Power Rankings: Cal cross country must develop behind Santisteban

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When Kelsey Santisteban crossed the finish line for 10th place among women at Indiana in the NCAA championships last season, it summed up most of the season for Cal cross country. A season in which most of the bright spots came directly as a result of Santisteban’s electric and dominant running, while the rest of the team could not keep pace to make the Bears an NCAA contender.

Santisteban was the only runner in the school’s program to attend the championships in Indiana, as the rest of the team failed to qualify at the NCAA regional tournament and nobody’s individual times were fast enough to qualify. As a result, Santisteban was the lone Bear competing at the championships, as her historically memorable performance last season proved to be a silver lining in an overwhelmingly disappointing 2013 campaign for the Bears as a whole.

Nearly every meet last season was pretty much the same story. The team struggled, while Santisteban consistently placed in the top 10. But at times, other players showed signs of life, like when strong late-season pushes from sophomore Leland Later and redshirt senior JP Slater both finished within the top 30 in the Pac-12 championships and the top 60 in the NCAA regionals championships.

Fortunately for Cal, much of the roster will be returning for 2014. The Bears’ best runner, Santisteban, will be a senior and will be looking to either duplicate the success she had last season or have an even better year.

The only runner Cal will be losing is JP Slater, as 2013 was his redshirt senior year. Everyone else on the roster will still have at least one year left, as the majority of the team’s personnel consists of freshmen and sophomores.

While it must have been nice for the Bears to see Santisteban embrace the spotlight and become one of the fastest runners in the country, her running can only do so much when it comes to contributing to the team’s overall score. If Cal wants to be a threat, it has to be more than just one runner.

The Bears have struggled running in the unfamiliar conditions of away environments. Early in the season at the Panorama Farms Invitational in Virginia, the Bears were heavily impacted by the hill terrain, fatiguing and slowing them down. Heavy winds in the Sacramento State Interregional Jamboree gave the team all sorts of problems, as the runners’ training grounds at Cal are unable to simulate Sacramento winds. But oftentimes, it’s simply been a matter of not being able to match up with more talented opposition.

Next season, it is imperative that the other runners on the team step up and catch up to Santisteban at the front of the pack. This does not mean that they need to dominate every match, but they will need to improve their performances and finish with a time respectable enough to make the team’s overall score higher.

In all likelihood, Santisteban will still be the face of the program. Just like last year, she will be expected to be Cal’s MVP. Despite the lackluster running from the team as whole, the goal is still the same — the Bears want to participate in the NCAA championships. If next season ends up similar to the last, when Santisteban was the only one lining up at the NCAA championships, it will not help in increasing cross country’s positioning in the Daily Cal’s power rankings for next summer.

Contact Richard Lee at [email protected].