Sept. 23, 2010
FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. – The 2010 cross country season will begin its kick into full gear this weekend as the Arizona men’s and women’s squads head to Falcon Heights, Minn., to take part in the 25th Annual Roy Griak Invitational hosted by the University of Minnesota.
The teams will face off against some of the premiere competition in the country Saturday at Les Bolstad Golf Course, a far cry from the two essentially warm-up meets they have taken part in to begin the season. This will mark the first time since 2006 that the Arizona team has taken part in the early season event, which has been a staple on the early season cross country circuit for a quarter of a century.
The women’s side features nine teams of the last season’s NCAA Championship field will be in attendance, including the UA squad. Duke (7th) is the highest ranking team in attendance according to the latest USTFCCCA Rankings, but will face stiff competition from the likes of Providence (14th), Iowa State (15th), New Mexico (18th) and Arizona, who checked in at No. 24 in the most recent poll.
The women are bouncing back from a dominating performance last weekend at the Dave Murray Invitational at home and will look to set themselves apart as contenders this weekend. Three of Arizona’s point scorers at the Dave Murray Meet were freshman, an impressive sign of the depth the program now carries as any one of the upperclassmen who finished behind them could very well post impressive results as the season goes on as well.
The men will face some equally stuff competition with six teams from last year’s NCAA Championships in attendance. The race will mark the first of the season for junior transfer Stephen Sambu against real quality collegiate opponents and could serve as a gage from how he will fare as the season progress. Sambu has yet to lose a race in his junior college and Division I collegiate career.
The men’s 8,000-meter Gold race will kick off at 12:20 p.m. and will be followed by the women’s 6,000-meter run at 1:10. This will be the longest race, distance-wise, that both teams have taken part in this season.
Last Time Out
The then-No. 23 UA women obliterated the competition from in-state rival Arizona State, claiming eight of the top ten positions at the Dave Murray Invitational on Nov. 17.
The Wildcat’s lone home meet helped serve as a coming out party for the UA’s trio of freshmen, who finished fourth, fifth and sixth for Arizona, earning three of the five scoring positions for the team.
Junior Hannah Moen took home the individual title for the women in her first collegiate cross country victory. Moen was marred by injuries during the last cross country campaign and was forced to sit out last year’s Dave Murray meet but returned in style last Friday.
On the men’s side, junior transfer Stephen Sambu carried over his undefeated collegiate streak from the junior college ranks, winning the men’s title for Arizona. Sambu allowed Olympian and former World Champion Bernard Lagat to pull him along during the race, edging the American great in a sprint to the finish.
Wildcats In The Rankings
Despite a dominating performance Dave Murray Invite, the UA women dropped a spot in this weeks USTFCCCA Coaches Poll from No. 23 to No. 24. The Arizona women will be the first to tell you that rankings don’t matter too much though, especially this early in the season and will simply look to prove themselves on the track this weekend. The Wildcats have been ranked in the top-25 in all three polls released this season.
The men were unranked in this week’s polls.
The last time the UA competed at the Griak Invitational was 2006 and culminated in a UA victory in the event on the men’s side, led by Arizona great Robert Cheseret. A repeat performance is highly unlikely as the Wildcats make their return to Falcon Heights but the UA does bring Stephen Sambu who could wind up being every bit the runner Cheseret was. It wouldn’t hurt to keep an eye on him for the men’s individual title.
The UA women have never been the team victors at the Griak but have posted strong finishes in the past – most recently a third-place finish in 2001, led by Tara Chaplin.
Welcome aboard, Freshmen
The Dave Murray Invite has served as an introduction to impressive freshmen in each of the past three seasons. Two years ago, Hannah Moen and Hanna Henson appeared on the scene for the Wildcats and have remained important members of the rosters since.
Last season, the UA introduced their 11 freshmen runners at the meet, many of which would go on to lead the Wildcats to the first NCAA berth in eight seasons. The freshmen landed three of the five scoring spots at last year’s event.
Last Friday, UA coaches and fan got a first glimpse of the future in a trio of new freshmen in Elvin Kibet, Amanda Russell and Erin Menefee. Kibet had already shown she was the real deal two weeks earlier at a race in Flagstaff but Russell, a two-time Foot Locker finalist, and Menefee, a star in the prep ranks out of San Diego, made their collegiate debuts in style. The trio placed in three of the five scoring spots for the Wildcats and helped clinch the dominating victory over the Sun Devils.
Moen ‘Em Down
Junior Hannah Moen will not be sneaking up on anyone this year. The Flagstaff native that quietly flew under the radar during her first two seasons has consistently proven she is the real deal, most recently in her impressive victory at the Dave Murray Invitational.
As a freshman, Moen was typically Arizona’s number two or three runner during the cross country season and enjoyed a productive track season as well. Last year, battling injury, Moen struggled during the cross country campaign but returned with a vengeance during the track season. Moen was an All-Conference runner indoors and outdoors, set the school record in the steeplechase and advanced to the NCAA final in the event.
The Dave Murray invite to start the year solidifies Moen as a solid competitor who will be expected to help lead the way on this fairly young team as the year goes on.