Hansen: UA distance runner Menefee aces college experience

2014-05-01T00:00:00Z 2014-05-06T19:18:58Z Hansen: UA distance runner Menefee aces college experienceGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Erin Menefee didn’t win the Razorback Invitational, the Texas A&M Challenge, the Oregon Dual Meet, the Mount SAC Relays or the Jim Click Shootout.

In four years as an Arizona Wildcats distance runner, Menefee hasn’t won a race.

Yet ask UA coach Fred Harvey about Menefee and he gets choked up.

“She has touched so many people,” he says.

Ask UA associate athletic director Becky Bell about Menefee’s college career, and she says “I just love her, love her, love her, love her.”

The Big Scoreboard in college sports doesn’t always accentuate Ka’Deem Carey’s 52 touchdowns or Nick Johnson’s 618 points.

Erin Menefee might have had the leading stat line in UA sports for the 2013-14 season. She completed her college career with a 3.97 GPA.

“She’s a real slacker,” says Bell, chuckling. “She once got a B.”

Hundreds of UA student-athletes gathered for the annual CATS banquet last week, a night in which community service, academic performance and exemplary character trumped touchdowns and home runs.

Menefee, who grew up in San Diego (she once ran the mile in 4 minutes 49 seconds at Mount Carmel High School), was named the athletic department’s valedictorian of 2013-14 and also honored with the top community service award from the Commitment to an Athlete’s Total Success (CATS) and two others.

She was on-stage more than Billy Crystal at the Academy Awards.

“It’s pretty funny,” she says. “I’m on the track team, but all of my awards have ‘student’ listed before ‘athlete.’ ”

And that’s a good thing.

“Winning championship trophies and being highly ranked are obviously something we strive to do,” said Harvey, the UA director for track and field. “But what we really stand for is developing young men and young women to represent us and be productive after they leave Arizona. That’s Erin.”

As Menefee delivered her CATS banquet speech, tears welled in Harvey’s eyes.

He has watched as Menefee finished 14th in the Pac-12 steeplechase and 44th in the NCAA cross-country championships, but he was never more proud than when she represented the athletic department at the end of her career.

“I was like a proud parent,” he says. “She was so eloquent.”

Menefee isn’t finished yet. She still has a final in microbiology (“I’m confident I’ll get an A,” she says with a smile), and she hopes her college athletic career ends in three-part harmony: a victory over ASU in Saturday’s dual meet at Drachman Stadium; a place in the Pac-12 steeplechase finals; and a berth in the NCAA championships.

Academically, she will go out on top: She has already been accepted to a three-year doctorate program in Physical Therapy at San Diego State.

Every time you hear about a college football star arrested for shoplifting, or a college basketball standout pouting because he’s not getting enough touches, Erin Menefee stands for how well the system can work.

Menefee didn’t lead the Pac-12 in any sports category, but she led the Wildcats in hours volunteered for community service.

“She did everything,” says Bell, who is Arizona’s associate athletic director for the CATS Life Skills Program. “She came to every workshop and seminar I did. Every time I needed a volunteer, Erin was the first to step up. You pick any aspect of who she is as a person, and she is beyond reproach. Just phenomenal.”

Menefee was recruited by ASU and once was tempted to transfer to UCLA, where her brother, Ryan Menefee, played on the lacrosse team and was an honor student; he is now a mechanical engineer in San Diego.

But she decided to finish what she started at Arizona. Her senior year has been, in her word, “amazing.” The UA women’s cross-country team won its first Pac-12 championship and finished second at the NCAA finals. The women’s track team is predicted to finish as high as No. 7 in the NCAAs this month.

And although Menefee hasn’t been a star-level runner to match teammates Elvin Kibet and Maria Larsson, her presence has been invaluable.

“Erin’s not the top runner, but she’s the leader,” says Harvey. “Today, it’s rare to have an athlete like that. Too often it’s, ‘I’m not developing fast enough,’ or ‘I’m not getting enough playing time’ and they transfer to another school. But Erin finished what she started.”

In the spring semester of her sophomore year, Menefee got an 88 percent in a physics class. It was a B.

“It’s the only B I got at Arizona,” she says. “I’m still mad about it.”

And then she laughed and said:

“I’ve gone from trying to be a perfectionist to someone who has learned how to enjoy the journey.”

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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