After two tuneup meets earlier in the year, the ASU cross-country team will compete in their first major event on Friday at the Notre Dame Invitational in South Bend, Ind.
The Notre Dame Invitational is the larger of the two meets the cross-country team will be competing in, as ASU’s “B” team will be competing in the ASU Invitational at Toka Sticks Golf Course in Mesa.
The Notre Dame race is the first meet in which ASU can start earning points toward being awarded an at-large bid in the NCAA national meet, in case ASU does not automatically qualify.
ASU will be facing some of the toughest competition in the country at the meet on Friday.
Of the 23 teams competing on the men’s side, seven are nationally ranked, with No. 11 Tulsa and No. 15 Providence the highest-ranked squads. ASU is currently unranked after dropping out of the No. 29 spot last weekend.
ASU will be sending a total of eight men to compete this weekend: Senior Brandon Bethke, juniors Ben Engelhardt, Jeff Helmer, Patrick Milloy and Zeke Van Patten, sophomore Dylan Hatcher and freshmen Nick Happe and Doug Smith.
ASU coach Louie Quintana thinks his men’s squad is prepared.
“The group is doing a great job just continuing to progress, and this will be the first test for this team,” he said. “Our guys are really confident, but we’re being careful not to drink our own Kool-Aid. They understand that we need to continue to go to work and execute on Friday and see where we’re at and make some adjustments going into pre-nationals and Pac-10s.”
The No. 13 women’s team has much higher expectations than the men’s squad, simply by virtue of its higher national ranking.
The women will also be facing tougher competition. Ten of the 20 teams competing at Notre Dame are ranked, including No. 1 Washington, No. 3 Florida State and No. 6 Princeton. At No. 13, ASU will be the fifth-highest-ranked team in the field.
“We feel really good about what we’re doing going in there,” Quintana said. “Our goal is really to be in the top five and start earning some points toward an at-large bid for the national meet in case we don’t finish in the top two in the Pac-10.”
Seniors Ali Kielty and Allie Kieffer and junior Camille Olson will not be running due to injury, leaving the Sun Devils without three of their top seven runners.
Nonetheless, Quintana isn’t too worried, due to ASU’s impressive depth.
“We’re really deep, and we have some parts that we can add in there and inject some life into the group,” Quintana said. “We’re very well off with [senior] Kari Hardt and [junior] Anna Sperry, and we expect them to lead our team. Having two girls who could potentially be low-scoring is going to help our cause on Friday.”
Joining Hardt and Sperry will be redshirt freshman Kate Lydy, junior Cherise McNair, senior Angela Spadafino and sophomores Lindsay Prescott and Kauren Tarver.
The ASU “B” teams will be competing in the ASU Invitational as well at Toka Sticks Golf Course in Mesa.
Competing in the invitational will be the “B” teams from UA and NAU as well as 10 other teams from the community college and lower division ranks.
The meet will be the central event of the Desert Twilight Cross Country Festival.