The Meet: The University of Arizona mens and womens cross country teams begin their "Championship" seasons Saturday, Oct. 28, at the Pacific-10 Conference Championships hosted by the University of Washington in Seattle.
The womens 6,000m race begins at 11 a.m. (PDT/MST), and the mens race follows at 12:15 p.m. The races will be run in Lincoln Park, just South of downtown Seattle. Typical Pacific Northwest weather is expected to greet the runners with temperatures in the upper 50s and showers possible.
The Competition: The Pac-10 Conference has been among the best in the NCAA over the past several years, and this season is no different. Four Pac-10 teams are ranked in the top-8 of the womens poll, and two are in the top-10 of the mens poll. The No. 8 Arizona women will face stiff challenges from No. 2 Stanford, No. 4 Arizona State and No. 6 Washington. The No. 10 Wildcat men will face tough competition from No. 3 Stanford, No. 13 Oregon, No. 27 Washington and No. 29 Arizona State.
On the Defensive: The Arizona men are out to repeat as Pac-10 Champions for the first time since the Wildcats won the 1986 and 87 titles. Last year, all five Arizona runners finished in the top-11, led by second-place finisher Micheil Jones, and the Wildcats topped Stanford 36-63. Three of Arizonas scorers -- David Lopez (5th), Steve Smith (8th) and Tom Prindiville (11th) -- and its No. 6 finisher -- Mike Cramer (14th) -- return this season.
Last Time Out: Both the Wildcat men and women had excellent performances at the Oct. 14 Pre-NCAA Invitational in Ames, Iowa. The men finished sixth out of 53 teams, and the women were seventh of 56 on the course that will host the NCAA Championships, Nov. 20. Mike Cramer led the men with an 11th place finish, while David Lopez and Tom Prindiville were 46th and 51st, respectively. Tara Chaplin was the top finisher for the Arizona women in 10th, while Katrin Engelen finished 22nd.
Whos Going: Both the mens and the womens teams have developed solid seven-runner lineups so far this season. Going for the women will be senior Katrin Engelen, juniors Tara Chaplin, Erin Dohertyand Jennifer Burris, sophomores Kimberly Bates and Nicole Gurnicz, and freshman Beth Hoge. The mens team will send seniors David Lopez and Rick Weis, juniors Mike Cramer, Tom Prindiville and Steve Smith, and freshmen Andrew Carlson and Mike Howard.
For the Women: All five of the Arizona womens top finishers at the 1999 NCAA Championships are back this season. Led by junior Tara Chaplin, Arizonas No. 1 runner last year, the Wildcats are a deep and talented team from 1-7 in the running order. Chaplin is a three-time All-American in track and field and returns as one of the top cross country runners in the nation this year. Chaplin handily won the Purdue Invitational and Roy Griak Invitational already this season and then finished 10th at the Pre-NCAA Invitational. Senior Katrin Engelen showed her long-distance strength during the 2000 track and field season, when she qualified for the 10,000m at the NCAA Championships. She has been an excellent No. 2 runner this season, highlighted by a 22nd place finish at the Pre-NCAA meet. Junior Erin Doherty ran one of the best races of her collegiate career at the Notre Dame Invitational and is in great shape as the teams No. 3 runner this year. Sophomore Kimberly Bates was a quality No. 5-6 runner last year, but this season she has stepped up to run in the top-4 of the order in each of Arizonas races. Freshman Beth Hoge has acclimated herself well to collegiate competition, running as the teams No. 5 runner early in the season, while sophomore Nicole Gurnicz transferred during the off-season from Boise State and has looked solid in practice lately. Two-year letterwinner junior Jennifer Burris has also come on of late to further help the Wildcats depth.
And the Men: The greatest asset to the Arizona mens team has been its great depth this season. Without one big star for the team to rely on every race, a group of five has emerged as a pack that is capable of running together and finish strong in races. Junior Mike Cramer has been the teams top runner three times this season, winning the Purdue Invitational, finishing seventh at the Notre Dame Invitational and 11th at the Pre-NCAA Meet. Senior David Lopez was the teams top finisher at the Roy Griak Invitational in 15th. Junior Tom Prindiville, a 1,500m runner on the track, has run the best of his collegiate career this season. He finished 17th at the Roy Griak and 15th at the Notre Dame Invitational, running as the teams No. 2 runner both times. Junior Steve Smith, a steepler on the track, has also been solid for the Wildcats, as has freshman Andrew Carlson. Senior Rick Weis made huge progress over the summer and has been a good contributor this year as the No. 6 runner.
