Cross Country Teams Set Sights on NCAA Championships

Nov. 15, 2001

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This Week --
After receiving at-large bids to the nation's top collegiate meet, the 10th-ranked Arizona State women's cross country team and the 15th-ranked men will travel to Greenville, S.C., for the 2001 NCAA Cross Country Championships, Monday, Nov. 19. The Sun Devil women will make their fourth consecutive trip to nationals, while the men will compete for the second time in three years. The event is hosted by Furman University at the Furman Golf Course. The men's 10,000-meter race begins at 11 a.m. EST, followed by the women's 6,000-meter race at 12:15 p.m. EST.

The Field --
The Sun Devils will be competing on the highest collegiate stage, going toe-to-toe with 18 teams that qualified automatically for nationals by finishing in the top-two places in each regional championship, plus 13 teams chosen as at-large selections. ASU's women placed third and the men fourth at the West Regional Championships, helping their cause to be chosen as at-large selections. From the West on the men's side, Stanford and Portland were the automatic qualifiers with Oregon, Arizona State and UC Santa Barbara earning the at-large selections. On the women's side, Stanford and Arizona were the automatic qualifiers from the West Region, while Arizona State, Washington and UCLA received the at-large bids.

Sun Devils in the Polls --
The final national rankings were released this week, with the ASU women ending up at No. 10 in the FinishLynx poll and the men at No. 15 in the MONDO poll. The Sun Devil women moved up a spot from last week's 11th-place ranking, while the men fell down a spot from last week's ranking of 14th. The women's highest ranking this season was a tie for fourth, while the men's top ranking was 14th.

ASU Men's Preview --
Junior All-American Fasil Bizuneh has been the men's leader all season, placing fourth at Regionals, second at the Pac-10 meet, third at the Roy Griak and fifth at the NCAA Pre-Meet. Sophomore Juan Reyes was ASU's top finisher in the first two meets of the year, winning the UC Irvine Invitational and finishing second at the Roy Griak. Reyes finished ninth at Pac-10s and 28th at Regionals. Junior Ronnie Buchanan has come on strong in the last three showings as ASU's third-best finisher at the NCAA Pre-Meet (41st) and second best at Pac-10s (eighth) and Regionals (14th). Freshman J.J. Duke (15th at Pac-10s, 21st at Regionals) and senior J.R. Cox (46th at Pac-10s, 51st at Regionals) have been consistent fourth and fifth runners for ASU.

ASU Women's Preview --
The women have been led by the one-two punch of senior All-Americans Lisa Aguilera and Kelly MacDonald. Aguilera has been ASU's front-runner and the team's highest finisher at the Roy Griak (second), NCAA Pre-Meet (third), Pac-10s (seventh) and Regionals (third). MacDonald has been at Aguilera's heels, finishing third at the Roy Griak, seventh at the NCAA Pre-Meet, 10th at Pac-10s and sixth at Regionals. Senior Brianna Torres has been ASU's consistent number three runner, and at Pac-10s edged MacDonald with a ninth-place finish, before also placing ninth at Regionals. Junior Cody Sohn (33rd at Regionals) has been solid in the fourth spot, leading ASU at the UC Irvine Invitational (fourth), but missed Pac-10s with a migraine. Freshman Desiree Davila (22nd at Pac-10s, 34th at Regionals) has made a smooth transition from high school to the collegiate ranks, having scored in every major meet for the Sun Devils. Senior Nikki Simmons (43rd at Pac-10s, 38th at Regionals) has also been a solid member of ASU's top group.

NCAA Experience --
On the men's team, only Fasil Bizuneh has previously competed at the NCAA Championships, earning All-America honors in 1999 with a 19th-place finish. The women will bring an experienced group to Furman, with five of their likely seven runners having competed at nationals previously. Lisa Aguilera is the most seasoned veteran, making her fourth trip to NCAAs (2000 All-American), while Kelly MacDonald (1999 All-American), Brianna Torres and Cody Sohn are all making their third appearances, and Nikki Simmons is making her second. Jen Hurbis was the alternate on the 2000 squad.

NCAA Championship History --
As a team, the ASU women are making their fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships. In 1998 and 1999, ASU earned at-large bids to nationals after placing sixth and third in regional competition in those years, respectively. Last year, the women earned their first automatic bid with a school-record second-place finish at regionals. ASU then went on to set another school-best with a sixth-place finish at the 2000 NCAA Championships in Ames, Iowa, improving upon its 12th-place national finish in 1999 and its 23rd-place finish (tie) in 1998. Last year, Lisa Aguilera turned in a school-best fifth-place finish at the NCAA Championships, becoming the third Sun Devil woman to earn cross country All-America honors. Aguilera improved upon the previous record finish by Kelly MacDonald, ASU's second All-American who finished 36th in 1999. Priscilla Hein earned All-America honors with a 39th-place finish in 1998. On the men's side, ASU has only made one team appearance in school history. ASU earned an at-large bid to nationals in 1999 after a school-record third place finish at regionals. That year Fasil Bizuneh became the third ASU male to earn All-Academic honors with a 19th-place finish at nationals, leading the team to a 14th-place finish. Bizuneh's individual finish was the third-best in ASU history, behind All-Americans Todd Lewis in 1991 (11th) and Larry Lawson in 1974 (16th).

