make a big impact on both the conference and national levels this year, and they give us a lot of strength up front for the team.'

The duo is joined on the team by another senior who made a mark on the nation track and field scene last year. Tucson native Erin Doherty is back for her final season of cross country eligibility - she finished her track and field eligibility in 2001 - as another who can run at the front of the pack for the Wildcats.

Doherty was the team's number four runner at the NCAA West Regional and the NCAA Championships last season before coming into her own during the track and field season. Doherty dropped her personal-best times in the 1,500m several times during the season, running a best of 4:19.42, the third-fastest time in school history.

With that time, Doherty qualified for the NCAA Track and Field Championships, where she advanced through the preliminary rounds, but fell in the final and finished 12th. Nonetheless, she earned the first All-America honors of her career.

'Erin showed just a part of what she has in store,' Murray said. 'She has a lot of speed to be able to put up those kind of times in the 1,500m, but she also can run the longer distances and is going to be a very productive runner for us this year.'

One of the brightest spots for the Wildcats at the end of the 2000 season was the emergence of Jennifer Burris, who finished as the team's second runner at the NCAA West Regional and NCAA Championships. Now a senior, Burris is expected to be one of the team's top runners this season.

'Jennifer really picked us up at the end of the year after not running as well early in the season,' Murray said. 'She has a lot of potential, and is going to be a big factor for us this year.'

Junior Kim Bates returns after a season as one of the team's most consistent runners. She finished as the Wildcats' fourth runner in four of the seven races and was the third finisher in another.

Fellow junior Nicole Gurnicz, who transferred from Boise State with Peters before the 2000 season, was also a solid contributor as a sophomore. Gurnicz finished 10th overall and was the team's third finisher at the Pac-10 Championships.

Beth Hoge made a solid contribution for the Wildcats as a true freshman, and then found her niche on the track at the longer distances. Hoge ran the team's second-best time in the 1,500m, 4:27.22, but she also clocked an NCAA provisional qualifying time of 16:37.17 in the 5,000m.

'Kim, Nicole and Beth were both very solid runners for us last season,' Murray said. 'Their experience and talent is going to be vital for us this season.'

The Wildcats will also be bolstered by one of the top prep runners in the nation last season. Amber Steen won the C.I.F. state championship last season at Newport Harbor High School in Orange County, Calif.

Arizona once again will battle some of the best teams in the nation this season. The Wildcats open their season on Sept. 15 at the Brigham Young Invitational in Provo, Utah, before returning to the Roy Griak Invitational two weeks later.

Maine will be the next stage for the Wildcats where they will run at the Murray Keatinge Invitational for the first time since 1999. Arizona will then travel to the Pre-NCAA Invitational in Greenville, S.C., which will also be the home of the NCAA Championships on Nov. 19.

The first two weeks of the championship season for Arizona will be held in the Grand Canyon State. Arizona State will play host to the Pac-10 Championships on Oct. 27, and the Wildcats will play host to the NCAA West Regional on Nov. 10.

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