This Monday at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course in Terre Haute, Ind., senior Deborah Maier will approach the chalk line again at the NCAA Championships. Looking across the line last year, Maier saw Villanova star Sheila Reid and a little farther down Georgetown All-American Emily Infeld. Behind her was nothing but empty grass.
This year when Maier looks around, Infeld and Reid will still be among the other top national runners. Looking behind her, instead of the lonely grass that Maier saw last year, the space will be filled by her supportive teammates. In the crisp morning air, a gun will go off and Maier and the rest of the Cal women’s cross country team will set off hoping to top its best ever finish at the NCAA Women’s Cross County Championships.
“Having the team there this year as opposed to last year will not only be more fun, but it will also be more comforting on the starting line knowing we are all in it together,” Maier said.
The Bears will be competing in only their third NCAA Championship and first since 1988 when they finished ninth. This season the women started strong at the Griak and Wisconsin Invitationals and earned enough points to qualify for the National meet despite late season struggles. Considering their level of talent and success thus far, the Cal women feel they have the potential to finish in the top 10.
The Bears will rely on their seniors to once again lead the way and make the most of their last cross country race. Maier, who was an All-American last year, will vie for an individual title while seniors Chelsea Reilly and Taylor Dutch have legitimate chances to break the top 44 to become All-Americans.
“It has been four years of ups and downs, heartaches and excitements and this is the final examination,” Sandoval said. “Hopefully they get an A on it.”
Although the seniors have filled the top three spots of the seven-runner squad all season, they will need some help from their bottom four runners in order to place in the top 10.
The Cal runners who can possibly fill that number five spot are freshman Kelsey Santisteban, senior Taylor Bryson and junior Keena Kohl. While Santisteban has shown raw potential, Bryson and Kohl have improved every meet and will have a stronger sense of urgency as their Cal careers are coming to a close.
“Obviously everyone has to do their part, the top four have been pretty solid,” Maier said. “The difference between us achieving top 10 and maybe a little bit outside that will be our number five runner.”
Although the Bears were confident at the NCAA Regionals against decent west coast opponents, the Cal athletes will now be surrounded by 31 of the best teams in the nation, pushing and shoving for the team title.
“When you see the top runners in the nation lining up next to you, you’ll have some doubts in your mind,” Maier said. “But I’ll be thinking about all the work we’ve put in and how its not just about me, it’s about doing as well as I can for the team, because at nationals a few seconds can be 20 places.”