Cal cross country crosses the country for Indiana State Pre-National Invitational

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The Bears are going to have their hands full this week when they travel to Indiana to compete in the Indiana State Pre-National Invitational. This Saturday’s race at the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course will feature the most schools Cal has seen this year. With 75 teams running in the men’s event and 86 for the women’s event, the Bears will have to adjust their game plan to the overwhelming numbers in order to find success on Saturday.

“There’s going to be a lot of people, said coach Tony Sandoval. “There’s going to be a lot of physicality. There’s going to be a lot of pushing and shoving in the majority of the race.”

Because Cal’s previous races have never featured more than 20 schools, the Bears will see how they fare with racing in a crowded track. Still, this will be a chance for the Bears to take a good look at runners from all over the country.

“Most of us do not have much experience of that (running in a crowd) so that’s certainly a factor that we’re going to have to deal with,” Sandoval said.

Although Saturday’s race in Indiana is going to have its fair share of challenges, the Bears have proven that they can hold their ground in unfavorable circumstances. Running through hilly terrains, heavy winds, and fatigue, Cal has established its identity as a team that fights through adversity.

Despite the new faces that they are going to see, the Bears will go with their usual teams in the men and women’s race. With the exception of redshirt junior Heather Cerney plugged back into the women’s team after sitting out two weeks ago in Sacramento due to health precautions, Cal will call on the same exact group of runners from its race in the Sac State Jamboree on October 4.

Even with its group that, for the most part, has been consistently performing in past races, Saturday will not be as predictable. Although practice and strategy planning can play a huge role in the outcome of a race, there are limits to how much it can prepare a team.

“We’re just going to have to see how it (the meet) goes.” Sandoval said. “There’s no way we can simulate this.”

For the Bears, Saturday’s pre-national event is going to be the first of three major meets called the championship gauntlet. After pre-nationals, the Bears will participate in the Pac-12 championships on November 2nd and the third meet is the NCAA West regional on November 15th. If Cal does well, this string of races will lead the team to national championship.

Unlike the previous races, Saturday’s pre-national meet marks the beginning of the portion of the season where every race starts to matter more as there is little room for error at this point in the season. If the Bears hope to keep their shot at the Nationals alive, it is imperative that they run well from this point on.

“Everything else before was just kind of fun and games.” Sandoval said. “Now it’s kind of serious. Just hope that we can step up and show what we’re capable of doing.”

Richard Lee covers cross country. Contact him at Contact him at [email protected].