Cal cross country’s Kelsey Santisteban earns ticket to NCAA Championships

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On a windy Friday afternoon in the Higgins Oaks Golf Complex in Sacramento, Cal junior Kelsey Santisteban stormed through the NCAA Regional tournament competition on her way to finishing fifth overall, which is going to be more than enough to earn her a ticket to the NCAA Championships next week. Cal cross-country as a team raced the last meet of its 2013 campaign. The only runner who will still be seeing future action is Santisteban.

There have been numerous times when the Bears appeared to be outmatched and could not catch up to their competition. It was only two years ago when the women earned a bid to compete in the NCAA Championships and the men were routinely making appearances in the national meet. Now in 2013, with only a handful of juniors and seniors to lead the way, the Cal cross-country program has not been able to enjoy the success that it once had on a regular basis — however, the Bears still must love what Santisteban has been doing for them this year.

“Kelsey played it very smart,” said head coach Tony Sandoval. “She ran under control. She’s stronger and wiser.”

Finishing with a season best in the 6K meter run with a time of 19:29, Santisteban was able to beat out Stanford junior Jessica Tonn by a mere two seconds as she extended her streak of top-five finishes to six meets.

Aside from Santisteban, however, the Bears collectively could not make much of an impact Friday. The women, even with Santisteban’s efforts, finished 13th overall as a team out of 32 schools, while the men finished 12th overall out of 27 schools. Leading the way for the men was redshirt senior J.P. Slater, who finished 40th overall out of 187 runners. Slater clocked in a time of 30:43, and Friday marked the last time he crosses the finish line in blue and gold threads.

In order for a runner to earn an individual bid to the NCAA Championships, a top-25 finish is required. Had Slater beat out Cal Poly junior Sean Davidson, whose time of 30:25 was good for 25th overall, he would have been able to join Santisteban next week, as 18 seconds was all it took to separate Slater and one more race.

Although Slater could not outrun enough people to qualify for next week, the men’s team as a whole performed moderately well with three more runners who finished within the top 75. In similar fashion to what happened two weeks ago in the Pac-12 Championships in Colorado, where Slater and sophomore Leland Later were just one second apart from each other, Later finished 53rd overall with a time of 30:57. The two have developed a tendency to stick relatively close to each other throughout their races. After Slater and Later were redshirt junior Jordan Locklear, who took 59th overall, and sophomore Thomas Joyce, who claimed 66th overall.

Unlike with the men, there was a much larger gap among scores on the women’s team. Once Santisteban was done, Cal saw 55 runners pass through the finish line before sophomore Xochitl Navarrete finished at 66th overall with the rest of the team trailing behind her.

As evidenced by the number of underclassmen who competed today, it is clear to see that there is much room to grow for the Bears.

“I’m not satisfied,” Sandoval said. “We’ve got a lot of youth here, so we gotta get better and, I think, mature.”

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