Promising pace ahead for cross-country teams

Women’s cross-country coach Ryan Cole observes his athletes stretching during a practice last year. ASU men and women’s cross-country teams begin their season in NAU’s George Kyte Invitational in Flagstaff on Saturday. (Photo by Lisa Bartoli)

A balanced group of seasoned veterans and talented, younger upperclassmen is what the men’s ASU cross-country team is running with this year.

On the women’s side, the team has four returners who competed in last year’s national championships, and the young squad is led by one of the nation’s best.

After two years of just failing to qualify for the NCAA Championships, the men’s team has been making sure it won’t happen for a third time.

“I think minimum expectation level is to make it to the national meet,” men’s coach Louie Quintana said. “So we’re just trying to take care of business everyday, right now. We had a great summer of training, which is really kind of the backbone of any cross-country season, so  the guys are ready to go.”

Most cross-country runners also compete in track and field the following spring, as did most of ASU’s athletes last year.

“They’ve had great track seasons, and lots of these guys were All-Americans on the track, which is a lot harder to do on the track than in cross-country, so you know, the work has been put in this summer,” Quintana said. “Best summer we’ve had as a group, period — since I’ve been coaching, since 2004.”

Being a sport so reliant on conditioning, it has become prevalent in cross-country that the work a team may put in months before the season starts ends up either paying off, or it doesn’t.

Seniors Nick Happe and Darius Terry look to be veteran contributors this year.

The ASU women’s team looks to bounce back this year after finishing last in the NCAA Championship meet last season.

The Sun Devils were led all season by 2011 Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year, sophomore Shelby Houlihan. Houlihan finished eighth out of all freshmen at the national meet last year, and is on pace to be one of the top runners in the country this season.

“She’s extremely talented, but not just in the traditional sense,” women’s coach Ryan Cole said. “She has those very unique gifts, but she’s an extremely tough competitor and physically is very strong. She has a very strong mental ability to just dial and do her work.

“She was our number one girl last year, so we expect her to run in the front of a lot of races, looking to be an All-American this fall.”

Fellow sophomore, Macy Bricks, will be another top contributor this season.

With seven newcomers to the team, the summer had to entail a certain amount of adapting to the crucial ASU cross-country values.

“It was pretty good,” Cole said. “With the young team there’s a lot of variation between some of the new girls coming in with very different training backgrounds, then some of our older girls who are a bit more experienced with training.

“But the most important thing coming out of the summer is having as many of your team healthy and intact and pretty good condition ready to begin the cross country season. We felt as if we had a pretty good summer and are in a good position for the year.”

While both teams haven’t received any Top 25 votes, it wouldn’t be surprising if these teams ended up near the upper echelon as the season progresses.

Both teams’ underclassmen have a lot of potential and the success of the season may be a testament to how well these newcomers are able to perform.

 

Reach the reporter at gdemano@asu.edu