The most feared 1-2 punch on the UA campus isn't Nick Foles-to-Juron Criner, swimming All-Americans Cory Chitwood and Margo Geer, or any of the home run hitters assembled by Mike Candrea.
The most powerful jab-and-uppercut in Arizona Wildcats uniforms is Stephen Sambu and Lawi Lalang, neither of whom weighs more than 140 pounds.
If Sambu isn't the fastest distance runner in college sports, it must be Lalang.
"I usually run from the front," said Lalang, in a that's-just-the-way-it-is assessment. "I have very high standards; I don't want anybody to beat me."
Having Lalang and Sambu on the same cross country team is like having a football team with Tedy Bruschi lined up next to Rob Waldrop. But this isn't the Desert Swarm as much as it is the Desert Dash.
It makes you think: Is this the year Arizona wins the NCAA cross country championship?
Lalang is the NCAA's top returning 5,000-meter runner this year. Sambu is the nation's top returner at 10,000 meters. He is also the favorite to win the NCAA cross country championship - he was No. 2 last year - but there is a catch.
It's possible Sambu will sit out the cross country season and redshirt, saving his senior season for 2012. That would enable Arizona's relatively young men's team to gather itself and return next fall as a full-fledged power. It is a fluid situation. Either way, the UA can't lose.
The Wildcats have become so strong under coaches James Li and Erin Dawson that there is no madness to their method. While, at minimum, Lalang competes for the NCAA individual title, Arizona's women's cross country team is positioned to make its strongest run ever for a Pac-12 championship, and its second-ever finish in the NCAA's top four.
"It's really going to be a battle to make our (five-woman) traveling squad," said junior Jennifer Bergman, who emerged as an All-American by finishing third in the NCAA 10,000 meters in June. "I think one or two freshmen could crack our top five."
Today is the only chance this season to see the UA men's and women's cross country teams locally. They are favored to win the Dave Murray Invitational at Dell Urich Golf Course, the year's only home meet.
Li has scheduled boldly; before the Pac-12 championships Oct. 29 in Litchfield Park, the Wildcats will compete in Wisconsin and Minnesota in two of the nation's most strongly contested regular-season cross country events. The women's team, coached by Dawson, is currently ranked No. 10, but that is probably modest.
Sophomore Elvin Kibet, who has star quality, is challenging Bergman as the team's No. 1 runner. Freshman Haley Stenquist, a talent from Sabino High School, has done so well in fall training, including winning the year's debut meet, in Flagstaff, is pushing Kibet and Bergman.
"She's a solid No. 3," said Bergman. "Haley's been pushing the pace in a lot of workouts."
Arizona finished No. 2 in the Pac-10 a year ago, tying its career best, and No. 11 nationally. It returns Bergman, Kibet, Liz Apgar, Megan Meyer, Hanna Henson and Amanda Russell.
Even without an addition like Stenquist, the Wildcats would be Top 10 material and a strong contender to win their first-ever Pac-12 title.
Dawson built Arizona from the ground up, mostly with a 2009 recruiting class that included Bergman, Meyer, Henson and Apgar, and filling in a year later with Kibet and Russell.
"We had a great recruiting class two years ago," said Bergman, "But this freshman class, hands down, is better than we were. They all ran such good times coming out of high school. We have eight fabulous freshmen. We've gone to a whole new level. I am really impressed with Elvin; she could have a break-out year."
You never have enough talent in Pac-12 distance running. Oregon and Stanford are perennial Top 10 women's teams, and so is newcomer Colorado. Arizona and Washington have elevated their programs to join the list of elite teams.
By this time next year, the UA men's team projects at a similar level.
Lalang and senior Abdi Hassan, who became an All-American by finishing third in the NCAA 1,500 meters in June, will lead the men's team as Sambu redshirts and freshman Kenji Bierig joins the rotation.
"I was second (at 5,000 meters) last year, and that felt great, I appreciated that position," said Lalang. "But this year we have higher goals. We plan to move up."
Catch 'em if you can, right?
If you go
• What: Dave Murray Invitational
• Where: Dell Urich Golf Course, 600 S. Alvernon Way
• Today: Men start at 5 p.m.; women start at 5:45 p.m.
Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or email@example.com