Spotlight: Arizona's Amy Skieresz
As the Conference celebrates 25 years of women's athletics in the Pac-10, there are several names of historic figures that easily roll of the tongue - Lisa Leslie, Tina Thompson, Misty May, to name a few. There is one name, however, known well in cross country and track & field circles, and a name that undoubtably belongs among the most prominent names in Pac-10 women's sports history: Amy Skiericsz.
Skieresz was a cross country and track & field athlete at the University of Arizona from 1996-99. In cross country, she is the only runner, male or female, to win the Pac-10 Championship individual crown four times. She became the first Pac-10 cross country female runner to win an NCAA individual title in 1996.
What is just as impressive, Skieresz lost only three times in her cross country and track & field career. And in the races she did not come in first, she placed no worse than second. It's worth repeating… in her three-and-a-half year collegiate career competing in cross country, and track & field (indoor and outdoor), the 10-time All-American was not at the top of the podium just three times.
"We've had many outstanding distance runners on the men's and women's side at the University of Arizona. She was probably the most hard-nosed runner," said former Wildcat head coach Dave Murray. "She was an ideal student-athlete. She never balked at anything I asked her to do. She was one of the finest young ladies."
In races, Skieresz took command early on, running out to lead the pack from the starting gun. Her strategy in running was to get out in front and stay out in front.
"Amy was very, very competitive," continued Murray. "There was nothing she would not do to get better and most times, worked out with the men. She liked to go out. She didn't wait around. [Her running style was], 'if you want to be me, you have to get me.' She was a frontrunner and we encouraged her to do that."
In the fall of 1997, Skieresz won the NCAA Region 8 title, nine days before the NCAA Championship meet. At the conclusion of the regional meet, Skieresz had been suffering a pain in her upper femur in her leg. Murray said, "Amy told the trainer she couldn't walk." Skieresz took the next week and a half off before the national meet.
At the national meet, Skieresz took off at the starting gun and took the lead as she normally did. This time, however, Michigan runner Katie McGregor over took the All-American down the stretch to win the 1997 NCAA Individual crown.
When the team returned from NCAA's, it was discovered that Skieresz had a benign tumor in her leg, causing her to redshirt the indoor and outdoor track and field season that year.
Skieresz returned to running the following fall and followed up with another Pac-10 Cross Country title, her fourth Pac-10 Athlete of the Year honor. Her track & field career also included two Pac-10 Athlete of the Year honors.
In 1997, Skieresz swept the Honda Award, presented to the top-collegiate women's athlete in her respective sport, winning for cross country and track and field. She went on to also win the prestigious honor in track and field in 1998.
Murray believes Skieresz could have been the most decorated women's runner in NCAA history. Winning seven individual national titles in her career, she was two shy of tying Suzy Hamilton's record of nine, before deciding to forgo her last spring season of eligibility. In 1996-97, she became the first woman in NCAA history to win four national titles in one season.
After having already graduated in the winter and deciding to forgo her spring season, Skieresz joined the professional ranks for a short while, training in Australia. Alongside her, was Ryan Wilson, a national champion distance runner from Arkansas. Wilson and Skieresz would eventually get married after having known each other since high school.
When she returned back to the United States, Skieresz returned to Tucson as an assistant coach under current Wildcat mentor, James Li. She then returned to Southern California where she coached at Oak Park High School in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Now, Skieresz is awaiting her third child with Ryan. She continues to run recreationally. Before having children, Skieresz had started running road races, including marathons.
"In my own personal opinion, if she had continued running, she would have been one of the best marathoners the United States would have had over the last number of years," said Murray. "She just had so much natural ability, was a great worker."
A list of accomplishments almost too numerous to mention, Amy Skieresz is among the UA's greatest athletes in any sport in the history of the athletic program. Won six individual national titles in track and field and one in cross country. Was a three-time runner up at the NCAA Cross Country Championships and won the 1996 individual title. Won the Pac-10 Cross Country individual title all four years of competition. Completed the impressive 5000m-10000m double not once, but twice, winning the events at both the 1997 and 1998 NCAA Championships. Won back to back 5000-meter titles indoors as well during that span. Was named the the USTFCCCA's Silver Anniversary team as the 10,000-meter selection. She earned two Honda Awards in the same year, a feat essentially unheard of, for her dominance in both cross country and track and field during the 1996-97 season. She added a third Honda Award as a senior. Holds the school record in the 5000- and 10000-meters.