Photos from the women's Rust Buster Invitational.
Juli Benson is entering her fifth season as the head coach of the Air Force cross country team. In addition to her duties coaching the cross country program, Benson is an assistant coach on the Falcons' track and field staff, where she works exclusively with the Academy's middle distance and distance runners.
Last season, Benson saw the men capture a program-record six all-conference selections, en route to a runner-up finish at the Mountain West Cross Country Championships. Air Force accounted for six of the top-13 finishes at the conference meet, including three that finished within the top 10 (Isaiah Bragg - seventh, Matt Bell - ninth, Jeremy Drenckhahn - 10th). Air Force, which captured the University team title at the Woody Greeno Invitational for the second straight year, placed sixth at the regional championship meet to match the program's second-highest finish since 2004.
On the women's side, Melissa Fuerst became the program's first female runner to earn multiple all-conference selections, as she tallied top-10 finishes in back-to-back years (2011, 2012), while pacing the squad to a fourth-place finish in the conference standings for the fourth consecutive year. With three runners finishing within the top eight, the women captured the program's first-ever team title at the Woody Greeno Invitational. Air Force also capped off the season with an 11th-place finish at the NCAA Regional Championships, marking the squad's best finish at that meet since 2005.
Benson, who was honored as the men's coach of the year by the Mountain West in 2010, has coached the men to a top-three placement at the conference meet during every season, including runner-up finishes in 2011 and 2012. Air Force has tallied a total of 14 all-conference selections in the last four years, including six first-team honorees. During her tenure, two Falcons (Justin Tyner - 2010; Drenckhahn - 2011) have finished second at the conference meet, while three (Tyner - 2009, 2010; Drenckhahn - 2010; Jim Walmsley - 2011) have captured all-region distinction.
Since Benson's arrival in 2009, the women have more than doubled its total of all-conference honorees, backed by four selections in the last three years. She has coached three of the program's six all-conference selections (Katherine Ward - 2010; Fuerst - 2011, 2012; Jen Bremser - 2012) and saw Ward become just the third Air Force female to earn all-region distinction in 2010. Under Benson's leadership, Air Force claimed just its second outright team title since 2004 (Woody Greeno Invitational, 2012) and earned its highest regional finish since 2005 (11th, 2012).
The success of the Air Force distance program has carried into the Falcons' track season.
The men's distance and middle distance runners helped Air Force capture its first-ever Mountain West titles at both the indoor and outdoor championship meets in 2012 and repeat as the outdoor champions in 2013. On the national stage, she coached Tyner to the top American finish in the 5000-meter run (third overall) at the 2010 NCAA Indoor Championships and Zach Perkins to a runner-up finish in the 1500-meter run at the 2013 NCAA Outdoor Championships. Under Benson's watch, the men have accounted for 14 conference titles, 34 all-MW selections, nine Academy records and six All-America certificates.
Benson, who was named the region's top assistant by the USTFCCCA during the 2013 indoor season, has seen the women's team account for seven Air Force records during her tenure, including Morgan Mosby breaking the program's 29-year-old record in the 1500-meter run (2012) and Bremser bettering the 23-year-old record in the 3000-meter run (2013). Under her direction, the Falcons have tallied three conference titles on the track ... the only three such titles in Academy history ... as the distance medley relay team tallied back-to-back titles at the 2012-13 conference meets and Mosby claimed the 1500-meter title at the 2012 outdoor championships.
Benson came to the Academy following a three-year stint at George Mason University, where she served as the men's middle distance coach and recruiting coordinator. While with the Patriots, Benson was instrumental in improving the placement of the men's cross country team at the Colonial Athletic Association Championships from ninth to second in just two seasons.
Prior to her time at GMU, she spent five years as an assistant coach for the men's and women's track and field team at Georgetown University. During her tenure with the Hoyas, over 20 athletes earned All-America status. In addition, the distance program was consistently ranked among the nation's top-10.
One of her Georgetown runners, Chris Lukezic, won the USA Junior National Championship in the 1500-meter run and finished fourth in that event at the 2004 Olympic Trials. She also guided Treniere Clement to a runner-up performance in the 1500-meter run at the 2004 NCAA Championships.
Benson began her coaching career as the head coach of the women's cross country team at her alma mater, James Madison University, in 1993. During her four-year tenure, she helped lead the Dukes to their first-ever CAA Championship. In addition, she served as an assistant coach for the track and field team.
She received a bachelor's degree in political science from James Madison in 1992. She also obtained a master's degree in sports administration and exercise science from JMU in 1996. A four-year letterwinner with the Dukes, she was an NCAA All-American in the 1500-meter run during the 1992 season. In 2002, Benson was inducted into the JMU Athletic Hall of Fame.
Benson, who spent seven years as a competitor for Asics Tiger Corporation (1993-94) and Reebok International (1994-00), served as an assistant women's coach for the 2007 U.S. World Championship Team that competed in Osaka, Japan, and as the junior women's coach for the 2003 U.S. Cross Country Team that captured its highest finish ever at the World Cross Country Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland. Most recently, Benson was selected as an assistant coach for the U.S. team that competed at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow, Russia.
Benson spent two years as the personal coach to Jenny (Barringer) Simpson, who claimed the gold medal in the 1500-meter run at the 2011 World Outdoor Track and Field Championships and competed in that event at the 2012 Olympic Games. She also coached Tyner, Houseworth and Matt Williams, as members of the Air Force World Class Athlete Program (WCAP).
She has also served as a coach to Kevin Sullivan, who set new Canadian records in the indoor and outdoor 3000-meter events and finished 13th at the 2006 World Cross Country Championships, and Lukezic, who finished seventh at the 2006 World Indoor Championships and clocked the seventh-fastest 1500-meter time ever in a U.S. outdoor performance. In addition, Benson served as a consultant to Alan Webb, who was ranked No. 1 in the 1500 meters during that time.
An accomplished runner in her own right, Benson represented the United States in the 1500-meter run during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. She is a two-time silver medalist in the 1500 at the World Student Games and a gold medalist in that event at the 1996 Atlanta Gran Prix. She also earned a bronze medal in the mile of the 1997 Gran Prix Final. Benson was elected to the U.S. Women's Track and Field Coaches Association Advisory Board and as a representative for USATF Women's High Performance (middle distance running).
She was married in July 2009 to Robert Benson, the associate head football coach and defensive coordinator at The Colorado School of Mines. The couple resides in Highlands Ranch, Colo.