Running into history…UA’s first women’s Pac-12 XC title

<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons above -->
                <div>
                    <a class="addthis_button" href="//addthis.com/bookmark.php?v=300" addthis:url='http://phxfan.com/2013/11/running-history-uas-first-pac-12-xc-championship/' addthis:title='Running into history…UA’s first women’s Pac-12 XC title'>
                        <img src="//cache.addthis.com/cachefly/static/btn/v2/lg-share-en.gif" width="125" height="16" alt="Bookmark and Share" style="border:0"/>
                    </a>
                </div>After six runner-up finishes, the University of Arizona women’s cross country team finally broke through the ceiling to win the first Pac-12 championship in the history of the program. The […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
                <div>
                    <a class="addthis_button" href="//addthis.com/bookmark.php?v=300" addthis:url='http://phxfan.com/2013/11/running-history-uas-first-pac-12-xc-championship/' addthis:title='Running into history…UA’s first women’s Pac-12 XC title'>
                        <img src="//cache.addthis.com/cachefly/static/btn/v2/lg-share-en.gif" width="125" height="16" alt="Bookmark and Share" style="border:0"/>
                    </a>
                </div>

After six runner-up finishes, the University of Arizona women’s cross country team finally broke through the ceiling to win the first Pac-12 championship in the history of the program.

The latest near-miss was last year, when the UA women finished 22 points behind the 2012 champion, Oregon.

But this year the Wildcats have been unstoppable in their quest for their first title, going undefeated through the season and earning a No. 1 national ranking after winning the Wisconsin adidas Invitational to close out October.

Kayla Beattie, a sophomore from Illinois and one of the faces of the future of the program, won the talent-laden Wisconsin Invite and was one of three UA runners that placed in the top 10 at the Pac-12 championships.  She covered the 6,000-meter course set up on the Coal Creek Golf Course in Colorado in a time of 21:20.

But it was the diminutive senior from Kenya, Elvin Kibet, that led the Cats to the Pac-12 title over the weekend, finishing the event in 21:15 – nine seconds off the winning pace – for second place.  It was a huge improvement over her 21st place finish in the Wisconsin race and capped off a regular season that included the announcement Saturday that she has been named the Pac-12 2013 Scholar Athlete of the Year.

Kibet’s runner-up finish was the highest for a UofA woman competing in the Pac-12 championships since 2000, when Tara Chaplin, the two-time Pac-10 champion, won the event.  Last year, Kibet finished third at the championships and was named to the NCAA All-America first team.

The 5’1″ Kibet, one of 10 children in her family, said after the race that she drew her strength from words her coach, Jame Li, gave the team before the event: “We went into this race and Coach Li told us to run with spirit.  (He said) it’s one thing to run, but it is another to run with spirit.  I kept thinking about that the whole race and I kept telling myself ‘You can do this, you can do this – for the team and yourself.’ ”

Another sophomore, Nicci Corbin, took sixth place to round out Arizona’s top-10 finishes.  The 5’4″ California product crossed the finish line three seconds behind Beattie.

The Arizona State women finished in sixth place with 138 points, which gave the Wildcats a point in the Territorial Cup race for finishing ahead of their rivals in Tempe.  But ASU’s men’s team finished in fourth place (140 points), ahead of Arizona’s eighth-place finish (194 points) – so it all evened out by the end of the day.

It was Elvin’s brother, Collins Kibet, that led the men’s team by clocking a 25:39 finish over the 8,000-meter men’s course.

The next step on the road to a possible national title for the Wildcats arrives Nov. 15 when they travel to Sacramento, Calif., to participate in the NCAA West Regionals.  Last year the women tied for second place at regionals and then went on to a sixth-place finish at the national championships, which was the best overall finish since 2001.

This year, the No. 1 women’s team in the country will have a much bigger target on their backs.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)