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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Freshmen XC-eeding high hopes

When taking a quick glance at the current Arizona women’s cross-country roster, one might think that it was a rebuilding year. Out of 17 women on the roster, 15 are underclassman and 11 of those are freshmen. It’s not exactly how a roster of the No. 24 team in the nation would look like.

Yet these Wildcats are surprising everyone except themselves. And a lot of their success is due to their exceptional freshman class.

“”They definitely have stepped up tremendously,”” head coach James Li said. “”They’ve almost completely changed the makeup of the team. The freshmen are doing a great job and we’re definitely very, very happy about how they’ve done.””

Since the season began, at least three freshmen have consistently found themselves in the top five team runners at each meet. The top five runners from each school earn their team points based on their time and overall place.

Four freshmen though, are slowly becoming accustomed to the top five: Lauren Smith, Jennifer Bergman, Cami Jackson and Elizabeth Apgar. They were all very successful in high school and each one seems be taking the college transition in stride.

“”In high school,”” Jackson said, “”you race a lot more and it was more just you had a couple people that were in the front of the group. In college, you don’t really know anyone you race against, and it’s just more fun because you just go and try to beat whoever you can.””

Jackson, a Mesa, Ariz. native, was a three-time Arizona All-State Cross-Country runner, and Smith, who came to Arizona from Lake Jackson, Texas, was a two-time finalist at the Foot Locker Cross-Country National Championships and the Houston Chronicle’s Runner of the Year in 2006 and 2007.

Bergman, who is from San Jose, Calif., was named the 2008 Athlete of the Year by the Mercury News, a San Jose, Calif.-based paper, and also placed 33rd at the Foot Locker National Meet. Apgar, out of San Diego, Calif., finished in the top five of her state meet all four years of high school.

“”I had pretty high expectations for them,”” said junior Maggie Callahan, the most veteran member of the team. “”We have a group that excelled in high school. I knew they’d raise the bar. How they’ve performed is beyond what I’ve expected.””

Jackson mentioned that despite her high school success, she didn’t have any such expectations coming into the year.

“”I came into college and didn’t really set any expectations because it was such a foreign thing to me,”” she said. “”I wanted to see where everything would go. I’m just really happy with the improvement I’ve made, but there’s always stuff I can get better on.””

In the recent Pacific 10 Conference meet, Bergman, Smith and Apgar all finished in the team’s top five, earning the Wildcats a 6th-place finish in a loaded Pac-10 meet.

“”My first race,”” Bergman said, “”I thought it was going to be a lot of people and really scary, and there’s still a lot of people and it’s really scary. Before I didn’t think so much to look for my teammates, but I now know looking for them and running with them helps so much.””

Callahan though, said that the Pac-10 meet wasn’t even the most impressive race.

“”The Pre-Nationals race had more than 30 teams in our race so there are over 200 runners and it’s crazy,”” she said. “”There are so many people and it’s easy to get caught up and those girls, they just ran like veterans. They all ran smart and together. That race blew my mind.””

In that race, Smith, Apgar and Jackson placed in the team’s top five along with Callahan and sophomore Hanna Henson. The consistency of the group, who all finished within 40 seconds of each other, helped the Wildcats surprise the field with a 6th-place team finish.

For the freshmen, the first big meet of their season could not have gone better, as they ended up being ranked No. 17 in the nation after their strong showing. It was the first time they Wildcats have made it into the NCAA rankings since they were 9th in 2001.

“”I thought it was really cool (to be ranked that high),”” Smith said. “”In high school, my team had never been ranked, and this was the first time I’ve ever been on a really good team.””

The Wildcats and their talented group will take their current No. 24 ranking into this weekend’s NCAA regional meet in Eugene, Ore.

“”That meet is going to determine if we’ll make it to the finals,”” Li said. “”Being a very young group, it’ll be a big test but I really do feel that they’re very mentally and physically ready for the weekend. It’ll be a challenge, but we’ll manage.””

Added Smith, “”We’re hoping to all relax and run our best. We should be ready to roll for regionals.””

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