The ASU cross-country team got a debut to remember from one of its runners during the Notre Dame Invitational last weekend.
But it wasn’t a highly touted freshman jumping into the scene with an explosive race.
Instead, a second-place overall finish in the high-profile event went to a senior, in his first cross-country race at his new school, who is primed to put his name among Sun Devil greats.
Brandon Bethke was a star runner at Wisconsin for two years, in addition to a third year in which he redshirted.
He took home three Big Ten titles during his two years there in track and field and earned All-America honors in 2008 in the 3,000-meter run.
Bethke was named the 2008 Big Ten Indoor Athlete of the Year and the 2006 Big Ten Cross Country Newcomer of the Year.
By the end of his redshirt sophomore year, Bethke had carved his name into the annals of Big Ten track history, and it seemed like the sky was the limit. But after his sophomore season, something unexpected happened.
His head coach at Wisconsin, Jerry Schumacher, left the school to take a professional coaching job with Nike.
All of his training partners and his coach were gone, and Bethke had to decide if he wanted to stay at Wisconsin.
“I went to the University of Wisconsin for Jerry Schumacher to be my coach,” Bethke said. “When he made that decision [to leave], I had to sit down and I took the whole summer to pray and ask God what he thought I should do — and to get a lot of different opinions, get a lot of advice from a lot of different people.”
Bethke relied on his faith and his family, and in the end decided that ASU was where he belonged.
“I had just had this peace about coming to Arizona State,” Bethke said. “I just felt like this is really where God wanted me to be, and as frustrating as it was leaving the place I’d been for three years, I just felt for some reason that this is the place He wanted me, and I’ve just come to realize in the past year why.”
Bethke arrived on the ASU campus in fall 2008 ready to participate in cross country, but was unable to due to transfer issues.
He also missed the indoor track season but was cleared to participate in the outdoor track season.
Immediately, Bethke was a star. He added another conference title to his collection by winning the 5,000-meter run at the Pac-10 Championships, established himself as the best distance runner in the ASU program.
ASU cross-country coach Louie Quintana, who also coaches the distance runners during the track season, says Bethke is the leader of his team.
“Brandon is very committed for a guy who is as good as he is, and he’s vocal about it,” Quintana said. “You’ll have those leaders that just lead by example, but he’s vocal about it in a very positive way. He’s like a second coach out there.”
In addition, his coach said Bethke genuinely cares about his teammates and lacks the arrogance that sometimes comes with successful athletes.
“He’s very involved with how these guys are living their lives outside of practice and competition, but he’s also a guy you can just hang out with,” Quintana said. “Here’s a guy with a chance to win some national titles this year, or at least be in contention to do that, and he is just one of the guys.
“They see the level of commitment that he is putting in, and it’s been really valuable for every guy on my team.”
When Bethke races this weekend, it will be his first cross-country race since 2007.
“My last cross-country year, in 2007, I had some good races but it didn’t end as well as I wanted it to,” Bethke said. “I’ve made some really big progressions on the track, and since those progressions on the track, I haven’t had a cross-country race.
“It’ll be interesting to see how that ends up transpiring because it doesn’t exactly mean I’m going to be as good of a runner in cross country as I am on the track, but I think I can be.”
With the performances he’s already produced, many are thinking the same thing.