Cal cross country teams’ seasons are on the line this Saturday at the NCAA West Regional.
The meet, held at the Stanford Golf Course, determines which squads move on to the NCAA Championships. Two of the country’s 18 automatic bids will be awarded to the top finishers. There are also 13 at-large bids given to teams across the country to round out the rest of the 31-team field at the NCAA Championships.
Despite the slim odds of earning a berth, both the men’s and women’s teams are in positions to make it to NCAAs. If they succeed, this would be first time ever that both teams qualify.
“This weekend could be a historic weekend for us,” coach Tony Sandoval said. “We’ve either had a men’s team or women’s team qualify for NCAA Championships. To be able to get both teams together to nationals — not many schools can do that.”
The men’s and women’s teams have at times been moving in opposite directions. The men have struggled with youth and inexperience but were able to put together their best race at the Pac-12 Championships, placing them just outside the top 30.
There is an added significance to this ranking: Generally, the top 31 teams go to NCAA Championships.
By placing so close to that margin, the Bears have certainly bettered their chances at prolonged postseason success.
The women, led by a strong group of seniors, have won big meets and been ranked as high as No. 10 in the country, yet a poor showing at the Pac-12 Championships dropped them to N0. 26 in the country.
Despite their divergent journeys, both teams will need to have strong performances to earn berths.
“There is the possibility this could happen, but the men have their work cut out for them,” Sandoval said. “They have to have all the stars line up and we have to have everyone run a great race.”
The men’s squad will run in a field which includes four ranked schools but they will have their sights set on UCLA, a team which leads Cal in points and has a good chance of earning an at-large bid.
However, the men’s race is increased from 8 km to 10 km for the West Regionals, a unique twist that may turn into an advantage for Cal.
“It doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but that last 2k can decide the entire race,” junior Collin Jarvis said. “Over 10k, we have more of an advantage over UCLA, because we have prepared ourselves more for 10k than 8k. If we are going to beat them, this weekend will be the right one to do it.”
The women will race against five other ranked teams. They are aided by the return of leader Deborah Maier, who missed the Pac-12 Championships due to an ankle injury.
One of the best cross country runners in school history, Maier is also the most decorated. She won All-America honors last season. In addition, she has earned All-Pac-10 first team honors two years running; no other woman runner has ever even earned that distinction once.
With the return of Maier to the lineup, the squad is confident in its ability to succeed at the NCAA West Regionals.
“I’m more confident this year than I’ve ever been that we are going to go to NCAA’s,” senior Taylor Dutch said. “All of the seniors feel that because this is our last season we want to make sure that we hold nothing back and do everything we can to run our best and have no regrets.”