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Taking Stock: How Arizona cross country is looking under coach Bernard Lagat

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The offseason is here, with all of Arizona’s sports done for 2021-22 and the 2022-23 campaigns still a little ways away.

Which makes this a great time to step back and see how all of the Wildcats’ programs are doing.

Over the next few weeks we’ll take a look at each of the UA’s 19 men’s and women’s programs to see what shape they’re in and what prospects they have for the near future. 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 while also looking at this season and beyond.

Next up: Bernard Lagat’s cross country program.

How it looked before

Former cross country coach James Li retired in November 2020 after more than 18 years at the helm. Li’s retirement came months after the Arizona Daily Star reported claims of abusive and neglectful cross country practices. Former athletes alleged sexual harassment and assault by teammates, bullying and emotional abuse by teammates and coaches, and other claims.

In June 2021 Arizona promoted longtime assistant coach Bernard Lagat to head coach. Lagat is one of the most decorated distance runners of the last 20 records and holds the U.S. records in the 1500m and mile run indoors as well as the 1500m, 3000m and 5000m outdoors. Lagat was a three-time NCAA individual champion at Washington State.

Where things stand now

Lagat’s first year as head coach produced inconsistent results. The women were competitive for much of the season and won the Dave Murray Invitational. The men had some strong performances as well, including a third-place finish at the Dave Murray Invitational.

However, the women’s team finished last at Pac-12 championships, while the men’s team received a Did Not Finish because it did not have a full allotment of runners due to injuries. Arizona is expected to return its top Pac-12 finishers, Maddy Christopher and Jeffrey Sillers.

Cross country has a strong incoming freshmen class that includes multiple high school state champions. The influx of young talent should bolster the program's potential this fall.

One big question

Is Lagat the right coach for the job? The Kenyan native is undeniably one of the best distance runners of his generation, but it’s to be seen whether he can translate his success as an athlete to that of a head coach. There’s a lot that goes into the job, like recruiting and building close relationships with athletes and other coaches.

Year one of Lagat’s tenure was a bit of a write-off coming out of a pandemic. This fall season will prove whether Lagat can get the most out of his athletes.