ASU cross country enters 2016 season with new faces and high hopes

The Sun Devils aim for a deep NCAA run behind veterans and driven underclassmen.

Arguably the most talented and under-the-radar athletic program at ASU, the cross country team is just over a week away from kicking off its 2016 campaign.

With the season-opening meet in Flagstaff, Arizona, closing in, final preparations for the season are wrapping up in the heat of the Arizona summer.

WHO & WHAT?

Led by a trio of seniors, C.J. Albertson, Ian Roberts and Bernie Montoya, the men’s team brings a wealth of experience this fall. Montoya, a former top recruit, looks to defend and improve upon his top-30 finish at the 2015 national championship meet.

Head coach Louie Quintana raved about the men's squad.

“Our expectation is obviously to really make a good run with our front runners C.J. Albertson, Bernie Montoya and John Reniewicki," Quintana said. "They can really put us in a position to challenge for a spot in the national championships.”

Albertson, a redshirt senior who finished top 20 in last year’s Pac-12 championship meet, looks to compete with the elite pack this season. As far as the team is concerned, he sees a bright future with the wealth of seasoned runners.

“We have a lot of guys that are making the transition from being the younger, new guys to being the upperclassmen,” Albertson said. “It’s exciting at practice because everybody is in it to be good and a lot of people are at that point in their career where they’re really trying to make a jump."

The women’s team has a bit of a different outlook.

With nine of of their 16 runners being either freshmen or redshirt freshmen, the ASU women will have a challenging task ahead of getting back to NCAA championships.

Senior Chelsey Albertson, who is married to C.J. from the men's team, doesn’t necessarily see that lack of experience as a bad thing.

“We do have a lot of new freshmen, which is really exciting, because this year’s a new group of girls that are ready to come in and have a positive impact on the team,” she said. “I think they really understand that we need them now, and we really need some of them to step up to the plate."

Quintana agrees, and knows this group has the ability to go above and beyond the limitations that many may expect to stem from their novice nature.

“Sometimes when people say they’re young, they don’t really mean young, they mean inexperienced; we're both young and inexperienced,” Quintana said. “That will present some challenges, but it won’t present a crutch. Our women are training well — they’re excited for the fall.”

Albertson has developed quite the leadership role in her fifth season with ASU and is looking to use that both on and off the course in order to build team chemistry, despite the many new faces.

"I want to show them what it looks like to train hard and to train at a higher level ... and just setting a good example in the intensity of the running," she said. "Also, just helping them transition from high school into college and just making sure that they're having a good experience. 

"Because if they're not happy outside of running, they're probably not going to run well, and I want them to enjoy their time here."

Other names to know on the women’s side include redshirt senior Kaitlin Kaluzny, who will help lead the way alongside Albertson, and incoming freshman Megan Reniewicki, whose brother is one of the seniors on the men’s side.

WHERE & WHEN?

The Sun Devils' schedule is perfectly designed for success and setting up the team to reach its ultimate goal of an NCAA bid. Over the course of six weeks in late September and October, ASU will have meets in Tucson, Sacramento and Terre Haute, Indiana, that will preview their three key races at the end of the season on the same courses.

That familiarity is a key advantage ASU can use come November when it looks to make a statement at its three biggest events.

“Personally, I think it’s the best schedule that we’ve had,” C.J. Albertson said. “Usually, in my experience, you always run better on a course the second time you run it. In high school, we had a course we ran five times throughout the year, and each time we’d get better on that course, so I think going to these meets and running each course twice will give us that mental aspect because we’ll know it best when we go into the championship part of the season."

In another sense, the geographic layout of the schedule helps ASU, as only two meets will take place outside of either Arizona or California.

Not only should the several meets closer to home benefit ASU in terms of a travel budget, but those races will allow some of the younger runners — particularly on the women’s side — to gain experience prior to the key late-season meets.

According to Quintana, the goal of lower-profile, in-state meets like the George Kyte Invitational, the Arizona State Invitational and the Arizona Twilight, are to develop the sport of cross country in Arizona in a joint effort between the state’s Division I coaches.

“Our coaches within our state — the NAU coach, myself and the U of A coach — we all thought it would be good to showcase our sport to the community," he said. "So we each host a meet that is beneficial to all of our programs throughout the fall that can help not only our good athletes, but some of our developmental athletes continue to get better."

The first of those three smaller Arizona-based races will kick off the season on Sept. 3, as the first leg of the long course to NCAA championships for ASU cross country.


Reach the reporter at jeff.griffith21@asu.edu or follow @Jeff_Griffith21 on Twitter.

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