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Taking Stock 2020: How Arizona cross country is looking under coach James Li

arizona-wildcats-cross-country-stock-report-evaluation-program-2020-james-li-pac-12 Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We haven’t had college sports for more than three months now due to the coronavirus pandemic, making this the longest offseason ever. Literally, not just figuratively.

But with student-athletes returning to campuses across the country, it looks like our long national nightmare might be over sometime soon. Maybe. Possibly. Hopefully.

So now is as good a time as ever to take a look at each of the Arizona Wildcats’ 19 different men’s and women’s programs to see what shape they’re in and what prospects they have for the near future.

To help prepare you for the 2020-21 seasons of Arizona’s 19 different men’s and women’s programs, we’ll break down each team and evaluate how it is performing under its current coaching staff, looking at the state of the program before he/she arrived and comparing it to now (as well as looking at this season and beyond).

NOTE: The information in the ‘before’ section has been repurposed from last year’s series to provide continuity.

Next up: James Li’s men’s and women’s cross country teams

How it looked before

As a sport that tends to get more notoriety for individual accolades than team ones, cross country has more or less operated in the shadows at Arizona except for when a single runner stands out from the pack. This was the case in the decades prior to Li getting hired in 2003, with five of the Wildcats’ six individual NCAA champions coming before he arrived from Washington State.

Where things stand now

Arizona’s women’s squad had its best postseason performance since 2013 last year, taking fifth out of 35 teams at the NCAA West Regionals in Washington after placing sixth in the Pac-12 Championships in Oregon. Redshirt junior Jennie Baragar-Petrash was the top individual performance, finishing 18th in the NCAA West meet.

The UA men’s team was eighth at the Pac-12 meet and did not qualify for regionals.

The story was much different for the cross country teams from an academic perspective, as the men’s team was recognized by the NCAA for its strong APR scores for the fourth year in a row. That’s the only school in the Pac-12 to achieve that honor.

One big question

Is cross country in jeopardy of getting cut? With Arizona among many college athletic programs facing major budget shortfalls due to the pandemic, non-revenue sports have been getting cut left and right. Akron, Connecticut and East Carolina are among the most notable schools to cut tennis programs, with more sure to follow. The UA has said it has no plans to do the same, but if tough choices have to be made down the line this could be one of the first sports to get the ax.