Darius Terry wins George Kyte Classic under ASU colors

Darius Terry catapulted from last year’s 21st-place finish in the George Kyte Classic cross country invitational to claim first place on the men’s side this year.

Last year he was competing for Northern Arizona University.  Unfortunately for the Lumberjacks, the redshirt junior from California was wearing the Maroon & Gold of Arizona State in this year’s event.

Terry, who joined the ASU squad last season after transferring from NAU, bested last year’s time of 28:12.9 by about two-and-a-half minutes to give him the 2011 men’s individual title in the annual season-opener that has been hosted by NAU for the past 31 years.

His winning time of 25:38.8 earned him the distinction of becoming the first Sun Devil to win the men’s individual title at the event.

Terry was one of six ASU runners to score top-10 finishes in this year’s event, which enabled the Sun Devils to take the men’s team title for just the second time in school history.  Their 26 points make up the lowest ASU team total in race history.

Even without Terry scoring points for the Lumberjacks, they still managed to compile 30 points for a second-place finish – well ahead of University of Arizona, which finished in third with 87 points.  Tim Freriks, a junior who was recruited out of Mingus Union High School in Cottonwood, led the NAU pack with a second-place finish of 25:55.9.

NAU enjoys a slight advantage because they train and compete on a regular basis at Buffalo Park in Flagstaff, where the event is held each year.  The 8k course, which the men run, is a challenging one that’s made up of a couple of two-mile loops and a one-mile loop.  And most years, you can expect the rains that come with the close of summer in the north country.

The elevation in Flag, almost 7,000 feet, also favors the Jacks.  They’re used to the thin air.

The women’s team title went to the University of Arizona Wildcats for a second straight year.  This year’s 32 points were off a shade from last year’s results, when the Cats finished with 29, but they were still able to edge out runner-up ASU, which tallied 35 points.

Haley Stenquist, a true freshman from Sabino High School in Tucson, finished ahead of the pack of college runners (second behind Stephanie Pezzullo, who was running unattached) by clocking a time of 17:25.3 in the 5K event.  She led a 2-3-7-12-13 finish for the Wildcats.

Natasha Vulic, a redshirt junior from Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix, led the ASU women runners, finishing in fourth place with a time of 17:38.0 – which ranks as the fastest time of any Sun Devil in the history of the event.

The NAU women placed third, with another local athlete leading the way.  Rochelle Kanuho, a junior from nearby Coconino High School, made her debut appearance in the George Kyte with a sixth-place finish (17:48.2).

This event, which drew five universities and three community colleges, provides the participants an opportunity to get some early competition under their belts – but is not necessarily indicative of how strong each program is at this point.

More often than not, the schools don’t send a full contingent of runners to the George Kyte, for one reason or another.  The Grand Canyon University women’s team, for example, didn’t enter its No. 1 runner, Megan Young, who finished first in every event last year.  That decision was reflected in the Antelopes’ sixth-place finish this year (but still three spots up from 2010).

NAU also held out some of its top runners, but managed to show well on both the men’s and women’s sides.

The coaches like the event because it provides a low-pressure competition that is treated like a tempo run to help ease their runners into a new season.  It also enables the freshmen to get their first taste of competition in the 8k format, after running 5ks throughout high school.

“This was a really good start to the season,” said UofA assistant coach, Erin Dawson.  “It’s always important to start the season off on a good, positive note… and they’ll be better prepared for the next race.”

For Arizona, Arizona State, and Northern Arizona, that next outing will be at the Dave Murray Invitational in Tucson on the 16th.  GCU has just this week to prepare for the UC-Irvine Invitational on Saturday.

(Photo: NAU Athletics)