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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    UA cross country kicks off season Saturday

    Cross country will have a whole new meaning Saturday.

    It’ll is a homecoming of sorts not only for the Arizona men’s and women’s cross country teams, but for head coach James Li as well.

    The teams’ first event of the season is at the George Kyte Invitational in Flagstaff, slightly more than a week after Li – a native of China – returned to Arizona from Beijing, where he served as the USA’s track manager during the Summer Olympics.

    “”I’m really excited about coming back and getting our cross country teams going,”” Li said. “”I’m just happy to be home and for life to be simple again.””

    Li said the first meet of the season is more of a warm-up race, due to the fact that the scores are not counted in consideration for the NCAA Championships at the end of the season.

    As of Thursday night, the coach said he hadn’t yet decided who will run this weekend, but added that all members of both squads will take the journey up north.

    “”We’ll have our first meet and then we’ll have some training sessions,”” Li said. “”We’ll have some team-building activities. We’re going to spend about two days up there.””

    A couple of big additions to the men’s team are redshirt freshman Abdi Hassan, an All-American in high school, and sophomore Mohamud Ige. While it’s uncertain if these runners will compete this weekend, one thing is for sure – the altitude of Flagstaff, about 7,000 feet above sea level, will give the Wildcats a harder time than running in Tucson, which is about 2,600 feet above sea level.

    “” There’s nothing you can do,”” Li said of adapting to the higher altitude. “”Not in this short amount of time. You just go there and you’re going to be hurting when you run.””

    Juniors Brian MacArthur and Carlos Rybeck are the only upperclassmen on the men’s squad of 12.

    On the women’s side, the Wildcats are coming off of a sixth-place finish in the Pacific 10 Conference.

    The squad’s strength is “”1,000 times higher,”” said UA track and field and cross country director Fred Harvey, who served as the cross country teams’ head coach during Li’s absence this summer.

    The leader of the women’s team is senior Irine Lagat, who has been one of the team’s strongest runners and is the sister of former UA runner Robert Cheseret and international superstar Bernard Lagat, the latter of whom trains with Li in Tucson and participated in Beijing.

    “”It was good but unfortunately things didn’t quite go as well as we would have liked with him,”” Li said of Bernard, who finished ninth in the 5,000-meter race with a time of 13:26.89. “”But that’s life. The injury that he suffered back in July with a sore Achilles’ tendon was just too close to the Games.””

    But that doesn’t matter to Li anymore. The only thing on his mind is this weekend’s tournament, which has a bigger value of importance for team building, Li said.

    “”Everyone was very happy that I’m back,”” Li said. “”We’re all in one piece again.””

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