West Regional Recap --
ASU's women finished third and the men finished fourth at the 2001 NCAA Western Regional Championships hosted by the University of Arizona at the Randolph North Golf Course in Tucson, Ariz., Nov. 10. With 83 points, ASU's women set a new school-best regional point total, but just missed matching their school-best second place finish and an automatic bid to nationals, finishing third by just three points behind Arizona (80). Stanford swept both team titles, with the women tallying 39 points and the men 37. ASU's men (116 points) also finished behind Portland (91) and Oregon (112). Six Sun Devils earned All-Region honors including Lisa Aguilera (third place), Kelly MacDonald (sixth), Brianna Torres (ninth) on the women's side, and Fasil Bizuneh (fourth), Ronnie Buchanan (14th) and J.J. Duke (21st) on the men's side. Aguilera led the women, finishing the 6,000m course in 20:54.5 only behind Arizona's Tara Chaplin (20:40.1) and Stanford's Lauren Fleshman (20:52.0). Last year, Aguilera won the West Region title. Once again, Bizuneh was the men's team leader, finishing the 10,000m circuit in 30:59.1. ASU's team finishes were one spot shy of their school-best regional finishes, second for the women (2000) and third for the men (1999).

Pac-10 Championship Recap --
Led by second-place finisher Fasil Bizuneh, the Arizona State men's cross country team earned a runner-up finish at the 2001 Pac-10 Cross Country Championships at the Pavilion Lakes Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., Saturday, Oct. 27. ASU's women's team placed third led by seventh-place finisher Lisa Aguilera. Stanford swept the team titles, with three Cardinal runners finishing in the top-five on both the men's and women's sides, including individual winners Grant Robison and Lauren Fleshman. Completing the men's 8,000m course in 24:06.4, just two seconds behind Robison, Bizuneh's second-place finish was the highest for an ASU male at the conference meet. As a team, the men also etched their name in the Sun Devil record books, setting a school record with a second-place finish, surpassing three straight fourth-place finishes. ASU's men had three top-10 finishers: Bizuneh (second), junior Ronnie Buchanan (eighth) and sophomore Juan Reyes (ninth). Like the men, ASU's women had three finishers completing the 6,000m course among the top-10: Aguilera (seventh), senior Brianna Torres (ninth) and senior Kelly MacDonald (10th). Those six Sun Devils earned All-Pac-10 honors, the largest number of ASU runners to earn the distinction in a single season. As a team, the women earned their third-straight top-three finish in as many seasons, having been the Pac-10 runner-up the last two years.

Pre-NCAA Meet Recap --
ASU's fourth-ranked women finished third in the Women's Purple race, while the 15th-ranked men finished ninth in the Men's Gold competition at the Furman Invitational/NCAA Pre-National Invitational hosted by Furman University in Greenville, S.C., Sat., Oct. 13. In a preview of the NCAA Championships, senior Lisa Aguilera finished third (21:05) and senior Kelly MacDonald finished seventh (21:29) on the 6,000-meter course. Also scoring for ASU were senior Brianna Torres (30th), junior Cody Sohn (35th) and freshman Desiree Davila (65th). On the men's side, ASU's ninth-place finish in the 8,000-meter Gold race was bolstered by junior Fasil Bizuneh, placing fifth (24:25). Also scoring for ASU were sophomore Juan Reyes (21st), junior Ronnie Buchanan (41st), freshman J.J. Duke (77th) and senior J.R. Cox (87th).

Women Win '01 Roy Griak Crown --
For the second time in three years, ASU's women's cross country team won the 6,000m race title at the University of Minnesota's Roy Griak Invitational at the Les Bolstad Golf Course, Saturday, Sept. 29. The women combined for 109 points at the prestigious annual meet, while the ASU men tallied 267 points to place eighth in the men's 8,000m competition. Both ASU teams had two of the top three finishers in each race, as seniors Lisa Aguilera and Kelly MacDonald took second and third on the women's side, while sophomore Juan Reyes and junior Fasil Bizuneh finished two-three, respectively, on the men's side. ASU's women, who won their first Roy Griak title in 1999, were led by Aguilera's third-straight runner-up finish at the meet.

Head Coach Walt Drenth --
In his sixth year at the helm of the Arizona State cross country program, Walt Drenth continues to take the Sun Devils to unprecedented heights. Last year Drenth was named the USTCA West Region Women's Coach of the Year and for the second-straight season earned Pac-10 Women's Coach of the Year honors. Drenth has guided ASU to school record conference, regional and national finishes (including the teams' first four NCAA team appearances), while producing three All-Americans and two Academic All-Americans. Drenth came to Tempe after spending the previous six years (1990-95) at the College of William & Mary and six years at Central Michigan (1985-90). He is a nine-time conference coach of the year and four-time district coach of the year, and has led nine squads to the NCAA Championships. Included in Drenth's ASU coaching staff are graduate assistant Corey Ihmels and volunteer assistant Michelle Borgert.

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