The NCAA Championships are five weeks away, but the Cal cross country team will get a taste of that level of talent this Friday at the Wisconsin Adidas (Badger) Invitational.
“I’ll be honest, the Badger Invitational is better than nationals in many regards,” Cal coach Tony Sandoval said. “It will be very competitive and the course is narrow so there will be some technicality and physicality to it.”
The Bears are coming off an impressive showing at the Griak Invitational two weeks ago in which a first place finish by the women led to a jump in the rankings from unranked to 10th in the nation. However, the rankings are insignificant to the team, which has its sights set firmly on the meet at the Thomas Zimmer Championship cross country course in Madison, Wis.
“The ranking has to be taken with a grain of salt because rankings are only rankings,” senior Deborah Maier said. “The Griak was competitive, but the Badger Invitational is at a whole different level of competition. We have to expect that there will be pain and discomfort in the race and not just believe that we will get the same result.”
The Badger Invitational will contain a deep field of 40 teams in each race, including multiple ranked teams highlighted by the No. 1 Villanova and No. 2 Providence women’s teams along with five of the top 10 male’s squads in the country.
The women will once again be led by the All-American Maier along with a savvy group of veterans who believe that a respectable finish is within their reach.
“I think the women have a potential to be in the top 10,” Maier said. “Once we get going, if we have the right team atmosphere combined with the fitness, it will build upon each other and we can compete well.”
Coming off a meet in which their team was not at full strength, the men hope to have all their starters available this time around and will send their top runners up to Madison including junior Collin Jarvis.
“I’m really excited to see how our team does,” Jarvis said. “This is the strongest team we have put together thus far and the meet will be a good indicator if we are going to make it to nationals. I have really high expectations for my teammates and myself and I’m excited to see how it plays out.”
Sandoval understands that there are many strong individuals in the program this year, but he has been stressing a team focus that trumps individual accomplishment, a philosophy he hopes will play out in the Badger Invitational.
“We want them to run as a team, qualify as a team,” Sandoval said. “Our theme for this year is one vision, one heart, one mind, one team and we don’t talk about individual accolade. We talk about running as a group and getting this done as a team.”