Veteran women, new-look men provide high expectations for cross-country

As part of the preseason training program, members of the Cal cross country team trek to the mountains of Tahoe for altitude training each year.

This year, 30 runners made the journey as opposed to 15 last year, a testament to the team’s dedication, according to coach Tony Sandoval.

“I’m most impressed by the overall enthusiasm on both teams, they funded themselves and took a trip to Tahoe,” Sandoval said. “That’s the kind of inertia they have developed and it’s exciting to see that.”

But the trip fosters more than fitness.

“We became a band of brothers,”  freshman Chris Walden said.

The team’s chemistry will be important for the men and women’s squads this season, though they face different challenges. While the men’s team is rebuilding, the women’s program is poised for a run in the NCAA championships.

Last year the Cal men’s cross country program, led by then-seniors Michael Coe and Steve Sodaro, finished third in the Pac-10 en route to a berth in the NCAA championships.

Their graduation leaves a void, which Sandoval believes senior Maxime Chevee and junior Collin Jarvis will fill. Chevee earned all region honors last year, while Jarvis has been a two-year starter.

“Collin and Maxime are making a difficult transition from a supporting role into a leadership role, but they do have the talent to step up,” Sandoval said.

In addition to the squad’s veterans, Sandoval will look to the incoming freshmen, heralded as one of the best recruiting classes in the nation, to propel the team forward.

Through training and tune-up meets, the freshmen have been working on not only their endurance but also their mental approach to running.

“Coach Sandoval is all about mental toughness and when it comes down to the line you need to be mentally stronger than everyone else,” freshman Chris Kigar said.

Although the young core needs to be developed, the team’s goal is still the same: return to the NCAA championships.

“If we keep things together, we can still get to nationals,” Sandoval said. “It is our goal and it is possible.”

On the other hand, the women’s program did not have the success that the men’s team enjoyed last year, failing to earn a bid to the NCAA championship. Nonetheless, the women’s squad likely has better prospects than the men this season with the return of many of its starters.

All-American Deborah Maier enters her final year of a decorated Cal cross-country career. Last season, she became the Bears’ first female runner since 2003 to qualify for nationals.

Alongside Maier are promising seniors Taylor Dutch and Chelsea Reilly, but there is competition for the last spots on the starting seven.

“It’s not just the top runners that matter,” Sandoval said. “It’s also the fifth and sixth runners that are just as significant to the team. They are the people who decide what kind of team you are.”

With a group of hungry seniors and a deep, talented roster, the team hopes to overcome last year’s disappointment and make it to the NCAA Championships.

“There is a sense of urgency on the women’s side because they want to get it done,” Sandoval said.