Nov. 21, 2009
NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP CENTRAL
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. - It was eight years in the making, but the Arizona women's cross country team will be back in action at the NCAA National Championships on Monday in Terre Haute, Ind.
After nearly a decade-long dry spell, a team comprised of one junior, two sophomores and five freshmen will respresent one of the youngest squads in UA history to compete in the biggest meet of them all.
The Wildcats will return to Terre Haute for the second time this season. The last time, at the NCAA Pre-National Meet, an unranked Arizona team shocked the country by finishing sixth in the respective race and 12th overall against 18 top thirty teams in the nation.
Monday at the LaVern Gibson Championship Golf Course, much more will be on the line.
The last time Arizona found themselves in this nposition, the No. 9 Wildcats were led by UA great Tara Chaplin who took the individual title to upset several more squads and finish fourth place overall. The No. 28 Wildcats that enter the meet this weekend have been ranked as high as 17th this season - their first ranking in the USTFCCCA poll since that 2001 squad.
Led by Maggie Callahan, the team's most seasoned veteran despite only being a junior, the squad will look to shock the country again. Callahan is having a career year after earning both All-Conference and All-Region honors at the year's championship meets so far. Monday, she will look for her first ever All-American accolade.
Callahan has been the first UA athlete across the line in every race this season and has been the model for consistancy that the team has maybe lacked in year's past.
Below her, a quintet of freshmen have come on the scene with a bang and filled in the scoring positions the team lost with the departure of last year's seniors. What's more impressive is the fact that the results for the team are not the same week in and week out. The group of freshman are constantly shuffling their order, but always finishing strong if one of the peer's is not having as great a race.
At last weekend's NCAA West Regional Championships, the squad found out just prior to the meet that one of their elite freshmen - former Footlocker finalist Lauren Smith
- would miss the race with a foot injury. The loss could have crippled the team, but fellow freshman Cami Jackson
responded with one of the best races of her life. Another freshmen in Megan Meyer
- who was travelng with the team for the first time this season - cracked the scoring rotation in the first big race of her career. It is performances like that that show just how tight-knit the young group is and how ready they have been throughout the season to step up in times of need.
Jennifer Bergman, another Footlocker finalist, is another freshman making a splash in her inaugural season and has been a consistany No. 2 or 3 runner on the year. The team's final freshman traveling this weekend, Liz Apgar, is the only member of the squad outside Callahan to score points in all the team's last three races.
Sophomore Hanna Henson, one of only three returning members to the team has improved immensely since her impressive freshman season, already breaking 21 minutes at 6000-meters for the first time in her career.
On the men's side, Mohamud Ige will look to end his senior year with a bang after perhaps being one of the more surprise finishers at the regional meet. After being set back following a fresk incident at the Notre Dame Invitational earlier in the season, Ige bounced back to the tune of a ninth place finish in Eugene last weekend to earn All-Region honors and an automatic qualification to the NCAA Meet.
Ige is the first male athlete to go to the championship meet since 2006.
Both Ige and his teammates on the women's side will look to show their attendence at the NCAA Championships is no fluke as both will look to wrap up the most impressive overall season for the UA program in recent memory.
The men's 10000-meter championship will kick off the day at 12:08 p.m. EST and the women will follow with their 6000-meter championship at 12:58 p.m. You can follow the action live on Versus or through the live stream on the NCAA website (www.ncaa.org)