When the gun goes off in Golden Gate Park on Saturday, the Cal cross country season will be underway. Looking to get the season started off on the right foot, this weekend’s University of San Francisco Invitational will be a good chance for head coach Tony Sandoval to see what he’s got as he prepares his team for the meets that will really count toward an NCAA tournament bid in the later parts of the season.
On Saturday, the Bears will have an opportunity to get an early glance at some competition. Expected to participate in the meet are fifth-ranked Stanford, Santa Clara, Saint Mary’s, Pacific and, of course, USF. There will also be runners competing representing Cal State Northridge, University of California Santa Cruz and San Jose State.
With the race happening in Golden Gate Park, there will be several things the runners will have to factor in. Because of the environmental conditions in Golden Gate Park, some of which include altered gradient, natural obstacles and changes in surface texture, Saturday’s race will be about more than just simply running fast.
Runners will be forced to adapt to the sudden changes in the course, and it will be a challenge for them to maintain both their focus and stamina throughout the duration of the race.
As usual, the men will run in the 8K event, while the women will run in the 5K event. Both will be fairly similar to each other. They will start with a simple trek up a field called Speedway Meadow. Runners will come then run clockwise across a polo field and out into the trees, where there will be a slight climb until the one-mile mark.
The women will then take a turn and run straight through John F. Kennedy Drive and back to past the polo field for the finish line. Also to be noted is that the last half of this course will require runners to jump over a log and run over a small asphalt path, which is unfavorable for those wearing spikes.
The men will also take the same path as the women. But after passing the polo field, they will have to run an extra 3K winding around from Speedway Meadow straight to JFK Drive. At this point, they’ll make a quick exit from JFK Drive to run counter clockwise in the polo field and out to the finish line where they started.
As far as what should be in store, the outcome will probably be similar to how most of last year went. Expected to dominate and probably win should be senior Kelsey Santisteban, while the rest of the team should contribute with an above-average performance compared to the rest.
With less competition and fewer powerhouses in this relatively small-attendance race, the Bears will be the likely favorites to finish in the top three. Still, Cal will be more concentrated on looking at the bigger picture.
Last year, the NCAA tournament saw just one Bear ready to go at the starting gates: Santisteban. Because the team as a whole left much to be desired in the NCAA Regionals, the team failed to earn a spot to run in college cross country’s biggest stage.
The seasonlong race starts this week. It is imperative that Cal put up a strong showing this Saturday and constantly improve as the season progresses. The team can’t afford any steps back. Santisteban will lead the way, but the team collectively has to shine.
Contact Richard Lee at [email protected].