Leader of the Pack

Washington Husky long-distance runner Anna Aoki, former Pac-10 champion at 10,000 meters, takes fifth at cross country championships in Long Beach.



She's been one of the most consistent runners for the University of Washington women's track team over the past four years, but senior Anna Aoki certainly isn't one to rest on her past laurels.

Even after placing fifth in the recent Pac-10 Cross Country Championships, her best finish ever in the 5,000-meter event, Aoki said she knows she could do much better.

"I'm one of those people who are happy, but never satisfied," said Aoki, still dripping with sweat several minutes after the race held at in Long Beach on Oct. 30.

"I felt really good and I've been training hard since the beginning, but I'm always the kind of person who strives to do better."

Anna Aoki, above, nears the finish line in fifth place at the Pac-10 Cross Country Finals in Long Beach. At left, Mary Huang of Stanford struggles for twelfth.

Aoki--who completed the race in 17:24.40, almost 23 seconds behind winner Erin Sullivan of Stanford--helped Washington to a third-place finish behind Arizona State and top-ranked Stanford.

Aoki said she was proud of her team's performance.

"A couple of our girls were sick and we still ended in third with Stanford, the No.-1 ranked team," she said. "When we get everyone back for the regionals and nationals, we'll have a great team. I expect a top-two finish."While expectations for herself and the Huskies remain high, Aoki definitely has the credentials to back it up as she has placed no lower than fifth in five out of the last six meets, while helping Washington to three team titles.

She started the season on a high note as she placed second at the Emerald City Invitational in Seattle (17:42) on Sept. 11 and followed with a fifth-place finish in the Sundodger Invitational on Sept. 25 in 17:15, her top mark of the season.

Last year, Aoki was a top-five Husky finisher in all six races.

"We had high expectations for her and she keeps on getting better," said Washington cross country coach Greg Metcalf. "She does everything well."

Aoki may have enjoyed the most success of any Husky in cross country so far this season, but Metcalf noted that she's even better running on flat, solid ground.

Also competing in indoor (January to March) and outdoor track (March to June), Aoki has become a top distance runner in the nation in the 3,000-meter, 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter events.

Last year, Aoki earned indoor track and field All-American honors after becoming only the eighth woman in school history to win a conference title when she captured the Pac-10 championship in the 10,000 meters in 35:04.99.

She finished 12th at the NCAA West Regional Championships with a time of 17:18 and posted a 1998 NCAA provisional qualifying time of 34:56.62, the third fastest 10,000-meter mark in Husky history.

This past season, Aoki placed first at the Washington State Dual (5,000 meters) and Washington Quadrangular Dual (3,000 meters) and second at the Pepsi Invitational (3,000 meters) on May 8.

Aoki fell short in her bid to capture her second straight Pac-10 10,000-meter title, however, as she was overtaken by Arizona's Brooke Murphy at the halfway mark to finish in second place in 35:17.01.

A few months later, while battling a case of food poisoning the night before, Aoki finished 19th at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships on June 3.

"I didn't do as well as I hoped at the nationals, but winning the Pac-10 championship last year was awesome. That's always going to be the high point."

Aoki has now qualified for the NCAA meet for four consecutive years, but was not able to compete during her freshman outdoor season in 1997 because of stress fractures in her right shin, knee and femur.

She said she also suffered through a bout with anemia, an iron deficiency which can produce weakness, shortness of breath, headaches, nausea and dizziness.

"When coming fresh out of high school, sometimes coaches don't put you on the right training program and I think that's what happened to me," said Aoki, who still holds the school record in the 3,200-, 3,000-, 1,600- and 1,500-meter events at Fort Vancouver High School in Vancouver, Wash.

"But with our new coach (Metcalf), he's just awesome. He's helped me improve on my times. If you've ever seen him at meets, he's fired up all the time. I think that's really important for the kids to have someone like that."

Aoki, the daughter of Taj and Sharon Aoki of Vancouver, Wash., said the injury only reinforced her love for the sport and added that she continues to train on a daily basis, running about 60-70 miles a week.

Because she redshirted her freshman year, Aoki is eligible to compete as a fifth-year senior while she attends graduate school for her masters degree in physical education.

For now, however, Aoki said her main focus will be her final two meets of the cross-country season--the NCAA West Regionals in Portland, Ore., on Nov. 13 and the NCAA Championships in Bloomington, Ind., on Nov. 22.

"I want to finish in the Top-16 nationally and win some more Pac-10 titles next year," she said. "I always aim my goals high. I don't like to settle."

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