Freshman Mike Howard made a bid early in the season to be the teams No. 7 runner and has held off two other freshman for the spot, running well in races thus far.
Going Polling: Arizonas strong distance heritage is evident again this season as both the mens and womens teams are ranked with the top teams in the nation. The womens team began the season unranked, but have ascended into the No. 8 spot of the Oct. 16 FinishLynx Division I womens rankings. The mens team started the season at No. 5, but is now at No. 9 in the Oct. 17 Mondo Division I mens poll.
Tara Terrific: Junior Tara Chaplin has established herself as one of the top runners in the collegiate arena over the past two years, contending in and winning several races in cross country and track and field. Last year, Chaplin picked up the third All-America honors of her career, finishing fifth in the 5,000m at the NCAA Indoor Championships. As a freshman, the Montpelier, Vt., native earned All-America honors in the indoor 5,000m and outdoor 10,000m. Chaplin won the first two races of the 1999 Cross Country season -- the Asics/UCI Invitational and Aztec Invitational. She also captured the title at the Wildcats first two races of 2000, winning the Purdue Invitational and Roy Griak Invitational crowns. She then finished 10th at the Pre-NCAA Meet.
Depth Charges: The mens team is lacking in the well-defined individual star, but depth is not a problem for the team this season. The Wildcats top five runners -- senior David Lopez, juniors Mike Cramer, Tom Prindiville and Steve Smith and freshman Andrew Carlson -- have shown they all have front-of-the-pack moxy. Cramer won the Purdue Invitational, while Lopez was the teams top finisher at the Roy Griak Invitational. Cramer was again the top finisher for the team at the Notre Dame Invitational in seventh and placed 11th at the Pre-NCAA Meet.
First Time For Everything: Arizona junior Mike Cramer won his first collegiate cross country race Sept. 9 at the Purdue Invitational, covering the 8,000m course in 25:23.4 to claim the individual title. After prepping at Tucsons Canyon del Oro High School, Cramer began his career at Arizona in 1997 when he walked-on to the team and was redshirted to mature another year. Cramer gained his first NCAA experience in 1998 when he was a solid No. 5 runner for the Wildcats throughout the season. Last year, he again helped add depth to the team, but continued to show his potential as he was the teams No. 3 runner and finished 74th overall at the NCAA Championships in Bloomington, Ind. On the track, Cramer ran an NCAA provisional qualifying time in the 10,000m of 29:46.16 at the Stanford Invitational. Arizona head coach Dave Murray says Cramer is one of the hardest workers he has ever coached, and his diligence in training is paying off for him individually and for the team this season. He was again the teams top finisher at the Notre Dame Invitational (7th) and Pre-NCAA Invitational (11th).
Arizona Head Coach Dave Murray: The dean of Arizona coaches, Dave Murray (Arizona 65, 68) begins his 34th season as a head coach at Arizona. He has been at the helms of the mens cross country program since 1968, and the womens program has been under his direction since 1976. Murray has also been the head track and field coach since 1982, and is one of the most respected coaches in the nation. Murray has 146 All-Americans to his credit: 106 in track and field, 40 in cross country.
Murrays Musings: "I think that we are going to be very strong in both of the races based on how well we have run against many of these teams this year. Stanford goes into both of the races as the favorites, but we cant just concede to them. That is what a lot of people did last year, but we ran a great race and beat them on the mens side. We dont have someone who is going to contend for the individual title on the mens side like we did last year with Micheil (Jones), but we have three or four guys who are going to be right up in there for the top-10. Tara (Chaplin) has a real shot at the womens title, and Katrin (Engelen) is going to be in the hunt for a top spot, too. The key for us is going to be getting strong races from both of our No. 5 runners."