By Jason A. Vrtis
Arizona Daily Wildcat
After coming off strong finishes in the Pacific 10 Conference championships, the Arizona men's and women's cross country teams will be running for the chance to compete for the national titles at this weekend's District VIII championships.
The race will be held Saturday in Woodland, Wash., at the Lewis River Golf Course. The University of Portland is hosting the event.
Led by freshman Amy Skieresz, the women's team is one of the contenders for the district title. Skieresz has won her last three races, including the Pac-10 individual title at Stanford on Oct. 28, covering the 5,000-meter course in a time of 16 minutes, 45 seconds. She also became the first Arizona woman and the first freshman in Pac-10 history ever to win the title.
"We have a great one-two punch with Amy and Viola (Schaffer)," head coach Dave Murray said. "Both could be top contenders for the individual title."
Schaffer, a junior, was the first Arizona finisher at last year's championships, placing fifth overall in a time of 17:47. With the added leadership of seniors Ann Colonna and Lisa Quaintance, the Wildcats hope to improve on last year's third-place performance.
"The women's team has done extremely well all season," Murray said. "We are looking forward to the chance to run against Oregon again."
The Oregon women's team narrowly edged Arizona by five points for the Pac-10 team title. The top two teams from each district automatically qualify for the NCAA championships in Ames, Iowa, Nov. 20.
There are six additional at-large berths for the championships, selected by an NCAA committee. Last season District VIII received two of the six berths, with Arizona being one of those. Murray said he anticipates it will be no different this season.
"There is no question that four teams will go from our district," he said. "Along with us, Oregon, Stanford and the University of Washington are all among the favorites to qualify."
Arizona is ranked seventh in the latest Lynx Timing Systems Women's Top 25 Poll.
On the men's side, Arizona is hoping to rebound from a third-place showing in the Pac-10s. The Wildcats are hoping their third-, fourth- and fifth-place scorers improve dramatically.
Senior Jeff Haynes has fully recovered from a back injury that slowed him to a 29th-place overall finish at Stanford. Senior Art Jimenez looks to be finally over a lingering knee injury that has slowed his training all season, and freshman Jeff McLarty, who suffered from what Murray said were "freshman jitters" at the Pac-10s, should improve in Saturday's district meet.
"Our men are going to have to run their very best race to get a bid for the NCAAs," Murray said.
The top two teams in the each district will once again automatically qualify for the NCAA championships, and three additional teams from throughout the nation will be selected by an NCAA committee. The men will cover a 10,000m course, easily the longest race they have run all year.
Sophomore Bob Keino continues to have a solid season and leads the Wildcats. Keino finished second at the Pac-10s, seconds behind Oregon's Karl Keska. Keino will get his third shot at Keska as Arizona should battle Oregon and Stanford for the top three spots. Last year as a freshman, Keino ran to a fourth-place showing in a time of 31:17.
Arizona will also look to junior Margarito Casillas to help qualify. Casillas finished sixth overall in the Pac-10s in 24:39.
"We hope to get a great performance from Margarito," Murray said. "He had his best race ever at Stanford two weeks ago."
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