UA cross country women are No. 1 team in the country

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                </div>Last week, University of Arizona‘s cross country coach said that “rankings don’t mean anything,” but he was pleased with the way his women’s team cruised to a first-place finish at the […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Last week, University of Arizona‘s cross country coach said that “rankings don’t mean anything,” but he was pleased with the way his women’s team cruised to a first-place finish at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational.

That was when his squad was the No. 3-ranked team in the country.  This week, the Arizona women have climbed to the pinnacle of the rankings and are currently the No. 1 women’s cross country team in the country, according to the latest poll by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA).

Maybe James Li, the  cross country program’s head coach, has changed his mind about the significance of the rankings.  After all, this is the first time since the national poll was established in 1995 that a University of Arizona women’s cross country team has reached No. 1.

The women, who were ranked No. 7 in the pre-season poll, have worked their way up through the rankings by winning all four of the races they’ve entered so far this year.

They will have to be considered the favorite to win the Pac-12 Championships Nov. 2 in Boulder, Colo., but there are five other conference schools ranked in the USTFCCCA poll: No. 12 Oregon, No. 13 Washington, No. 16 Colorado, No. 20 Stanford, and No. 26 Arizona State.

At the Wisconsin Invitational, the Wildcat women had to beat out a loaded Division I field that included No. 8 Arkansas, No. 9 Michigan State, and – most important – No. 1 Providence.  For the past two years, the Cats couldn’t get past a third-place finish at the prestigious event, but they made a strong showing this year, scoring 117 points to outdistance runner-up Arkansas, which totaled 136 points.  Providence finished third with 191 points.

Sophomore Kayla Beattie led the Cats over the 6,000-meter course, finishing seventh with a time of 19:56.  Three of her teammates also finished in the top 25: freshman Maria Larsson in 15th (20:07), junior Nicci Corbin in 18th (20:09), and senior Elvin Kibet finished in 20:12 for 21st place.

This year’s edition of the women’s program returned 11 from the 2012 squad that finished as runner-up in last year’s Pac-12 Championships and tied for second place at the NCAA West Regional to qualify for the NCAA Championships.

They finished sixth at last year’s national championships, the best overall finish since 2001.  But Li is shooting even higher this year and, from what they’ve shown so far, it’s with good reason.

“We are going to keep working and trying to improve,” he said after the Wisconsin showing.  “We have five weeks until the NCAA Championships, and that is what we are working toward.”

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)