Seniors Deborah Maier, Taylor Dutch and Chelsea Reilly have been working in the shadow of the men’s cross country team over their Cal careers. This Saturday at the West Regionals in Stanford, Calif., the women finally emerged, earning a berth to the NCAA Championships for the first time in 23 years and only the third time in program history.
“The women’s program has come a long way, especially since my freshman year when it was all about the men’s program,” senior Deborah Maier said. “They were the ones making it to NCAA, and the women really had not shot at all and didn’t have a lot of front runners. The berth is a testament to what a lot of hard work can do.”
A fifth place finish at the NCAA West Regionals helped Cal earn an at-large bid to Nationals on Nov. 21.
The women were led by Maier, who finished second and only six seconds behind the winner, making it the highest finish at an NCAA meet for a Cal female runner. Though Reilly had one of the best races of her career, finishing ninth, and Dutch ended at 26th, the Bears’ bottom three runners struggled.
“We were in good spirits and happy to have made it, but at the same time we realize that we still have some things to work on,” Maier said. “We didn’t quite have a number five runner that stepped up Saturday, the top four runners were solid, but our 5, 6, and 7 were a little bit further back than usual.”
The berth did not come as much of a surprise. Strong early year performances with a first place finish at the Griak Invitational and a seventh place finish at the Wisconsin Invitational made the team confident in its chances and more focused on the ultimate goal: the NCAA Championships.
“Unless a total disaster occurred, we were going to get in,” Sandoval said.
While the women move on, the men’s team swallows disappointment after failing to receive a berth. The men also finished fifth, beating No. 17 Oregon and No. 21 UCLA by a mere two points. Collin Jarvis was the Bears’ top runner, finishing the 10 km race in a time of 30:06, giving him a 12th place finish out of 172 runners.
Cal was on the brink of advancing to NCAAs for the fourth time in five years, but they fell one spot short. After a rough start, the Bears surged late, posting their two best finishes at the Pac-12 Championships and the West Regional, but it wasn’t enough.
“They came together at the very end to run their very best,” Sandoval said. “They put it on the line and came with their A-game. I told the kids to be proud of how they brought it together.”