2000 University of Arizona Women's Cross Country Outlook
Injuries and depth problems slowed the University of Arizona women's cross country team last year, as three of its top seven runners were not able to run in the last three meets of the season. The Wildcats still qualified for the NCAA Championships for the second straight year, placing 27th at the meet in Bloomington, Ind.
Injuries did not slow Tara Chaplin, who was the team's No. 1 runner in 1999 as a sophomore, as she solidified her spot as one of the top runners in the Pacific-10 Conference and the NCAA.
The 5-foot-1 native of Montpelier, Vt., won Arizona's first two meets of the season, the Asics/UCI Invitational and the Aztec Invitational. Later she placed seventh at the Pac-10 meet, 12th at the NCAA West Regional and was 33rd at the NCAA Championships. Chaplin continued her success during the track and field season, placing fifth in the 5,000m at the NCAA Indoor Championships and 12th in both the 10,000m and 5,000m at the NCAA Outdoor Championhips.
Now a junior, the three-time All-American will spend her second season as the Wildcat women's No. 1 runner and team leader.
"Tara is no question the leader and top runner for us again this year," said Dave Murray, Arizona director of track and field/head cross country coach. "She is the type of runner that on any given day with the right conditions, she could be an NCAA champion. She has been in enough big races that she has the experience to contend for top honors at the Pac-10, region and national levels."
Chaplin is joined in 2000 by a quality group of runners that will bolster the Wildcats with plenty of depth and experience, as well as youthful legs.
Senior Katrin Engelen has displayed marked improvement both in cross country and on the track, last year running the No. 6 10,000m time in school history, 34:37.65, at the Stanford Invitational. Her time qualified her for the NCAA Championships, where she finished 18th in the event.
Engelen was a solid runner for the Arizona cross country squad as a junior, finishing as the fourth Wildcat across the line at the NCAA meet. This season, Engelen will be one of the team's top three runners, especially as the race distances move up to 6,000 meters.
"Katrin has gotten better each year that she has been here, and she developed a lot more last year," Murray said. "I think that she is developing into the kind of runner we thought she was going to be, based on what she did last year in qualifying for the NCAA Championships in the 10,000 meters."
Perhaps the biggest improvement on last season's team came from then-sophomore Erin Doherty. The former Arizona prep star showed she is very capable of running well at the conference and national level in the cross country arena.
Doherty was the Wildcats' No. 2 finisher in the final three races of the season - the Pac-10 Championships, the NCAA West Regional and the NCAA Championships. Doherty also finished fifth in the 1,500m on the track at the 2000 Pac-10 Track and Field Championships, running a PR of 4:26.51, more than seven seconds better than her previous best.
"Erin really came on at the end of last year and was a very good runner for us," Murray said. "During her freshman year, she just was kind of out there running. Now, she runs like she has a lot of confidence and her ability is beginning to show."
Two other veterans will also add depth and experience to the Wildcats' lineup. Junior Jennifer Burris and sophomores Kimberly Bates and Mandee Ash were the No. 4, 5 and 6 runners, respectively, on last year's team, and will compete for those spots again this season.
"Jennifer Burris is capable of running a lot better than she has in the past, and I think that she will have more confidence this year because she has been in the big meets and has a lot of experience," Murray said. "
The Wildcats also have added several new faces to the team that will add depth and possibly compete for spots in the top five.
Sophomore Nicole Gurnicz transferred to Arizona from Boise State where she was the Broncos' No. 2 runner last season and the Big West Conference runner-up in the 5,000m. She is expected to be a vital part of the Wildcats' lineup.
Gurnicz's Boise State teammate Abby Peters also transferred to Arizona, however she will not compete until 2001 because of an NCAA transfer rule. Peters ran at Eastern Oregon her freshman season and then moved on to Boise State, so she used up her "free" transfer. Peters is expected to be a force for the Wildcats, as she was the Big West cross country, 3,000m and 5,000m champion.
Harisimran Khalsa, a transfer from Dartmouth, will add depth to the Wildcats' squad, as will two incoming freshmen, Beth Hoge and Andrea Schwartz. Cara Cline, one of the track and field team's best 800m runners, ran cross country as a freshman in 1998 and will help the team this season, too.