Freshman Skieresz shooting for 5th straight win at NCAAs

By Jason A. Vrtis

Arizona Daily Wildcat

After winning

her fourth

consecutive race last weekend, Amy Skieresz has established herself as one of the best female runners in Arizona history and she's only a freshman.

Last weekend in Woodland, Wash., Skieresz became the first Arizona woman ever to win a district cross country title. She ran through freezing rain and past the competition to comfortably win the 5,000-meter race in 16 minutes, 42 seconds.

Two weeks earlier, at the Pacific 10 Conference Championships in Palo Alto, Calif., Skieresz became the first UA woman and first freshman ever to win an individual title. She dominated the race, finishing 23 seconds ahead of her closest competitor in a course-record time of 16:45, leading her team to a second-place finish.

"Winning these races has been really great, but it is also kind of scary, as it sets up expectations for me for my next three years here," Skieresz said.

But Arizona head coach Dave Murray said he's confident Skieresz, 19, will handle all the expectations in stride.

"Amy is as talented as anyone who has ever come here," said Murray, in his 29th year as UA's coach.

Skieresz will lead the Arizona women's team to its fifth straight appearance at the NCAA Championships in Ames, Iowa, on Monday. Last season, the Wildcats finished 10th overall.

After her performances at the district and Pac-10 meets, Murray was high on the runner's chances.

"She will definitely be a factor at the NCAAs and has a chance to finish in the top five," Murray said.

At the beginning of the year, Skieresz set her sights on being an All-American, and if she remains consistent she should have no problem attaining that goal. The top 25 finishers at the NCAAs earn All-American honors.

Skieresz and freshman teammate Emily Nay are part of a recruiting class Murray called "one of the best we have ever had."

As the top runner for her Agoura (Calif.) Hills High School team, Skieresz became one of the best runners in state prep history. She captured back-to-back state cross country titles in 1993 and '94 and won three straight California Southern Section titles between '92 and '94.

In '92, as a high school sophomore, Skieresz finished third overall in the Kinney Cross Country Nationals in San Diego. The following season she was a member of the Junior World Cross Country team that competed in Spain.

Track and Field News named Skieresz to its 1995 high school All-American team for the 3,200m distance. She ran a time of 10:16.42, giving her the third-fastest time in the nation for that event.

In her first collegiate race at the Jammin' Invitational in Brea, Calif., on Sept. 10, Skieresz finished second overall and ahead of Southern Methodist's Katie Swords, the 1995 NCAA champion in the 10,000m event.

Skieresz continued to impress the following week at the University of Illinois Invitational, finishing just seconds behind Wisconsin's Kathy Butler, the 1995 NCAA champion in the 3,000m event.

At the Mountain West Classic in Missoula, Mont., on Sept. 30, Skieresz had a breakthrough performance that showcased her talent. In only her third collegiate start, she won the 6,000m race in a time of 20:40 this while running against an elite field of collegiate and professional runners to become the first collegiate woman ever to win the race.

"That was a huge confidence builder for me to win that race," Skieresz said.

Skieresz has remained injury-free all season and tries not to dwell on the added pressures that come from her victories.

"For the most part I am really relaxed," Skieresz said. "Coach Murray has let me develop at my own rate and I have been very surprised with my results."

Murray described Skieresz as quiet and reserved, but very aggressive on the course.

"Amy likes to run out front and use her tremendous leg speed," Murray said. "She runs with a tremendous amount of confidence and leads by example."

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