Men's cross country sets sights on berth in NCAA Championships

By Jason Kleinman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 10, 2005

Despite finishing in second place at the Pac-10 Championships on Oct. 29, the No. 9 Arizona men's cross country team looks to redeem itself Saturday at the NCAA West Region Championships in Palo Alto, Calif.

The Wildcat men had three top-10 finishers in the 8,000-meter Pacific 10 Conference Championship race in Tucson, led by juniors Robert Cheseret, Obed Mutanya and senior Jonah Maiyo, who finished first, second and ninth, respectively.

But the final two runners to place for Arizona finished too low in the pack for the Wildcats to claim their first Pac-10 team title since 1999.

"In the Pac-10s, three guys ran a good race," said Arizona cross country head coach James Li. "Hopefully, all seven guys we are going to take will run a good race (Saturday). We ran very well in the regular season, so we shouldn't have much of (a) problem of totally falling off."

Arizona will earn an automatic team bid to the NCAA Championships on Nov. 21 by finishing in first or second Saturday. At last year's West Regional, the Wildcat men finished eighth overall to miss out on the NCAA Championships.

No. 13 Portland and No. 24 Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo join Pac-10 foes No. 4 Stanford, No. 28 California and No. 29 Washington in Palo Alto.

"I hope we do better than (at) the Pac-10s," Li said. "The goal is to qualify for nationals, and I fully expect us to do that."

The last time the Arizona men raced a 10,000 was at the Chili Pepper Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark., on Oct. 15, when they finished in second place.

"It's going to be a little tougher (this time)," Cheseret said. "We've been training for the 10K. In Arkansas we ran one, so that will help us."

Running at home in the Pac-10 Championships should have been an advantage for the Wildcats, but it proved to be more stressful than expected for the team, Li said.

"Mentally, we are lot more ready and we're not under as much pressure," Li said. "When (the) Pac-10 came here (it) was a little bit of our problem. We were at home (and) we were expecting so many of us to do something so extraordinary."

Running for the Arizona women will be redshirt sophomore and team captain Emily McGregor and junior Ashley Ippolito, who will be trying to qualify for the NCAA Championships as individuals for the first time in their careers.

McGregor, the first Wildcat to finish the Pac-10 Championship race, crossing the finish line in 33rd place, said she's confident she can have a strong showing Saturday.

"I want to qualify for nationals," she said. "I have to make the top 25 to do that (and) it's not out of my reach."

No. 2 Stanford and No. 5 ASU will both compete on the women's side.

"I have raced these girls before," McGregor said. "I know how it's going to go out. I just have to mentally prepare myself for that."