"Cross-country: men, women to improve on past season"
Simple solutions sometimes fix hard problems.
For the Arizona womens' cross country team, head coach James Li has his solution to improving over last year's seventh place Pacific 10 Conference finish.
Eleven freshmen are included on the roster, creating one of the largest teams in recent memory. Replacing last year's class —— which included leader Irine Lagat, a 17th-place finisher at the 2008 NCAA West Regionals, is the key to not taking a step backwards.
""We lost quite a few of our key people (from last year),"" Li said. ""Our team had never, at least (recently), been big for the last six or seven years.""
""Now, this year, we just did great recruiting and we have a group of very, very talented young ladies on the team and we're excited about it,"" he added.
Such a large freshmen class has given the preseason practices an edge — more athletes equate to more competition for players hoping to make the short-list of top runners. But there is quality within that large crop of runners, too.
""I think that already the quality of our workouts and practices have gone up having those new girls in there,"" said junior Maggie Callahan, the oldest member of the team. ""We're already practicing better and I just think (having so many runners is) going to make us better.""
Unlike the women, Li said the men will have a larger veteran presence but that fact won't lead to a false sense of security.
""We've got to really step up this year,"" he said. ""We need to be more competitive.""
Junior Victor Zazueta will again carry the load for Arizona with senior Dylan Fitzpatrick, Mohamud Ige and Adbi Hassan providing more scoring help.
""We got some pretty good athletes on the team,"" Li said. ""They had good track seasons last spring and they're going to be good and important leaders for the team.""
The men's team will look to add ""a few"" more walk-ons to their roster after holding a walk-on tryout last Saturday. The men, like the women, finished 7th-place in the Pac-10 last year.
Both teams will open their season in Flagstaff, Ariz., against the NAU Lumberjacks and the ASU Sun Devils.