Benton, Smith fall short at NCAA Championships

Senior Andrew Smith and sophomore Christa Benton wrapped up the University of South Florida’s cross country season Monday with a chance to become All-Americans at the NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind.

However, neither runner managed to finish in the top 25, preventing an opportunity to be recognized as one of the nation’s best.

Benton finished in 40th place, and Smith finished 117th.

Benton completed the 6k championship course in a personal best of 20 minutes, 35.6 seconds. The 40th-place finish is the best a USF female cross country runner has ever had in the NCAA Championship.

“Christa ran really well,” Coach Greg Thiel said. “You have to realize the tough competitors involved in the race. Also, she beat most of the girls she competed with in the South Regional.”

Benton lived at the top of the charts all season for USF, tallying three first-place finishes and three third-place finishes in the eight-meet cross country season.

Thiel said Benton’s good finish in the national meet will help her confidence going into track and field season in the spring and next year’s cross country season.

“We’re going to try and build our program around Christa,” Thiel said.

Smith, who was running in his last collegiate cross country race, completed the 10k course in 31:17.0.

“I think he’s a little disappointed in his finish,” Thiel said. “But he’ll keep plugging along.”

Smith also enjoyed great success this season. After redshirting a year ago, he returned to win two races in 2002, including the Conference USA individual title, and finished second three times.

Although Smith’s collegiate career is now over, he will now try to take his ability to the next level of distance running.

“He’s going to try to make the Canadian National team in a couple of days,” Thiel said.

Brigham Young University claimed the women’s team title, followed by Stanford and Notre Dame. North Carolina’s Shalane Flanagan won the women’s individual title in 19:36.0.

Stanford won the men’s team title, followed by Wisconsin and Eastern Michigan.

Colorado’s Jorge Torres claimed the men’s individual title in 29:04.7.

USF’s runners did not figure into the team results because neither the men’s nor women’s team managed to qualify at the South Regional.

Adam Adkins covers USF cross country and can be reached at