On new ground

Sophomore Christa Benton achieved what no other cross country runner in USF history had ever done when she was named an All-American for her finish at the NCAA Championship meet Nov. 25 in Terre Haute, Ind.

The top 25 runners in the national race receive the prestigious honor of being All-Americans. However, after the initial 25 runners receive the honor, the NCAA removes the international runners from the list, leaving only American-born runners. The top 30 on the American list are also awarded All-American status.

Benton placed 40th at the NCAA meet, the highest finish for any USF runner in the program’s history, in personal best time of 20 minutes, 35.6 seconds.

When the international runners were removed, Benton was 25th, giving her the recognition as one of the best runners at the college level.

USF coach Greg Thiel said the award shows just how talented the sophomore sensation is.

“It’s very hard to get, so anytime you get one, you’re excited for the individual and the program,” Thiel said. “It shows she’s pretty special. We’ve had some great runners in our program’s history, so it shows how difficult it is to accomplish. To do it as a sophomore is extraordinary.”

Benton’s award caps a spectacular season. She spent the entire cross country season at the top in every race, finishing in first and third place three times each. She qualified individually for the NCAA meet by placing in the top four of runners whose teams did not qualify in the South Regional meet Nov. 16 in Knoxville, Tenn., and also finished third overall at the Conference USA meet Nov. 2 in Hattiesburg, Miss.

Thiel said Benton isn’t the type of person to gloat over such a prestigious honor, even though she is the first runner in the program’s history to be named an All-American.

“She just kind of takes it in stride,” Thiel said. “She’s just going to keep doing what she does.”

Thiel said the award is not only good for Benton, but also for her teammates.

“It obviously gives her confidence,” Thiel said. “But it boosts everybody from cross country to track and field.”