DAY 5 (Aug. 5): Pushing The Pace, Even In Paradise
At the turn of the millennium, Azusa Pacific was already established as a national track & field power. However, the Cougars’ strength as a program has been fortified with the development of its cross country program into a perennial national title contender. Since 2000, Azusa Pacific has posted 11 top-10 NAIA finishes in women’s cross country, including the program’s first-ever national title in 2008. In similar fashion, the men’s program registered top-10 national finishes in six of the past 10 seasons, finishing as national runner-up in 2008.
“One of the biggest reasons the program has developed has been more of an emphasis on the distance program,” said Preston Grey, who last week was introduced as Azusa Pacific’s track & field women’s head coach as he continues into his eighth year as the cross country head coach. “(Former cross country coach) Bill Reeves took that and developed It, and there were a number of athletes along the way who helped push that along. One generation to the next has passed that along and carried that tradition along.”
The 2008 women’s cross country national title is the most recent national championship claimed among Azusa Pacific’s fall sports, and cross country will be among the first group of Cougar programs vying for the school’s first-ever Pacific West Conference title.
The PacWest is billed as the NCAA’s “most beautiful destination conference,” and the 2012 PacWest Cross Country Championship meet serves as validation of that reputation. Hawai‘i Pacific is hosting the 2012 meet, which will be held Oct. 27 at Kualoa Ranch in Ka‘a‘awa, Hawai‘i. Kualoa is located 45 minutes from Honolulu on the northeastern side of O‘ahu, and it has been the site of many movies and television shows, including Jurassic Park and the TV series LOST.
“Hawai‘i is a great destination, because it gives the athletes something special this first year,” described Grey of his reaction to learning the conference championship meet location. “It’s always nice to have a special meet at the end of the year, and we’re going to be one of the first Azusa Pacific teams to have a chance to bring home a PacWest title. We’ve done everything we could do with NAIA and GSAC championships, and we’re looking forward to contending for what might be the school’s first PacWest championship. Hopefully down the road we’ll also be competing for the school’s first NCAA trophy.”
However, before the Cougars close out their regular season in Hawai‘i, the schedule features three other regular-season meets, all hosted by NCAA Div. I programs. The season opens Sept. 8 at UC Irvine, which is followed by the Sept. 15 UC Riverside Invitational. For the second straight year, Azusa Pacific will participate in the Stanford Invitational, which takes place Oct. 13 and serves as the final preparation for the conference championship meet two weeks later. The 2012 season concludes with the championship meet of the National Christian College Athletic Association, held Nov. 10 in Cedarville, Ohio.
“When we schedule, we try to seek out the best meets in southern California,” said Grey. “I’ve also liked going to Stanford, because I think it serves our program well to raise the bar of competition. We will still keep the same philosophy, to find the best meets we can find to race the top D-II schools, and if we leave the state to compete, we’re going to find the top Div. II programs to compete against.”
The 2012 Cougars will feature unprecedented depth and youth. The entire program consists of 34 student-athletes, 17 each on the men’s and women’s teams, and 27 of them enter the 2012 season as freshmen or sophomores.