Dec. 1, 2010
WALNUT CREEK, Calif. – University of Arizona cross country star Stephen Sambu has been named both the Pacific-10 Conference cross country Athlete of the Year and Newcomer of the Year and James Li was voted as the Women’s Coach of the Year as announced by conference commissioner Larry Scott on Wednesday.
Sambu’s impressive inaugural campaign as a Wildcat ended with a runner-up finish to Liberty’s Sam Chelanga at the NCAA National Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., last Monday. Chelanga entered the race as the defending champion and overall favorite to repeat though Sambu pushed him the entire race, falling just a couple seconds shy of the individual title in the end.
Sambu’s finish was the third best finish in Arizona men’s cross country history, behind only Aaron Ramirez’s individual title in 1986 and Martin Keino’s championship in 1994.
Sambu’s runner-up finish came in addition to finishing second at the NCAA West Regional Championships in Eugene, Ore., where he fell just six hundredths of a second shy of the overall title. Sambu also earned All-Conference honors earlier this year in finishing fifth at the Pac-10 Championships in Seattle.
Sambu began the year by winning the Roy Griak Invitational in Falcon Heights, Minn., and coming just shy of the course record in his first true cross country meet at the Division I level.
The Athlete of the Year honor marks the 11th time an Arizona athlete has earned the accolade in conference history and first since Robert Cheseret did it in 2005. Arizona’s total ranks them tops in the conference, ahead of Oregon (9), Washington State (7) and Stanford (6).
Sambu, a junior college transfer out of Rend Lake College in Ina, Ill., was also awarded the third Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year honor in Arizona history and first since Mohamed Trafeh earned the distinction in 2004. It was the first time in Pac-10 history that an athlete swept both conference awards.
Li is the second Arizona coach to win the award for the women’s team, following his predecessor Dave Murray who last earned the honor in 2001. It was the first Coach of Year honor for Li as women’s head coach at Arizona.
Li helped guide the women to their best season since the 2001 campaign, capped off by an 11th place finish at the NCAA National Championships – tops among Pac-10 Conference teams – with only one senior on the roster. The UA women finished second at the Pac-10 Championships, improving from fifth last year, to match their highest finish in conference history. The women were just three points out of winning the title.
The UA women also won the Griak Invitational to at the beginning of the season for the first time in school history and posted their best ever Pre-National Invitational finish ever, finishing second in Terre Haute at that meet.
The conference also released the official All-Conference teams on Wednesday, based on individual finishes at the Pac-10 Championships in Seattle. Sambu and sophomore Jennifer Bergman from the women’s squad earned first-team honors thanks to their top-7 finishes at the meet while freshman Elvin Kibet, sophomore Megan Meyer and junior Hannah Moen all earned second-team distinctions.
The athlete and coach of the year awards were decided by a vote of Pac-10 Conference coaches. The official release can be found by following the link above.