Talent on display this Saturday at Pac-12 Championships

The strongest cross country conference this year is not the Big Ten, SEC or Big-12. It’s the Pac-12, a conference filled with perennial powerhouses and some of the nation’s top runners. They will all be competing this Saturday at the Pac-12 Championships run on Wigwam Golf Course in Litchfield Park, Ariz.

Traditionally, the Pac-10 had some of the most talented programs and the addition of Utah and Colorado makes the conference even deeper. While Utah has built a respectable program, Colorado adds another national championship caliber program to the league. The Buffaloes’ men’s squad has won three cross country titles in the past decade (2001, 04, 06) and has a good chance to add one more this year. Colorado will be ushered into the conference with a tough challenge at the Pac-12 Championships, facing No. 4 Stanford, No. 20 UCLA, No. 22 Washington State, No. 23 Oregon and No. 25 Arizona State. On the women’s side, Colorado is ranked No. 16 and promises to challenge the field as well.

“If you look at the West Regionals historically, the top 40 places, you’re probably talking 30-35 of those people are Pac-12 people anyway,” Cal coach Tony Sandoval said. “There is just a smattering of people who come in to break up the elite Pac-12 runners, obviously those other conferences will start filling in people in the lower end of the race.”

The Cal men’s program stumbles into the Pac-12 Championships after a series of difficult invitationals and multiple injuries to some key athletes. The men’s team finished third in last year’s events thanks to a strong core of veterans runners. This year, the Bears are much younger and will have to shake off their bumps and bruises to pull together and overcome their inexperience.

“We haven’t had a good race yet this season where everyone puts it together and this is a good opportunity to do that,” junior Collin Jarvis said. “This is a smaller field so its not quite as intense at the start, but there will still be a lot of fast guys pushing the pace.”

The women’s programs in the Pac-12 are even stronger than their male counterparts this year with five squads breaking into the top 11. The Cal women’s cross country team, currently No. 10, will face off against No. 2 Washington, fresh off its win at the Wisconsin Invitational, in addition to No. 5 Arizona, No. 8 Stanford and No. 11 Oregon.

Considering her progressively higher finishes each year and the success she has had this season, senior Deborah Maier has a shot to become Cal’s first female to win a Pac-12 crown.

The veteran laden women have had a strong season thus far, finishing first at the Griak Invitational and seventh at the Badger Invitational. These finishes along with an appearance in the rankings bode well for the women’s chances at earning an invite to the NCAA Championships, but they will have to prove themselves in the next few meets to secure the berth.

“We’ve really proven ourselves in the past few meets that we are a force to be reckoned with,” senior Taylor Dutch said. “For the Pac-12 Championships, definitely top four or five is doable, but all teams are going to be really close.

“It’s going to be a showdown for sure.”