GCU women’s cross country building depth with transfers

A group of talented transfers have arrived just in time to give the Grand Canyon University women’s cross country team some much-needed experience and depth, something the program has lacked in recent years.

Two in that group are coming from local junior colleges.

Julia Ward continued her track career at Mesa Community College after completing an impressive high school career at Red Mountain High School in Mesa.  At MCC, she earned All-Conference honors both years and was an NJCAA indoor national champion in 2010 as a member of the 4×800 relay team.

She was also an All-Conference cross country runner-up during the 2010 season.

Justine Peterson began her track career at Lakewood High School in Washington, but then got her college career started at Glendale Community College.  She competes in the 1,500 meters, 3-mile, 5,000 meters, and 800-meter run and will use the cross country season to prepare for the 2012 track & field season.

“Justine is my long-distance girl,” says Kim Sims, who is the head track coach for both the men’s and women’s programs.  “She will use the fall to get better and reach full potential for the 5,000m and 10,000m during the track season.”

Peterson ran a personal-best time of 21:39.00 in the 5K event at the George Kyte Classic in Flagstaff in 2010.

At the NJCAA Regional Championships in May, Peterson was a multi-event participant, competing in the 5,000m (21:02.62), 10,000m (43:16.73), and on the 4×800 relay team.

Sims is undoubtedly hoping that the addition of Peterson and Wild follow the pattern established last year, when another local JUCO transfer gave the program a significant boost.

The Antelopes picked up Megan Young in time for the 2010 season after she spent her freshman year at Paradise Valley Community College.  Young graduated from Cactus High School in Glendale, where she was a state champion in 2008 as a member of the school’s 4×800 relay team.

That acquisition really paid off during her sophomore season when she led the GCU squad as the top finisher in every event on the schedule.  She finished in 15th place at the Pacific West Championships, with a 6K time of 25:09.3.

Sims, who is entering her fifth season at the helm of the program, is hoping the latest additions will help push Young to greater heights this season – and the team to a better finish than last year when the ‘Lopes took fourth place in the PacWest and finished 23rd at the NCAA West Regional.

The other JUCO transfers arriving just as the season is about to get underway include Monique Belmudes and Kelsi Beam.

Belmudes is a sophomore from Clayton State University in Georgia, where she ran two seasons for the track program and one year of cross country.   She was an All-Region track selection last year and set a school record of 2:25.27 in the 800-meter run.

Beam is transferring in from McPherson College in Kansas, where she was one of the program’s top runners.  In three of the four events she ran, Beam was the team’s top finisher and clocked a season-best 20:09.12 for the 5K.

“I am especially looking forward to seeing our team be able to pack run more, since these signees are right there with my top returners,” explains Sims, who ran track at D-I UC-Irvine, as well as Yavapai College in Prescott and Glendale Community College.

“With each new year, our women’s team continues to improve and I’m excited to get our season started.”