Cal cross-country outmatched in Pac-12 Championships

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There were both highs and lows Saturday, but there were more lows than highs when the Cal cross-country team competed in the Pac-12 Championships in Louisville, Colorado. Considering the ranked opponents the Bears had to compete against, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone.

As expected, only a handful of Cal runners were able to make much of an impact. The women as a team struggled to make much of a splash in the rankings. But the men had an even harder time catching up with the elite competition.

“We need to get better,” said coach Tony Sandoval. “We probably could’ve finished a little bit higher, but we’re just going to have to lick our wounds.”

Facing four nationally ranked teams, the men’s team had a tremendously difficult time. Redshirt senior JP Slater, however, was able to hold his ground, finishing 28th out of 77 runners with a time of 25:58. Right behind him was his teammate, redshirt junior Leland Later, who finished 29th overall with a time of 25:59. But these two times were not enough to prevent the men’s team from finishing last out of nine schools.

Compared to the men, the women had slightly more success. But just like the men, they had a hard time scoring points against their competition as they finished ninth out of 13 teams, six of which are nationally ranked.

Despite Saturday’s lackluster results, one runner showed no signs of slowing her stride. Staying within the top five for the duration of the race, junior Kelsey Santisteban was able to impress many spectators as she finished the 6K run third overall with a time of 21:18. In all five of Cal’s races this season, Santisteban has placed within the top five individually and has consistently proven that she is among the fastest runners in the country.

“I think that she (Santisteban) has matured a little bit,” Sandoval said. “Obviously, she has been able to stay healthy throughout last year and through the summer, and that certainly is one of the key factors in getting better.”

The individual showings of Santisteban, Slater and Later were the few and rare highs Cal enjoyed Saturday. Most of the meet consisted of Cal being overshadowed by the talented competitors who ran against the Bears.

Although Santisteban ran well, there were two runners who finished in front of her. Arizona’s Elvin Kibet took second overall while Stanford’s Aisling Cuffe claimed the individual title. The Wildcats won the women’s title as they solidified their spot as the top cross-country program in the country.

In the men’s race, Colorado showed why they are the No. 1 team in the country. Led by a staggering five runners finishing in the top 10, Colorado was able to dominate the competition as it claimed its third Pac-12 Championship title in a row. Colorado’s average time of 24:56 a runner was more than a minute faster than any runner from Cal.

For the most part, Saturday’s meet was a disappointment for the Bears. With the exception of a couple of bright spots, Cal was outmatched. The Bears found themselves in a predicament and failed to make any sort of noise as a team in one of the biggest cross-country events of the year.

“We’re just going to have to refocus ourselves and get ourselves ready for the regionals,” Sandoval said.

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