Cal cross country starts slow but finishes strong in Virginia

Slow starts happen from time to time. Many factors play into a rough day at a meet: exhaustion, fatigue and injury can all contribute to falling behind early. A race in unfamiliar terrain thousands of miles away from home can lead to early woes. But nobody cares about the opening if a team catches up with the rest and finishes strong. On Saturday in Virginia, the Cal cross-country team struggled early but closed out with a solid statement.

Facing a number of powerhouse schools, the Bears held their ground as the women — led by Kelsey Santisteban, whose time of 16:51.8 was good for fourth place overall individually — placed sixth out of 14 teams. Meanwhile, the men finished ninth overall.

“The start was a lot faster than we anticipated. It was really intense,” said coach Tony Sandoval. “Both races were really fast.”

In the women’s 5,000-meter race, many schools opened up strong and never looked back. The host Virginia Cavaliers dominated, led by second-place Barbara Strehler’s 16:32.7 time. William and Mary also performed well, finishing second while having two runners place in the top three.

In addition to Santisteban, junior Heather Carney gave the Bears a substantial lift, finishing 21st overall with a time of 17:39. Two other runners also finished in the top 50, as sophomore Mariel Mendoza (18:09.7) claimed the 36th spot, and junior Sydney Gray (18:24.2) grabbed the 50th spot.

Although Saturday’s meet saw impressive results from the women, the men did not find as much success. Despite a drastic turnaround effort in the middle of the race in which several Cal runners made up a lot of ground, the men could not pick up their pace fast enough to climb the rankings.

As soon as the gun sounded for the men’s 8,000-meter race to commence, it seemed as if the Bears were in danger of placing near the bottom of the rankings, as nobody from Cal was in the top 50 after two miles.

“We ran a little more conservative because of the hilly course,” Sandoval said.

But the slow start did not define the whole race. After the two-mile mark, Cal senior JP Slater ran ahead of 27 people in a span less than 15 minutes. Slater was 57th individually after two miles, but a burst of speed to close out the race earned him the 30th spot.

But the greatest jump of the day was from California junior Jordan Locklear. Taking more than 10 minutes to hit two miles, Locklear was close to last early on; however, he did not allow the disappointing start to ruin his day and the Bears’ overall score. Passing 35 people, Locklear left several runners in the dust, leaping up from 73rd at the two-mile mark to finish in the 38th spot. Forty-sixth-place sophomore Leland Later and 51st-place Thomas Joyce also continued the trend of making up ground in the middle of the race, with Later passing 26 people after two miles and Joyce passing 24 people after that distance. Although it could have been far worse, the men limited the damage from the slow start to move up in the rankings and earn ninth place overall as a team.

Contact Richard Lee at [email protected].